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Explorers, Trappers, Traders & Mountain Men - F

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Russel FarnhamRussel Farnham (1784-1832) - An explorer and fur trader, Farnham was born in Massachusetts in 1784 and when he grew up, he joined an expedition organized by John Jacob Astor to establish the Pacific Fur Company. First hired as a clerk, he later began to oversee the trading of the American Fur Company in the Great Lakes region during the 1810s and 1820s. He was arrested as a spy during the War of 1812, but when several of his friends appealed to British authorities, the charges were eventually dropped. He made one of the first trips into the Midwest on behalf of the American Fur Company 1817, and later formed a partnership with George Davenport, trading with the Sac and Fox in the Missouri River Valley. During this time he took a wife from the Menominee tribe named Agathe Wood and the couple would have a daughter.

In 1826, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he married a white woman named Susan Bosseron, and they too, would have a child. In 1827, he and a man named Ramsey Crooks absorbed the Columbia Fur Company, and with former Columbia traders such as Kenneth MacKenzie, the two founded the American Fur Company's Upper Missouri Outfit. On October 23, 1832, he contracted cholera while in St. Louis, and died within hours.


Mike Fink (1770-1823) - A keelboatman and fur trader, hew was also a renowned marksman, roisterer, and champion rough-and-tumble fighter. He joined General William H. Ashley’s first fur-trapping and trading expedition to the upper Missouri River country and was killed in a quarrel the next year. See full article HERE.

Thomas Fitzpatrick, aka: Broken Hand (1799-1854) - Born in County Caven, Ireland, he immigrated to America in about 1816, where he soon became involved in the Indian Trade. On February 13, 1822, William Henry Ashley, who co-founded the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, placed an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Adviser, calling for 100 enterprising men to "ascend the river Missouri." Fitzpatrick applied and soon became part of the trapping group referred to as Ashley's Hundred, along with several other would-be famous mountain men including William Sublette, Jim Beckwourth, David Jackson, Hugh Glass, James Bridger and Jedediah Smith. On June 1, 1823 Ashley and his party of 70 men were attacked by 600 Arikara Indians, inciting what is known as the Arikara War. Twelve of Ashley's men were killed and the rest were forced to retreat.


Over the next several years, he continued to work as a trapper, and with Jedediah Smith, he led a trapper band that discovered South Pass, Wyoming. In 1830, he and four other men purchased the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, which he became the head of. Two years later, he played a prominent part in the Battle of Pierre's Hole, Idaho. During these times, he had several near death brushes with Indians and suffered many hardships and his hair grayed to such a point, he was sometimes referred to as "White Hair." In 1836, he sold his interests in the fur company, but continued to independently hire out as a guide to the American Fur Company. 


He also guided the first two emigrant wagon trains from Missouri to Oregon, was official guide to John C. Fremont on his longest expedition in 1843, and the following year, guided Colonel Philip Kearny and his Dragoons to the mountains at the outset of the Mexican-American War. Later, he became the Indian Agent for the Upper Platte and Arkansas Rivers, in which he counseled with the Cheyenne at Bent's Fort in 1847, with the Indians on the South Platte River in 1848,  was instrumental in organizing the Fort Laramie conference in 1851, and was involved in several other treaty negotiations. While in Washington, D.C. in 1854, he got sick with pneumonia and died on February 7, 1854. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. During his lifetime, he married a woman of mixed French-Snake ancestry and fathered to children. He was nicknamed "Broken Hand," because his left hand had been crippled in a firearms accident.


Lucien Fontenelle (1800-1840) - The son of a wealthy New Orleans family, Fontenelle was born on October 9,1800. He left home when he was just 16 years-old and entered the fur trade. Trading among the Omaha and other Indian tribes, he initially worked primarily about river posts like Bellevue, Nebraska. He later worked for the Missouri Fur Company and married an Omaha Indian girl named Bright Sun. The couple would have a son named Logan, who would later become an Omaha Chief. In 1825, partnered with Joshua Pilcher, and they, along with several other trappers set out for the Rocky Mountains.




The expedition; however was not profitable, and Fontenelle returned to Belleview in 1828, while Pilcher remained in the mountains. He bought Pilcher's interest in the trading post which then became known as Fontenelle's Post. he then became affiliated with the American Fur Company and for the next decade he made yearly trips to the Rocky Mountains for the fur company. In 1832, he sold the Bellevue site to the government for use as as the headquarters of the Indian agent to the Omaha, Pawnee, Oto, and Missouri tribes, but soon built a new home and trading post just a few hundred yards down the Missouri River. During his lifetime, he was acquainted with several other famous mountain men, including Kit Carson, James Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette and countless others. At some point, he contracted cholera and was treated by Dr. Marcus Whitman. Towards, the end of his life, though he continued to operate his trading post, alcohol and personal problems began to wear on him. He died at Bellevue, Nebraska in about 1840, attended by Father DeSmet and was buried on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.


John C. FreemontJohn Charles Fremont (1813-1890) - Explorer, Surveyor, Military Man and Politician, Fremont was born on January 21, 1813 in Savannah, Georgia. When his father died when John was just five years old, the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina where he attended college before being expelled for irregular attendance. However, he'd done well in math and got a teaching job on a war ship. His career as an explorer began when he left the Navy to join the United States Topographical Corps, which later became the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1838, he was commissioned a second lieutenant by President Van Buren and in that year and the next, he took part in Jean Nicollet's expedition to the plains between the upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Becoming an expert in geology and topography, he headed his own expedition into to survey the Des Moines River in 1841. On October 19, 1841, he secretly married Jessie, daughter of Thomas H. Benton, her parents objecting to the union on account of her age.


The next ten years Fremont spent in exploring the country between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, and all the way to the Pacific Coast (see Freemont's Expeditions.) His reports gave to many, their first knowledge of what is now the many states of the American West and his work won for him, the nickname of "Pathfinder."


Landing in California with his wife, Fremont led much of the revolt in Alta that led to the state's admission in the Union. When gold was found on the land that he had purchased in the Sierra foothills, he became a millionaire. He then moved to politics, serving as one of California's first senators. The first Republican National Convention in 1856 nominated him for the presidency, and he received 114 electoral votes, but James Buchanan received 174 and went on to win the election. Soon after the Civil War began, he was made major-general and assigned to the command of the Western Department, with headquarters at St. Louis, Missouri. On August 31, 1861, he proclaimed martial law and the emancipation of the slaves belonging to those in arms against the government. President Lincoln endorsed the proclamation, except that part concerning emancipation, but this, Fremont refused to rescind, and it was finally annulled by order of the president. This, and other complaints, caused him to he relieved of his command, but the following spring he was placed in command of the mountain district in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. When his command was made a part of General John Pope's army of Virginia, Fremont asked to be relieved. His request was granted, and this ended his military career. Afterwards, he lost his fortune through bad investments with railroads and moved to Arizona, where he was made territorial governor from 1878 to 1883. In 1887 Fremont returned to California. General Fremont was the author of various works, most of them relating to his explorations. He died on July 13, 1890, in New York City.



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