Charles Autobees – Trapper, Trader and Mountain Man

Charles Autobees

Charles Autobees

Charles Autobees was a trader, trapper, and mountain man in the American West.

Autobees was born in 1821 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Francis Autobees and Sarah T. Tate. His mother was believed to have been a Delaware Indian, and his French-Canadian father may have had Native American heritage as well. His mother was widowed either before or shortly after Charles’ birth and soon married Bartholomew Tobin, with whom she had a second child, Tom Tate Tobin, in May 1823. When Charles was 16 years old, he went west to 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-old 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 William Bent, Ceran St. Vrain, Kit Carson, James Bridger, and James Beckwourth. He was also familiar among numerous Indian tribes, including the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Teton Lakota, Navajo, and Ute. During these years, he learned to speak several tribal languages and Spanish. He was also “married” to several Indian women and two Hispanic women over the years.

In 1853, he homesteaded a ranch near the Huerfano and Arkansas Rivers junction in Colorado. He was “married” to an Arapaho woman named Sycamore. Settling amid Ute territory, most other area pioneers were driven away by the tribe. However, when they threatened Charles, he and his wife, Sycamore, fought steadily against them for over 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 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 living in near poverty with his second “legal” wife, Juanita Gomez. 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.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated June 2023.

Also See:

Adventures in the American West.

Fur Trading on the Frontier

Tales & Trails of the American Frontier

Who’s Who in American History