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Explorers, Trappers, & Traders

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Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark West to the Pacific by Frank R. "Bob" Davenport. 

 Photo and Copyright held by: Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation




The story of America's exploration goes back for centuries, beginning with the Vikings' settlement of Greenland in about 980 AD and and Newfoundland in about 1000 A.D. The Viking voyages however, were unknown to the Old World Europeans until the late 1400s. In the meantime, a number of expeditions were launched from European nations in search of a Northwest Passage to East Asia in order to establish a shorter trade route to China than the Silk Road.


On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain and discovered the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola. News of his find spread quickly throughout Europe and opened the New World.


Italian navigator and explorer Giovanni Caboto (known in English as John Cabot) is credited with the discovery of continental North America on June 24, 1497, under the commission of Henry VII of England. Though the exact location of his discovery remains disputed, the Canadian and United Kingdom governments' official position is that he landed on the island of Newfoundland.


In 1499 Jo„o Fernandes Lavrador was licensed by the King of Manuel I of Portugal and together with PÍro de Barcelos they reached Greenland and sighted Labrador for the first time, which was granted and named after him. Nearly at the same time, between 1499 and 1502 the brothers Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real explored and named the coasts of Greenland, Labrador and also Newfoundland.


It was soon understood that Columbus had not reached Asia, but rather found what was to Europeans a New World, which in 1507 was named "America". More and more Europeans began to make the voyage in search of a quicker route to Asia, land, and resources to claim for their home countries.

After two failed attempts to reach East Asia by circumnavigating Siberia, Henry Hudson sailed west in 1609 sailing up the Hudson River on September 11, 1609 in search of a fabled connection to the Pacific via what was actually the Great Lakes.


Multiple expeditions were continued by various countries through through England's colonization of the Atlantic coast in the 17th century. After the foundation was laid for the United States of America, frontiersmen, trappers, and traders pushed westward. Beyond these men, numerous more followed, looking for fame and fortune in the vast West.


Many of these explorers and frontiersmen were the first non-Indians to see the vast regions of the American West. Leaving civilization behind and following rivers, crossing great plains, and scaling mountains, these men paved the way for the many pioneers and fortune seekers who followed in their footsteps.


The history of the fur trade is filled with stories of adventure, daring, and savage warfare. Competition was stiff in the fur trade and not only were they involved in hostilities with the Indians, upon whose land they trod, but also against each other, competing fur trade companies, and other countries who claimed the land upon which they did business. Their isolated lives in the wilderness also included extreme temperatures, blizzards, and battles with wild beasts, many tales of which can never be known.






1860 illustration of Grizzly AdamsJohn C. "Grizzly" Adams (1812-1860) - A hunter, trapper, and prospector, Adams made fame for himself when he began to catch and train grizzly bears.

James Aird (??-1819) - An early trapper and trader who worked on the Upper Mississippi River.

John Davis Albert (1806-1899) - A mountain man who made his way from Maryland to the Rocky Mountains.

Cyrus Alexander (1805-1872) - A frontiersman, Alexander was a trapper with William Sublette before becoming a miner and agricultural pioneer in California.

Manuel Alvarez (1794-1856) - A mountain man, trapper and trader who turned politician.

Louis Ambroise (1801-1842) - A trapper and trader in the Colorado Mountains.

American Fur Company (1808-1842) - Founded by John Jacob Astor in 1808, the American Fur Company would become one of the largest businesses in the country at the start of the 19th century.

Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II (1736-1788) - A Mexican-born trailblazer and explorer, de Anza was the first person of European descent to establish an overland trail from Mexico to the northern Pacific coast of California.

William Henry Ashley (1778-1838) - Co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Ashley led a hundred men along the Missouri River on trapping expeditions. The men became known as "Ashley's Hundred."

John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) - Astor, who formed the American Fur Company, was the head of the Astor family dynasty and the first millionaire in the United States.

Charles Autobees (1812-1882) - Trader, trapper and mountain man, Autobee worked with such notable men as William Bent, Ceran St. Vrain, Kit Carson, James Bridger, and James Beckwourth, as well as a number of Indian tribes.

Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon (1475-1526) - A Spanish conquistador and explorer who tried to start a colony in North America in 1526. He was the first European colonizer of what is now South Carolina.

Marcelino Baca (1808?-1862) - Soldier, trapper and trader of New Mexico.

Jim Baker (1818-1898) - One of the most colorful figures of the Old West, Baker worked as a trapper, scout and guide and  was a friend of Jim Bridger and Kit Carson. He was also one of  General John C. Fremont's favorite scouts.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1475?-1519) - Spanish conquistador and explorer, Balboa who was the first European to see the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean in 1513 after crossing the Isthmus of Panama.

William Becknell blazes the Santa Fe TrailWilliam Becknell (1788-1856) - A frontiersman and trader who established the Santa Fe Trail.

James Pierson Beckwourth (1798-1860) - Born as a slave, but later freed, Beckwourth joined William Henry Ashley's Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Later he lived among the Crow Indians, established two trading posts, helped to found the town of Pueblo, Colorado, and acted as a scout for John C. Freemont.

Charles Bent (1799-1847) - He and brother, William, helped to "open the West," by trading with the Indians and building Bent's Fort in Colorado in 1833. 

William Bent (1809-1869) - The younger brother of Charles Bent, William was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1809. The brothers established Bent's Fort in Colorado in 1833 to trade with the plains Indians and area trappers. 

Bartholomew Berthold (1780-1831) - A prominent St. Louis fur trader, he was the brother-in-law of Pierre Chouteau, Jr.

Jefferson Blackwell - A fur trader who worked with John Gannt in the upper Rocky Mountains.

Daniel Boone (1734 - 1820) -  An American Pioneer, Daniel Boone was a frontiersman, surveyor and Indian Fighter who blazed the trail known as the Wilderness Road in 1775. Born in Pennsylvania on November 2, 1734, In May, 1750, Boone's father moved the family to North Carolina. Boone fought in the French and Indian War in 1755 and in 1765 began to explore as far south as Pensacola, Florida. When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Boone fought on both sides.


Continued Next Page


Explorers, Scouts, Trappers & Traders Slideshow:



All images available for photo prints and commercial downloads HERE!



Also See:

Exploring America

Fur Trading in the American West

The Great Fur Trade Companies

Trading Posts of the Fur Trade

Trading Posts and Their Stories

Trappers, Traders & Pathfinders


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Mountain Man Returning to Camp

One of the many mountain men of the Old West.

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