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Explorers, Trappers, Traders & Mountain Men - A

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1860 illustration of Grizzly AdamsJohn C. "Grizzly" Adams (1812-1860) - Born in Massachusetts on October 12, 1812, Adams first worked as a shoemaker before becoming a hunter in New England's forests. When gold was discovered in California in 1858, Adams, along with thousands of others, made his way west. However, when he failed to find his fortune, he earned his living by trapping in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He became a professional hunter of grizzly bears to supply early California restaurants, and also caught and trained them to sell to zoos and circuses. The buckskin clad trapper became a well-known figure when he took his bears to New York City and later became involved in P.T. Barnum's Circus. Adams died on October 25, 1860 from meningitis from an open head wound that resulted from an accident while training a monkey on tour with P.T. Barnum. Barnum paid for his tombstone.


James Aird (??-1819) - Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, he immigrated to the United States, first settling in Wisconsin. He married the daughter of a Dakota Chief and was trading on the Upper Mississippi River as early as 1783. As a fur trader, he worked with traders of the time including Jean Perrault, Charles Paterson, Joseph Ainse, Robert Dickson, and many others. In August, 1805, he met up with Zebulon Pike on the Mississippi River, and the following year, met Lewis and Clark on the lower Missouri River.


During the War of 1812, he sided with the British. Afterwards, he was working on the River St. Peters (now called the Minnesota River) where he was said to have nearly starved in 1815. The next year, he went to work for the American Fur Company, and continued to work for them until his health failed. He died in February, 1819.


John Davis Albert (1806-1899) - Born at Hagerstown, Maryland and raised in Pennsylvania, Albert made his way west when he grew up. In 1833, he traveled by keelboat from New Orleans to St. Louis, Missouri and from there headed to the Rocky Mountains, where he lived for three years. By 1838, he was farming near Taos, New Mexico and barely escaped the Turley's Mill Massacre in 1847 at Arroyo Hondo, which was an extension of the Taos Revolt during the Mexican-American War. He later settled at Walsenburg, Colorado about 1872. He died there on April 24, 1899.  


Cyrus AlexanderCyrus Alexander (1805-1872) - Alexander was an early setter of Sonoma County California and trapper In the Rocky Mountains. Born in Pennsylvania on May 5, 1805, Alexander was the seventh of eight children. When he was just five years-old he moved with his family to Illinois. As a child, he was in poor health and spent much of his time reading adventure tales rather than working on the farm. When he grew up, he learned the tanning and shoemaking trade, and at the age of 22, he set out to make his fortune in Illinois. Not finding that to his liking, he next joined the American Fur Company in 1831, trapping in the Rocky Mountains.


But, by 1833, he was in southern California, where he worked at a number of occupations before he began to hunt otter and sea lions. During this time, he met Captain Fitch, who had been granted some 35,000 acres of land in northern California. Fitch soon sent Alexander on a scouting expedition of the property in what is present-day Healdsburg in Sonoma County. 


In 1840, Alexander became the ranch foreman for the large Rancho Sotoyome. He continued to work for Fitch until 1844 when he received a portion of the land for his own use. The same year, he married a 13 year-old child bride named Rufina Lucero. He soon turned over the management of Fitch's ranch over to Mose Carson, brother of Kit Carson and settled his own land, eventually becoming known as a California agricultural pioneer. Continuing to diversify, Alexander was a wealthy man by the time he was 60 years-old. But, at that age, he had a severe stroke that left him partially paralyzed for the next seven years. He died on December 27, 1872. Rufina died there also on March 18, 1908.


Manuel Alvarez (1794-1856) - A mountain man, trapper and trader who turned politician. Alvarez was born in Albegas, Spain, but by 1818, had crossed the ocean and was in Mexico. He then made his way to New York, then to Missouri, and was in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1824, where he engaged in trading for several years. He then entered the Rocky Mountain fur trade as a free trapper, before later joining with the American Fur Company. He left the mountains in about 1834 and returned to Santa Fe, where he continued as a trader and showed an interest in politics. After the acquisition of New Mexico by the U.S., Alverez became a leader in the territory becoming a state. Afterwards he held several political offices before he died in July, 1856.




