MEETING # 1613
February 4, 1999
Tales of an Explorer & Guide:
Jim Bridger's Later Years
by Robert Covington
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
James Bridger was a mountain man born in 1804 who, beginning in his eighteenth year, spent his life exploring mountains of the west between 1822 and 1868. During that time he was a trapper, scout, guide and Indian fighter and friend. He had three successive Indian wives and four children. Bridger had an extraordinary ability to find his way and never get lost. He was Chief Guide for many military operations and advisor to the military on Indian affairs for a period of twenty years. He is remembered as the foremost explorer of the Rocky Mountains.
Robert Covington was born in Redlands7 then the family moved to Alhambra where he lived during his grade school years. He then entered the University of Redlands and graduated in 1941.He attended Law School at the University of Southern California and was employed at the same time as a liaison engineer at Douglas Aircraft Company. He then served in the U. S. Army Air Force the latter part of World War II after which he earned his Master of Science in Public Administration from the University Of Southern California while working as a City Planner for the City of Long Beach. In 1948 he was selected as Planning Director for San Bernardino County and ten years later was appointed Chief Administrative Officer for the county and worked in the position until he retired in 1976. He and his family then bought and operated a summer resort along the upper part of the Madison River in Montana for a period of seven years. Since his retirement he has provided consulting service for a number of local governmental agencies and been active in his church and various service and cultural organizations.
Five years ago I read a paper entitled, "Tales of a Fur Trapper - Jim Bridger's Early Years" in which I related details of his early life and described a number of remarkable accomplishments occurring before he reached the age of twenty-one In brief, when Jim Bridger was eight years old the family who owned an inn and small farm on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia moved west and settled on a farm by the Missouri River close to St. Louis. Jim's father was a surveyor and often away from home and life was not easy for any of the family members. The mother died within three years Followed by Jim's young brother. The father died the next year leaving Jim and his sister in the care of an aunt. Jim became the man of the family, working the farm and doing odd jobs in town, hunting, fishing, and trapping small animals. At fourteen he apprenticed with the blacksmith in St. Louis and in the next four years he reamed a great variety of skills that were of value to him the rest of his life. Bridger completed his apprenticeship on his eighteenth birthday in March 1822 and signed on with a major expedition headed by General Ashley and Major Henry to trade with the Indians and to trap beaver. He now stood more than six feet in height and had strength and maturity beyond his years. Bridger learned rapidly, and his quiet manner, dependability and good judgement were rewarded with additional responsibility and many special assignments. He learned about Indians, their customs, the different tribes and some of their languages and also the sign language understood by all. He became an excellent hunter, expert trapper and a reliable scout and guide reputed to never become lost. He with others discovered the South Pass over the Divide and he alone was the first white man to find the Great Salt Lake. Bridger's feat of floating the rapids of Bad Pass on a solid raft, through a 20 mile deep winding canyon of the Big Horn River is unequaled. But this was just the beginning.
JIM BRIDGER'S LATER YEARS
General Ashley left St. Louis Marsh 8, l 826 with twenty-five men managing a lengthy merchandise caravan. They traveled the entire way by land generally along the north Platte River and on across to the South Pass over to Bear Lake for his second and last rendezvous.He arrived by June, remained for several weeks and returned by the same route, reaching St. Louis September 26th, a shorter round trip time than ever before achieved. Four years before a trip by boat up the Missouri [liver one way of about the same distance had taken almost as long.
While at Bear Lake the General transferred his mountain interests [trapping] to J. D. Smith, D. E. Jackson, and Capt. Wm. Sublette, including in the transfer the contracts of 42 fur trappers which would end in July 1827, one of which was that of Bridger. Also included was $16,000 worth of merchandise and supplies.
The new firm owners split their trappers into three groups with Bridger at the head of one. His party advanced to the Yellowstone area where D. T. Potts made the first written record of its phenomena to be published [Colter and Bridger had been the first to describe them orally]. Potts wrote: "On the border of this lake is a number of hot and boiling springs, some of water and others of the most beautiful fine ( white and pink ) clay, resembling a mush pot, and throwing particles to the immense height of from twenty and thirty feet. There is also a number of places where pure sulphur is sent forth in abundance. One of our men visited one of these whilst taking his recreation, there, at an instant the earth began a tremendous trembling, and he with difficulty, made his escape, when an explosion took place resembling that of thunder."
