John Simpson Smith – Superior Frontiersman

John Simpson Smith

John Simpson Smith

John Simpson Smith, also known as Uncle John Blackfoot Smith, was a trader and frontiersman who ranged from the Yellowstone River to the Gila River and from the upper Missouri River to the Rio Grande.

Smith was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1810 and, at 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 FortColorado. Smith, who spoke four Indian dialects and 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 on November 29th, Smith did everything he could to prevent it. During the massacre, Smith’s son, Jack, was killed, and John narrowly escaped death himself. Afterward, he again served as an interpreter at the Little Arkansas council. He accompanied the Cheyenne to their new reservation in Indian Territory, where he lived until he died on June 29, 1871.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

Adventures in the American West

Early Traders on the Santa Fe Trail

Scouts, Explorers, Frontiersmen, Trappers & Traders Photo Gallery

Trappers, Traders & Pathfinders