Louis Ambroise (1801-1842) - A trapper and trader in the Colorado Mountains. Ambroise was born at St. Louis, Missouri in 1801 and when he grew up he headed southwest, reaching Taos, New Mexico about 1822. He married a Spanish woman in 1824 and was working as a trapper. In 1827, he was part of Sylvestre Pratte’s party trapping in the Colorado mountains. He was badly wounded by Southern Ute Indians and while trying to recover with Cheyenne Indian friends, they put an end to his misery on August 15, 1842.


William Henry Ashley (1778-1838) - A native of Virginia, Ashley moved West in 1803 to St. Genevieve in what was then called Louisiana, and would later become Missouri. In 1808,he moved to St. Louis where he earned a small fortune manufacturing gunpowder from a lode of saltpeter mined in a cave near the headwaters of Missouri's Current River. Serving in the Missouri Militia during the War of 1812, he was elevated to the rank of Brigadier General. In 1822 Ashley and a business partner named Andrew Henry, a bullet maker whom he met through his gunpowder business, decided to form the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. To ready for their adventure, the post advertisements in St. Louis newspaper seeking one hundred "enterprising young men . . . to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years." The men who responded became known as "Ashley's Hundred." For the next three years, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company made several large scale fur trapping expeditions in the west. It was Ashley's idea for trappers, Indians and traders to meet annually in a predetermined location to exchange furs, goods and money. The first mountain man's rendezvous took place on Henry's Fork of the Green River in what is now Wyoming in 1825. Ashley's innovations in the fur trade earned him recognition, money, and helped to open the western part of the continent to American expansion. In 1826, he sold the trading company to Jedediah Smith and other traders and moved on to politics, becoming a U.S. Representative. When issouri was admitted to the Union Ashley was elected its first Lieutenant Governor. Ashley died of pneumonia in 1838 and was interred atop an Indian burial mound in Cooper County, Missouri.

Charles Autobees (1821-1882) - Trader, trapper and mountain man, Autobees was born in 1821, probably in St. Louis, Missouri. His mother was a woman named Sarah Autobee, believed to have been a Delaware Indian. She was widowed either before or shortly after Charles' birth, as she was married to Bartholomew Tobin, when a second child and Charles' half-brother, Tom Tate Tobin, was born in May, 1823.  When Charles was just 16 years old he went west work as a beaver trapper. He soon returned to St. Louis, Missouri briefly, and when he went west again to Taos, New Mexico, his 14 year-ol brother Tom Tobin came with him in the company of Ceran St. Vrain. Charles lived as a mountain man and trader for several years, often working with such names as William Bent, Ceran St. Vrain, Kit Carson, James Bridger, and James Beckwourth He was also a familiar figure among numerous Indian tribes including the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Teton Lakota, Navajo, and Ute. During these years he learned to speak a number of tribal languages as well as Spanish. He was also "married" to a number of Indian women and two hispanic women over the years.

In 1853, he homesteaded a ranch near the junction of the Huerfano and Arkansas Rivers. At this time he was "married" to an Arapahoe woman named Sycamore. Settling in the midst of Ute territory, most other area pioneers were driven away by the tribe. However, when Charles was threatened by them, he and his wife Sycamore, both fought steadily against them for more than two hours, before the Ute finally retreated. In 1861, he became one of the first three County Commissioners of Huerfano County, Colorado Territory. Over the years, he also operated a ferry across the Arkansas River, ran a saloon near Fort Reynolds, Colorado, and acted as a scout during the Indian wars.

Though he lived on his ranch for 30 years, it was later found that the land didn't qualify under US Government Homestead rules and he eventually lost his property. He spent his last years with his second "legal" wife, Juanita Gomez, living in near poverty. He died on June 17, 1882 and was buried in the Saint Vrain Cemetery in Avondale, Colorado. The original headstone marking the exact location of his grave was swept away by one of the many floods of the nearby Huerfano River. However, an elevated memorial headstone was later erected.


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