At the 1827 rendezvous at Bear Lake the Smith, Jackson and Sublette firm sold 7400 pounds of beaver furs at three dollars a pound, 95 pounds of castor at three dollars a pound and 102 otter skins at two dollars each for total $22,690 to Ashley and Co. However the cost of supplies for the year nearly equaled the sale total. General Ashley wrote in a letter to a senator that year "The products of the American hunters [about 100 in number] for three years, averages about $600 annually each. That the same watercourses, when first trapped, furnished double the quantity of furs in the same time with the same labor, I have not the least doubt." D. T. Potts writing at the 1 X27 rendezvous corroborated the Generals comment from another viewpoint, "There is a poor prospect of making much here, owing to the evil disposition of the Indians, and the exorbitant price of goods." For example: powder $2,50 a pound, lead $1.50, coffee, sugar, and tobacco $2.00 each, three point blankets $15.00, cotton and calico $2.50 a yard, blue and scarlet cloth $~.00 to $10.00 a yard, horses 5150 to $500 each.
Bridger with his park of 30 white men accompanied by women and children camped by a stream about fifteen miles from Bear Lake on their way to the 1828 rendezvous. Some friendly Flathead Indians passed by and found they were short of ammunition. When they reached the rendezvous they reported this, so Beckwourth and three others rode out with ammunition to the men and camped with them that night. In the morning they heard voices and discovered a band of several hundred Blackfeet approaching. They sent the women scurrying to some willows about three miles away and two of the men sped back to Bear Lake for reinforcements. The remainder fought a defensive battle as they retreated toward the willows. Fortunately they could not be surrounded because there was a lake on one side and a mountain on the other. The arrival of reinforcements surprised the Blackfeet and they immediately gave up the fight and retreated. The defenders followed for about two miles. Seventeen Indians were scalped, and four defenders had been killed and seven wounded. Also lost were two packs of furs, meats and some valuable horses.
One can wonder in this type of battle how thirty men can oppose as many as 500 Indians and not suffer a much greater loss. Indians were poor marksmen with guns and arrows were effective only at close range. Unlike the Indians the mountaineers fired only when they were sure of there aim.
The trading and assembling of furs for shipment resulted in about the same quantity as the previous year but Capt. Sublette delivered the shipment to St. Louis himself and was credited with almost $36,000 for his effort. The following year the rendezvous was held early July at Oil Spring [Lander]] with a disappointing load of 4S packs of beaver fur reaching St. Louis in September. Another gathering of about 175 mountain men occurred at Pierre's Hole west of the Tetons in late August for trading but no results are recorded.
For more than two years Bridger had been a freeman working for Sublettes firm with increasing leadership responsibilities, in effect acting as a lieutenant for the Captain, and participating in the planning, recommending places to hunt and trap and relaying orders to the men. Apparently Jedediah Smith's familiarity with the Bible and its references to the Angel Gabriel's duty to reveal Jehovah's will caused him to see in Bridger some similarity to "Old Gabriel". He began referring to Bridger in this manner and soon he became "Old Gabe" to most of those in camp and to many others as time went on although only twenty-six years old. He also was known as "Blanket Chief" by the Flatheads and Crows after his Flathead wife made a beautiful and unusual multicolored blanket that he wore and had for special occasions. The name meant little at first but as he became known for the qualities the Indians admired, the name became greatly respected and honored. As a leader he was often called "Captain" and later he had temporary Army appointments with the rank of"Major" in the 50's and 60's.
When Wm. Sublette returned to St. Louis in February 1830 he ordered ten heavy duty farm wagons to be equipped with frames with canvas covers over them and extra wide tires on the wheels. In addition he ordered two Dearborn buggies with four wheels, and tops with curtained sides.
