Pierre Louis Vasquez, also spelled Luis Vázquez, was a mountain man and trader who was involved with other famous frontiersmen of the time, including Jim Bridger, Manuel Lisa, Kit Carson, and Andrew Sublette.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 3, 1798, to Spanish fur trader Benito Vázquez and Marie-Julie Papin, the youngest of eleven brothers. He was educated by the Priests at the St. Louis Cathedral. Following in his father’s footsteps, he grew up to become a fur trapper and trader. He received his first license to trade with the Pawnee Indians in 1823. He was a bit of a rarity among other traders because he was one of the few that was literate.
By the early 1830s, he moved westward to the Rocky Mountains, and in 1834, he became a partner with Andrew Sublette. In 1835 the two established Fort Vasquez along the South Platte River in Colorado. One of the first trading posts in the area, they did a brisk business in buffalo robes, beaver pelts, and other furs. Traveling back and forth between the mountains and St. Louis almost yearly, his reputation grew, and by 1837 Vasquez and Sublette had 22 men in their employ.
Soon, however, three more trading posts, including Fort St. Vrain, Fort Jackson, and Fort Lupton, and the competition became fierce. Unable to turn a profit, they sold Fort Vasquez to Lock and Randolph in 1840, who subsequently went bankrupt, and Vasquez and Sublette were unable to collect the $800 owed to them for the sale.
Vasquez then became associated with Jim Bridger, and after the death of Jim Bridger’s partner, Henry Fraeb, in August 1841, Vasquez entered into a partnership with Bridger. In August 1842, Bridger and Vasquez and 30 or 40 other men outfitted by the American Fur Company set out to trap in the Green River Country. In the summer of 1843, they built Fort Bridger on Blacks Fork of the Green River, which became as much an emigrant station as a trading post on the Oregon Trail. While Bridger continued to lead trapping brigades into the mountains, Vasquez managed the post and soon earned the nickname “Old Vaskiss” by other Mountain men.
In the fall of 1846, Vasquez returned to St. Louis, where he married a widow with two children, Mrs. Narcissa Land Ashcraft, and returned to Fort Bridger with his new family. In the following years, the couple would have three more children.
In 1849 Vasquez opened a store in Salt Lake City, Utah, and for a period of time, he also operated a flat-bottomed toll boat for ferrying wagons across the Green River. In 1855, he sold his share of Fort Bridger to the Mormon Church and soon returned with his family to Missouri.
His partner, Jim Bridger, also sold his interest in the fort in 1858 and eventually also settled in Missouri.
In 1859 Louis was living in Westport, Missouri, where he had taken up farming with his family.
Vasquez died in Westport on September 5, 1868, at the age of 70 and was buried at St. Mary’s Church cemetery.
Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, November 2022.
List of Old West Explorers, Trappers, Traders & Mountain Men
Trappers, Traders & Pathfinders