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Explorers, Trappers, Traders & Mountain Men - B

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Marcelino Baca (1808?-1862) - Born in New Mexico in about 1808, Baca was a 19th century fur trader. A native of Taos, New Mexico, Baca first learned beaver trapping while accompanying American groups, as the Spanish government required Mexican citizens to accompany any foreign commercial operation. After the fur trade in the American Southwest declined, Baca trapped in the northern Rocky Mountains, and eventually settled near Pueblo, Colorado. Under increasing threat from local Indian tribes, Baca moved his family to the small village of Rio Colorado, in New Mexico in 1854. With the advent of the Civil War, Baca joined the New Mexico Volunteers and was killed in a battle with invading Texans on February 21, 1862.


Jim Baker, mountain manJim Baker (1818-1898) - Born at Belleville, Illinois on December 19, 1818, he was recruited by Jim Bridger as a trapper for the American Fur Company when he was 21. Leaving St. Louis, Missouri with a large trapping party in May, 1838, he spent two years in the Rocky Mountains before briefly returning to Illinois in 1840. He soon returned westward, accompanying an emigrant train. In August of 1841 he was involved in a desperate fight at the junction of Bitter Creek and the Snake River when 35 trappers beat off a large band of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. He spent the next several years in the mountains before he was hired as chief scout for General William S. Harney of Fort Laramie, Wyoming. He guided Randolph Marcy from Fort Bridger, Wyoming to Fort Union, New Mexico, in late 1857. In 1859, he settled in Denver and guided numerous parties into the mountains. However, in 1873 he moved to a homestead near Dixon, Wyoming, where he raised livestock until his death on May 15, 1898. He was buried at Savery, Wyoming. During his lifetime, he was married six times, each time to an Indian woman, and sired numerous children.


William Becknell (1788-1856) - Known as the "Father of the Santa Fe Trail", Becknell was the first to blaze the path. He was also a frontiersman, trader, soldier, and politician. See full article HERE.


James Pierson Beckwourth (1798-1860) - Born as a slave in Fredricksburg County, Virginia on April 6, 1798, his mother was a mulatto slave in the service of his white father's household. The Beckwourth family later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where James was raised "free" and completed four years of schooling before being apprenticed to a blacksmith for five years. When he was 18, he ran away but had trouble trouble finding work until he joined General William Henry Ashley's Rocky Mountain Fur Trading Company. In 1825, he left Ashley's expedition and went to live among the Crow Indians for the next six years, where the Crows made him a chieftain and called him "Bull's Robe." In 1837 he returned to "civilization," established two trading posts and helped to found the town of Pueblo, Colorado. He later fought in the Seminole War in 1842 and the California Revolution in 1846. In 1848 he became General John C. Freemont's chief scout. In 1850, he discovered a safer route through the Sierra Nevadas, which is now called "Beckwourth Pass." There he built a ranch and trading post. Beckwourth's last adventure took place in 1866 when he fought in the Cheyenne War. Over the years, Beckwourth's travels took him from the everglades of Florida to the Pacific Ocean, blazing the trail in the early exploration and settlement of the American West. He died in October, 1860 of mysterious causes while visiting the Crow Indians along the Bighorn River.  More ....


Charles Bent (1799-1847) - One of the famous Bent brothers who helped "open the West," Charles was born in Charleston, West Virginia in 1799. He later became a trader and he and his younger brother, William, built Bent's Fort in Colorado in 1833. The only privately owned fortification in the west and the only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail, the fort was established to trade with the Plains Indians and area trappers. In 1846, Charles was appointed as the first Governor of the newly acquired New Mexico Territory. He was assassinated on January 19, 1847 during the Taos Revolt. .


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. The only permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail, the privately owned fortification soon became a premier trading center and rendezvous point. He became the primary manger of the fort when Charles moved south to Taos, New Mexico Territory. William also served as a scout for Stephen W. Kearny and Sterling Price in the Mexican War. In 1849 he destroyed the fort and built a new trading post farther down the Arkansas River in 1853. Bent died in 1869 and was buried in the Las Animas Cemetery.