Captain Sublette's journey to the west was indeed a memorable one yet there is no detailed written record. He left April 18, l 830 as the first wagon train traveling to the west and he followed a trail that he had to transform into a wagon road as he traveled along. Included in the company were the ten wagons, two carriages, 150 draft and riding mules, twelve beef cattle along with 80 carefully selected men. The wagon train reached a huge boulder along the trail on July 4, 1830 and the Captain conducted a "christening ceremony" naming the boulder "Independence Rock" [as it is still called today]. Twelve days later they arrived at the Wind River rendezvous having averaged ten miles a day.
At that meeting Sublette and his partners, with the success of their wagon trip in mind, transferred their mountain trapping interests which had a value of about $16,000 to a new firm with five partners, Fitzpatrick, Freab, Gervais, Milton Sublette and Bridger on papers sided August 1, 1930. The new firm was known as the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Bridger at the age of twenty-six was a partner! Three days later the three retiring partners, riding in the their carriages and with the wagons partially loaded with furs, left for St. Louis and reached it in early October averaging fifteen miles a day. They reported that the fur country was "nearly exhausted of its beavers" and they would now carry supplies to the west wherever needed.
For the fall hunt Bridger, Milton Sublette and Fitzpatrick took a group of ninety trappers, mostly freemen, into the Blackfoot territory. There they trapped the Smith River and then the Missouri to Three Forks and then wintered along the Yellowstone River where buffalo were available for food and along with forage for the horses. In early spring of 1831 Fitzpatrick led for St. Louis to meet Smith, Jackson and Capt. Sublette to arrange for their supplies for the rendezvous and the following winter. Bridger and Milton Sublette worked south and separated to trap along the Platte and Laramie Creek in Colorado. Then they met and proceeded to the Bear River near Bear Lake to wait for the arrival of Fitzpatrick with the supplies. When he failed to arrive and there was no news of any kind concerning him, Bridger felt they should consult with the Crow medicine man in whom he had great faith in handling situations of this kind. The other partners agreed that he should be asked about the whereabouts of Fitzpatrick. The medicine man was agreeable to help them - for a price. He went into a trance and told them that Fitzpatrick was not dead, he was on the road - but the wrong road; that they would find him if they searched.
Freab, accompanied by a trapper, scout, Indian interpreter and two others began a quick search of trails and roads along the Bear River, Ham's Fork, Green River, Wind River and the Platte. They were greatly surprised to find him hurrying west in the Laramie Mountains with thirty men and a pack train. It was not easy to explain why he had been in Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 4,1832, the day he was due at the Green River rendezvous. On his trip east he had found when he reached Lexington, Missouri that a very large wagon freight train was being assembled with Smith, Jackson and Sublette in charge and about to leave for Santa Fe rather than taking supplies to Green River as expected. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was about to be left hanging out to dry along with their beaver skins. Capt. Sublette did agree to load a pack train.. them -when-n he reached Santa Fe if Fitzpatrick would go with them, so he did. J. 3. Warner, one of the men accornlpanyir~ Sublette reported: "her. Fitzpatrick, one of the partners, successor to Smith Jackson & Sublette, who, with one man, had come from the r~.dc~ous on the Yellowstone in the winter, reached Lexington while our party was at that place, with two or three others, accompanied the park to New Mexico. On the morning of the second day after leaving the Arkansas River I May 27, 1831 l, lair. Smith rode in advance in search of water. He did not relearn. Soon after the arrival of the party at Santa Fe, July 4, ] 831, some New Mexican Indian traders came in bringing: the rifle and holster pistols of Mr. Smith, which they }had purchased from the Indians, who stated that they had killed the ouster on the Cimarron." This incident resulted in the dissolution of that partnership on reaching Sar~ta Fe and Capt. Sublette immediately prepared talc shipment for Fitzpatrick and including one of his staff members, Kit Carson, who joined E3ridgcrs Company as one of the trappers. Carson worked with Freab's park, and told of his expericncce during the winter of '31 - '32: "We traveled north till we struck the Platte River and then took up the Swectwater We trapped to the head of the Sweetwater, and then on to the Green River, and then on to Jackson Hole.... and from there on to tlm head of the Salmon River.
