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Explorers, Trappers, Traders & Mountain Men - "S"

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Rufus B. Sage, FrontiersmanRufus B. Sage (1817-1893) - A frontiersman, mountain man, and author, Sage was born at Cromwell, Connecticut, where he became a newspaper man when he grew up. Somewhere along the line, he made his way to Independence, Missouri. In September, 1841, he left with Lancaster P. Lupton, headed to Fort Platte, Wyoming where they stayed for the winter before returning to Missouri the next summer. Before long, he was off to the mountains again, where he lived as a mountain man and traveled from Fort Hall, Idaho to Texas, studiously taking notes all the while. In 1844, he went to Ohio, where he wrote the book Scenes in the Rocky Mountains. He died on December 23, 1893.


John Sayer (1750-1818) - An trader with many years experience, John Sayer became a wintering partner of the North West Company in the 1790s. He managed the Fond du Lac and Folle Avoine Departments, which included the area south of Lake Superior and the northern reaches of the St. Croix River Valley. In the region under his command, Sayer traveled widely and oversaw the operation of 12 smaller wintering posts. He built and operated a supply depot and warehouse at Fort St. Louis, on the shores of Lake Superior.


Previously, Sayer had taken an Ojibwe wife in about 1781, who was the daughter of Chief Big Foot Momangazida. Her grandfather and and brother were also chiefs, which provided many advantages for the trader and increased his importance among the tribe. The couple would have at least three sons over the years, of which one would later become a cler with Hudson's Bay Company. Obemau-unoqua was likely with Sayer when he settled at Fort St. Louis in 1793.

Sayer was responsible for the actual trading in his department. Although he followed general company policies, he negotiated directly with the local Indians and provided gifts to encourage the natives to trade. Sayer kept tight control of all his department’s operations. During the winter of 1804, he led a crew in establishing the North West Company Trading Post near Pine City, Minnesota. That same year, he closely supervised the activities of two other traders. Joseph “La Prairie” Duchene wintered along the Yellow River. Joseph Reaume wintered at Namai-Kowagon. Both were frequent visitors to Sayer’s North West Company post on the Snake River.

After the North West Company merged with the XY Company, the cost of trade goods increased, fur values decreased and profits went down, resulting in the number of trading posts being reduced, as well as the number of workers and salaries.


In the middle of all this change, Sayer took his rotation to Montreal where he traded for the company at Lac de Chats on the Ottawa River. Then, after over 30 years in the business, he retired from active partnership in 1808. According to company policy, Sayer received title to a large farm within the district of Montreal in exchange for one of his shares in the company. He also was allowed to keep his second share as a source of income during his retirement.

After a few years as a gentleman farmer, Sayer sold both his second share and the farm. He then relocated to the village of St. Anne’s on the island of Montreal. While living there, Sayer married Elizabeth McPherson and was elected to the Beaver Club, an exclusive social club for North West Company employees living in Montreal. Somewhere along the way he had obviously abandoned his Ojibwe wife. Sayer would not enjoy a long and prosperous retirement, as he died in 1818 at the age of 68.

Alexander Sinclair (1790-1832) - Probably born in Tennessee, he grew up tobecome a trapper. In 1830, he joined with George Nidever and others, forming the Bean-Sinclair trapping party at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Leading the party, Sinclair and his men joined the rendezvous at Pierre's Hole in 1832. In the Battle of Pierre's Hole, he was killed on July 18, 1832.


Prewett Fuller Sinclair (1803-1882) - The younger brother of Alexander Sinclair, he was probably born in Tennessee. Along with his brother, he joined the Bean-Sinclair trapping party at Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1830. His older brother was killed two years later at the Battle of Pierre's Hole in present-day Idaho. Prewett remained in the mountains until 1837 when he became a partner in Fort Davy Crockett at Brown's Hole, Colorado. He then went to California in 1843. In 1846 he briefly joined one of John Charles Fremont's expeditions, before settling at Corralitos, California. There, he became a prominent pioneer and businessman. He died in 1882.




John Simpson Smith, aka: Uncle John Blackfoot Smith (1812-1871) - Trader and frontiersman, Smith ranged from the Yellowstone to the Gila River, and from the upper Missouri River to the Rio Grande. He was born in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1810 and at the age of 18 joined a party of Santa Fe traders. By 1830, he was trapping in the Rocky Mountains and when he saved himself from Blackfoot Indians by using trickery, he earned the nickname Blackfoot Smith. Somewhere along the line, he married a Cheyenne woman and in 1843 was at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Three years later, in 1846, he was at Bent's Fort, Colorado. Smith, who spoke four Indian dialects, as well as French and Spanish, served as an interpreter for the Fort Laramie Treaty council in 1851. He served briefly as a guide for the army's Utah Expedition of 1857. He was a pioneer founder of Denver, Colorado and by 1862, was living at Fort Lyon, Colorado. In 1864, acting as an interpreter, he helped to persuade Black Kettle and his Cheyenne followers to camp at Sand Creek, Colorado. Before the Chivington Massacre occurred there on November 29th, Smith did everything in his power to prevent it and during the massacre, Smith's son, Jack was killed and John narrowly escaped death, himself. Afterwards, he again served as an interpreter at the Little Arkansas council and accompanied the Cheyenne to their new reservation in Indian Territory, where he lived until he died on June 29, 1871.   



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