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Explorers, Trappers, Traders & Mountain Men - W

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Santa Fe Trail MapEzekiel "Zeke" Williams (1775-1844) - Trapper, trader and frontiersman, Ezekiel was born in Kentucky about 1775 where he went to school. More familiarly called Zeke, he grew up to marry and fathered a son. by 1807, he was in St. Louis and worked his way up the Missouri River trapping along the way. He joined Manuel Lisa and helped to construct Fort Raymond at the confluence of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Rivers. Zeke returned to St. Louis with Manuel Lisa in 1808 and the following year, accompanied the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company back up the river, working out of Fort Mandan in present-day North Dakota.  


In 1810, he was trapping along the upper Arkansas River and later joined the Arapaho Indians, with whom, he was thought to have spent the years of 1812-13 with them in New Mexico. By December, 1814, he was back in St. Louis, Missouri. While he had been trapping along the Arkansas River, he was working with Jean Baptiste Champlain, who had been killed along the way. Some accused him of Champlain's death and stealing his furs, but this was most likely unjust. He married again and was farming near Franklin in 1814 and later moved to Boonville, Missouri in 1823. In 1827, he led a party to Santa Fe, New Mexico and returned safely. He then moved to Benton County, Missouri, where he died on December 24, 1844.


William Sherley "Old Bill" Williams (1787-1849) - A Mountain Man, explorer, army scout, and frontiersman, Williams was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina on June 3, 1787. He moved with his family to St. Louis, Missouri in 1795. When he grew up, he became a traveling preacher, before moving on to become a trapper and frontiersman, where he earned the nicknames of "Old Solitaire" or just "Old Bill Williams." Early on, he lived among the Osage Indians, where he met and married his Indian wife. Early in the War of 1812, he served as a sergeant and scout with the Mounted Rangers. Working as a trapper and a trader, he also lived with the Ute Indians for a time and mastered several Indian languages. Moving all over the west he worked as far as Yellowstone country and California, and south in Texas. By 1835, he was working mostly along the Santa Fe Trail. By 1837; however, he was in Arizona, exploring the Colorado River. In 1848, he joined John C. Fremont's fourth expedition at Bent's Fort, Colorado as a guide and was one of Fremont's favorites. Though Williams was well respected by Fremont, the latter disregarded the advice of Williams and led his group toward the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, where most of the party perished of cold and starvation. In 1849, while retracing parts of the expedition, Williams was killed by Ute Indians on March 21st.  More ....


Richard Lacey “Uncle Dick” WoottonRichens Lacy "Uncle Dick” Wootton (1816-1893) - American frontiersman, mountain man, trapper, and guide, Wootton was born in Mecklenberg County, Virginia on May 6, 1816. At the age of 7, the family moved to Kentucky, where Richard stayed until he was 17. He then moved to Mississippi where he worked on his uncle’s cotton plantation for two years before making his way to Independence, Missouri in 1836.


He soon took a job working on a wagon train run by the Bent, St. Vrain & Co., which landed him at Bent's Fort, near present day La Junta, Colorado. The fort was the only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements, and as such, provided explorers, pioneers, and the U.S. Army with supplies, wagon repairs, livestock, food, water and protection.  More ...


Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth (1802-1856) - Explorer and fur trader, Wyeth was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on January 29, 1802. He first began working as working as an ice harvester, during which time, he invented a number of tools that increased productivity. He married Elizabeth Jarvis Stone on January  29, 1824. A few years later, another Massachusetts man began to tout the benefits of Oregon country and Wyeth was convinced that he could become wealthy in the Oregon fur industry.  In 1831, Hall sought to undertake an expedition to the west with Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, assembling a party of several hundred men.


However, when numerous delays forced the abandonment of the plan, Wyeth went West without Kelley. He and several other men boarded a ship in March of 1832, bound for Brownsville, Texas. From there, they made their way to Missouri and proceeded along what would later become known as the Oregon Trail. In the summer, they made their way to the mountain man rendezvous, where Wyeth got caught up in the Battle of Pierre's Hole, Idaho. The party arrived at Fort Vancouver, Washington in October. After spending several months there, he returned to the east and in 1834, outfitted a second expedition with plans for establishing fur-trading posts, a salmon fishery, a colony, and other developments. On their journey west, he and others Fort Hall, Idaho in July, 1834, and later built Fort William in present-day Washington. Trapping and trading for the next two years, he finally had to admit that the stiff competition of the Hudson's Bay Company, which dominated the northwest, was too much for him to be profitable. Discouraged, he returned to the East in 1836. Although his expeditions westward failed, his business dealings in  Massachusetts did very well. Though he never returned to the west, he continued to support the occupation of Oregon by American settlers. He died on August 31, 1856.




© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated April, 2017.


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