Then we came to the camp of a part of our band that we had been hunting; then we went into winter quarters on the head of the Salmon River. During the winter we lost some four or five men killed by the Blackfeet Indians." Bridger and Sublette also had their problems with the B1ackfeet and with a hand of Crees too, reputedly the world's worst Indian neighbors. Losses were mainly limited to horses. Four of Bridgers trappers had a bad day of it though when a number of Crees caught them on Gray's Creek. They survived by keeping all guns loaded and only firing one gun at a time when there was a she shot, the other three ready if the Indians were to charge as a group. When the Crees ran short of ammunition they retired leaving about thirty dead.
The spring beaver hunt of Bridger's party was successful as they worked their way east across Horse Prairie and Red Rock Creek. In the middle of May they camped in a canyon on Gray's Creek and had hundreds of beaver skins drying in the sun and several hundreds others folded and tied up in packs. When they heard that the American Fur Company, a rival trading firm was also going to attend the summer rendezvous, Bridger and his party proceeded directly over to Pierre's Hole, site of the 1832 rendevous. He laid out the Rocky Mountain Fur Company encampment near the middle of the valley in readiness for the pack train lead by Capt. Sublette and Fitzpatrick.
The rendezvous of '32 was one of the largest ever assembled with an estimated 350 whites and 250 Indians. The supply train arrived July 8~ as expected - except without Fitzpatrick who some days before had ridden ahead alone to announce their pending arrival. No one had seen him since. After a weeks search and inquiry he was found almost naked, without hat or shoes, exhausts and nearly starved. He was riding a stray horse, fortunately saddled and bridled, that he came upon after a miraculous escape ten days earlier from a small band of Blackfeet who captured and held him prisoner for several days.
As trading progressed a party headed by Nathaniel Wyeth and his two brothers who were bound for Oregon decided some of them would return to St. Louis for health reasons. They had traveled with Capt. Sublette coming west so he arranged for his brother Milton to take those proceeding to Oregon far enough to be out range of the Blackfoot Indians. The first day out they encountered at least 50 Blackfeet in war paint accompanied by women and children who signaled for a parley. Milton Sublette sent out Antoine Bodin and a Flathead leader to parley. As they rode out and were about to meet, Bodin recognized the lid chief as the one who had shot his father. He promptly raised his rifle and shot him dead, then snatched his chiefs blanket and retreated.
The Indians fled to some small timber for shelter and the women added branches and brush for protection as the Indians kept firing there weapons. A trapper was sent back to the rendezvous for help where Bridger and the other leaders conferred. They were concerned that this could be a diversionary force to draw them away from the camp so that a large force could attack and steal merchandise, furs, equipment and horses. Capt. Sublette took thirty traders and a like number of Flathead Indians to engage the Blackfeet and extra guards were placed with the horses and around the perimeter of the camp. The baffle continued all day with sporadic gunfire. The space between the opposing forces was very open and prevented any frontal action or surprise maneuvers without heavy casualties. At dusk the Indians on both sides retired as did the rest of the force. Capt. Sinclair and an Indian were killed, Capt.Sublette had a shoulder wound and five Flathead Indians were wounded. Eight Blackfeet were scalped, an unknown number wounded and twenty-five of their horses killed and one of the live horses taken had belonged to Fitzpatrick. So ended the historical and memorable Battle of Pierces Hole.
Capt. Sublette left Pierre's Hole on July 30'h with sixty men and a contract with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to deliver a herd of horses to St. Louis and carrying 169 packs of beaver fur weighing! 1,246 pounds in his caravan at a cost to the Company of fifty cents a pound. Washington Irving, returning from his tour of the prairies September 23, 1832, wrote as he approached Lexington, Missouri: "We remember to have seen....their long cavalcade stretched out for nearly a half mile. Sublette still wore his arm in a sling. The mountaineers in their rude hunting dresses, armed with rifles and roughly mounted, and leading their pack horses down a hill of the forest? looked like banditti returning with plunder. On the top of some of the packs were perched several half-breed children, perfect little imps, with wild black eyes glaring from among elf locks. These, I was told, were children of the trappers, pledges of love from their squaw spouses in the wilderness."