Bartholomew Berthold (1780-1831) - A prominent St. Louis fur trader, Berthold was born Berthelemi Antoine Marthias Bertolla de Moncenigo near the city of Trent, Tyrol, Italy in 1780. When Napoleon invaded Italy, Bartholomew joined the opposition and was wounded in battle. After the French conquered Italy, he left his homeland and arrived in the United States in 1798. At that time he anglicized his name to Bartholomew Berthold. After a short stay in Philadelphia, he settled in Baltimore, but in 1809 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri.  There, along with Rene Paul, he engaged in the mercantile business. In 1811 he married Pelagie Chouteau, the only daughter of Major Pierre Chouteau, Sr., and the couple would eventually have seven children. He formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and conducted a successful business for several years. Later, he and Chouteau, along with John P. Cabanne and Bernard Pratte, became associated with John Jacob Astor in the American Fur Company. The business was very profitable, and Berthold became one of the wealthiest citizens of St. Louis. He died in St. Louis, Missouri on April 20, 1831, at the age of 57. His widow survived him 44 years, dying in 1875, at the age of 85.


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.


In 1769 he blazed the first known trail from North Carolina to Tennessee. Later, he explored much of Kentucky, which was little more than wilderness at the time. There, he established the settlements of Boonesborough and Boone's Station. In 1781, he was elected as a Virginia State Representative and the next year, a Deputy Surveyor. In the meantime, he lost his land claims in Kentucky. In 1799, he moved again with his son to Missouri where he became a judicial magistrate until 1803. On September 26, 1820, he died at the home of his Nathan Boone in St. Charles County, Missouri. See full Article HERE.


James "Jim" Bowie (1796-1836) - An American frontiersman and explorer, James was born in Kentucky in 1796 before his family moved to Missouri, then Louisiana. Bowie was a knife wielding adventurer who quickly gained a reputation for his bold and fearless disposition. The long knife he carried in his adventures seeking silver and gold, soon began to bear his name. Bowie moved to Texas in 1828 and joined the fight against Santa Anna for Independence. He was the commander of the volunteers at the Alamo and was killed on March 6, 1836, along with 189 defenders.


Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone engraving.

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Alexander K. Branch (1798-1841) - Frontiersman and trapper, Branch was born in Virginia. However, when he grew up, he went west and was in Taos, New Mexico by 1825. He then spent several years trapping beaver in the south west and the Rocky Mountains. In 1829 he was baptized a Catholic and took the name, Jose de Jesus. Somewhere along the line he married a native woman, with whom he had seven children. He later became a merchant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He died in January, 1841.


Francis Ziba Branch (1802-1874) - Sailor, trapper and trader, Branch was born on July 24, 1802 in Cayuga County, New York. When he grew up, he became a sailor working on the Great Lakes. In 1830, he joined a caravan headed for Santa Fe, New Mexico. Later that same year, he joined William Wolfskill on a trapping expedition to California. Along the way, the group was instrumental in opening what became known as the Old Spanish Trail from New Mexico to California. On his arrival, Branch spent years hunting sea otter. Later he became a businessman at Santa Barbara, California, before moving to a ranch in San Luis Obispo County. He died on May 8, 1874 of bronchitis.


Jim Bridger (1804-1881) - An accomplished trapper, scout, and mountain man, Bridger was born on March 17, 1804 in Richmond, Virginia. At the age of 17, Bridger joined General William Ashley's Upper Missouri Expedition and was one of the first non-Indians to see the natural wonders of what would become Yellowstone Park. In 1824, he was the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake, which he believed to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Known by the nicknames of Old Gabe and Blanket Chief, Bridger became a partner with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1830 and established Fort Bridger on the Black's Fork of the Green River in Wyoming Territory in 1842. He then guided prospectors to the gold mines of Montana and laid out routes for the Central Overland Stage and the Pike's Peak Express Company. With his eyesight failing, Bridger returned to Missouri in 1867 where he died on his farm near Kansas City on July 17, 1881. See full article HERE.




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