Bridger and Fitzpatrick took their trappers north in the fall into the Big Hole, the Jefferson, then across Deer Lodge and Clark's Fork,to the Missouri and Three Forks, all the time trapping as they went and playing hide and seek with trappers of the American Fur Company. They knew that Bridger was the most knowledgeable trapper in the mountains and also knew where game could be found when food was scarce. Trapping up the Madison and the Gallatin they turned west toward Pierre's Fork of the Jefferson and came upon 100 Blackfeet. The Indians waved a white flag and the chief and several others approached to meet a group from Bridger's party at a halfway point where they solemnly passed a peace pipe. Among the trappers was a Mexican freeman accompanied by his Blackfoot wife who recognized one of the Indians as her brother and she pushed forward to greet him. Washington Irving describes the incident. Sensing possible trouble, James Bridger "left the main body of trappers and rode slowly towards the group,of smokers, with his rifle resting across the pommel of his saddle. The Chief of the BlackLeet stepped forward to meet him.
"From some unfortunate feeling of mistrust Bridger cocked his rifle just as the Chief was extending his hand in friendship. The quick ear of the savage caught the click of the lock; in a twinkling he grasped the barrel, forced the muzzle downward, and the contents were discharged into the earth at his feet. His next movement was to wrest the weapon from the hand of Bridger, and fell him with it to the earth.
"He might have found this no easy task had not the unfortunate leader received two arrows in his back during the struggle. The Chief now sprang into the vacant saddle and galloped off to his band. A wild hurry-scurry scene ensued; each party took to the banks, the rocks and trees, to gain favorable positions, and an irregular firing was kept up on each side without much effect....
"The approach of night put an end to the skirmishing fire of the adverse parties, and the savages drew off without renewing their hostilities." One arrow was removed from Bridger's back but the other arrowhead remained tightly in place until taken out by Dr. Whitman in August 1935.
No partner of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was present at the 1833 rendezvous although 55 men turned in 55 packs of furs which was a slightly higher total than any other company reported. There were thefts by Indians, loss of horses and equipment and other difficulties between the partners, but the biggest factor was the decline in beaver population. Bridger was ready for a change.
William Stewart had come into camp with Fitzpatrick. The evidence shows that he and Bridger went together to the Spanish southwest for the winter of 1833-34. They traveled along the Rio Grande and the Gila to the Gulf and Bridger also visited other areas in what would become Arizona and New Mexico.
When Bridger returned for the rendezvous of 1834 he probably had already planned to marry the daughter of Insala, Chief of the Flathead Nation and usually referred to as the Little Chief. Mountaineers had begun arriving in early June but the Little Chief was even earlier and had preempted the valley of Ham's Fork for the Bridger's company. It was another lean year for beaver fur and the number of trappers seemed to exceed that of beaver. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was dissolved and reconstituted with Bridger, Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette as the partners. Although Capt. Sublette left with about 60 packs of beaver from the rendezvous, he was no longer to have the supply business from either the new constituted firm nor the American Fur Company in the future.
The supply wagons in the spring of 1836 were led by Fitzpatrick with Moses Harris as pilot and chief assistant. Two of the wagons carried two honeymooning newlyweds, Dr. and Mrs. Marcus Whitman [Bridger's doctor of the previous year] and Dr. and Mrs. Henry Spalding, both couples heading west as Presbyterian missionaries. Also in the party riding in a cart was Milton Sublette with an amputated leg as a result of a stab wound that had become infected with a fungus. This was an historic trip since the brides would eventually be the first white women to cross the continent. Accompanying the missionaries was a secular aide, William &ray. When they arrived at the rendezvous site near the Green River they were greeted by Bridger, who was especially pleased to see Dr. Whitman who told him he was going west to Washington to establish a mission school. Bridger promised to send his small daughter from his marriage of about two years previously to the school when she reached school age - and he did. Four tribes present at the rendezvous dressed and painted in a variety of colors put on a grand parade. They danced, sang and displayed all manner of skills with horses and weapons to honor the special guests. Ten days later the missionary entourage left in the company of Mr. Drips, an experienced leader of the American Fur Contpar~y.
In the fall and winter with about 240 men under his leadership Bridger covered a large area from Yellowstone Lake, Gardner, north to the Musselshell, Yellowstone River, south to Clark's Fork, Stinking Water, and the Big Horn, trapping and trading with friendly Indians when they could find them. One notable encounter was with a large band of 131ackbeet in late evening who planned to attack the next day. That night there was an unusually brilliant display of northern lights. The Indians were so frightened that the next morning they signaled to Bridger that they were resuming to Three Forks as fast as possible. But the trappers were harassed and lost horses and a few men on several occasions. Even at the I 837 rendezvous the Chief of the Bannocks claimed a horse belonging to Little Chief of the Flatheads, Bridger's father-in-law. This was quickly settled by4,volley of shots killing more than a dozen Bannocks before they could raise a weapon. However a stray arrow struck the Indian wife of Joseph Meek, a close advisor of Bridger, in the breast coincidental with the announcement in the St. Louis paper of the death of her first husband Milton Sublette.
The winter of 1837-38, one of the coldest experienced, also was remembered for an outbreak of smallpox that moved upriver on the Missouri with settlers and was then transmitted to some Blackfeet and other Indians when they crowded around a boat at the Mandan's village. News of the disease caused panic among all the tribes who then scattered to isolated areas to avoid contamination. The severe weather was a great hardship to the buffalo herds. They sought the trapper's camps and then competed with the horses for the cottonwood bark and branches the trappers fed to their animals. Camps were moved frequently south and west to their planned rendezvous location of the Wind River - Big Horn junction. When the rendezvous of '38 ended, in addition to the packs of furs carried by the caravan, there were several letters from Bridger providing information on his earnings and possible future plans. These read in part: To Wm.
Sublette, " herewith you will find a power of attorney giving authority to collect from Pratte Chouteau ~ Co., the full amount due for services rendered use every to obtain it for me, and deposit it in some safe keeping, subject to my future disposal, in the meantime using
it for your benefit if you think proper. Accompanying this power is an acknowledgment from Mr. Drips of the amt. due me by the Company hope you may be able to collect the money.
Again to Wm. Sublette: "I, James Bridger, .now in the Rocky Mountains, .do hereby constitute and appoint William L. sublette .my true and lawful attorney to do and perform all my business transactions to receive all monies due me and in my name to give receipts for the securing and paying of all debts due me. "And, especially, whereas Pratte Chouteau & Co. of St. Louis, Missouri, are due me a sum of money of which the accompanying instrument of writing is their acknowledgement and which reads as follows viz: Chouteau & Co There will be due James Bridger on his arrival in St. Louis three thousand and thirteen dollars and thirteen cents for services rendered the R. M Outfit for the two last years services, Andrew Drips, agent. For Pratte, Chouteau & Co., Rocky Mountains." Rumors were spreading at the end of the rendezvous that all was not well with the Company.
Many men were leaving, same taking traps, horses and any other items of value they could get hold of Milton Sublette was dead, Fitzpatrick was busy at Fort Williams taking care of business as he was able for both the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and the American Fur Company. Bridger was the lead trapper in the field for both companies and neither could now be considered as flourishing. Bridger and Drips did take 80 or 90 trappers and a following of Indians north to fall trapping on the Gallatin and Madison then to Missouri Lake (Hebgen now) for a buffalo hunt while Bridger's family went with her people to winter at the Flathead village on the Salmon River. The record is not clear on Bridger's whereabouts for the next few months but he may have had contact with Louis Vasquez and spoken with other traders about trading posts. Also at the same time he was wanting to go home to check on his finances and to see the City of St. Louis for as he expressed it to a friend sometime later, "he hadn't tasted bread for seventeen years."
On the trip to St. Louis Bridger met the Catholic priest Father De Smet who was returning from a three months trip to Fort Union to determine the feasibility of establishing a mission among the Indians. Bridger's adopted tribe by marriage, the Flatheads, had been the first to visit Captain Clark many years before to inquire about the white man's "Book of Heaven".
The sights and sounds were too much for the mountaineer. The levee at Front Street was crowded with smoke stacks and small boats - "Nary a set for a beaver trap anywhere." He was comfortable with his friends but never did feel at home. When he walked down the streets he was just plain homesick! He did begin to get used to the food and he found the com bread and sorghum "shore exciting".The deep comparatively soft beds of the "flop houses" were not restful. One night a late arrival was told to climb in bed with Bridger. The latecomer asked after climbing in, "Don't you take your britches off?" This could have been a dangerous question, but Bridger just replied, `'Hain't yet!" then gave up the bed and borrowed a buffalo robe and rolled up on the floor for a good night's sleep. He told the stranger, "I can hear more and git up quicker.''
In the spring Bridger and Freab were among those accompanying the supply train lead by Moses Harris. Father De Smet,several Protestant missionaries and their wives and an emigrant, his wife and five children completed the party. They reached the Green River for its summer gathering but there were few beaver skins to trade and it was soon completed. Ten Flathead Indians met Bridger and the Father and they went with them to the Flathead village in July. The priest remained until late August and arranged to meet with them the following year at Fort Hall. Then seventeen Flathead warriors escorted him beyond the Blackfoot country on through Bridger's Pass to Fort IJnion.
Old Gabe was now ready to embark on his new enterprise. He gathered his family, some of the Flathead Indians and returned to the Green River to rejoin Freab and his men to select a site and build his trading post.
On his trip to St. Louis Bridger had an opportunity to visit with his old friend Louis Vasquez and Freab at Independence, Missouri where it is likely there was talk of some kind of partnership and perhaps formal agreement, though none is of record. At least there was sufficient understanding that Freab's party was only a few miles away when Bridger was selecting the site for his post and beginning construction. It was at that time as Freab was camped not far away that a large band of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians attacked. Reports differ on details, but Bridger some years later told Captain Stansbary that most of Freab's men were hunting buffalo when a band of Sioux and Cheyennes killed a white man, an Indian and two women not too far from where Freab was camped. When Bridger had learned of this he sent word of this to Freab to abandon his post. He did not heed this warning and about ten days later was attacked by a large band of Indians. The fight lasted all day. Freab and seven or eight of his men were killed as were forty Indians.
Bridgers trading post was slow in materializing, partly because he really was unable to settle down in one place long enough to finish the project. He still wanted to be out on the trail exploring, trapping or taking a wagon train to its destination. During July 1842 he and Fitzpatrick were at the head of a caravan eastbound while John Fremont and Kit Carson were headed west with over 100 emigrants bound for Oregon. Then Bridger and Vasquez returned in the fall to trap in the Three Rivers area for the American Fur Company before returning to the unfinished post referred to now as Fort Bridger in November However work on the Fort progressed sufficiently in '43 to ask for credit for supplies to open for business. Bridger dictated a letter which was sent to P. Chouteau & Co., "I arrived here some days ago from my beaver hunt having been particularly unsuccessful owing to the lateness of the season, and caught only about three packs, but I believe that a good hunt could be made in the same country, and will therefore try it next spring, when I hope to do more than present appearances would justify. When I separated from Mr. Vasquez at the Platte, ~ gave him all the goods designed for the trade with the Indians, in the mountains, and he being so strongly recommended by the Company in St. Louis trust principally to him for profitable retu~ns It was an understanding between him and me, that as he had been so strongly recommended that I would give him all the goods and means of carrying on the above trade, and start myself, with a few green horns, and try and trap as many beaver as possible;....his return will pay the whole of our equipment, and whatever I have, or will make next spring, will be a clear profit for he and I. Therefore, .....I send you my order hereby for an equipment for next year, which if you will be so kind as to furnish, I have no doubt will be able, in due time, not only to realize a profit to you, but for myself also. I have established a small store with a Black Smith Shop, and a supply of iron in the road of the Emigrants, on Black's Fork, Green River which promises fairly. They, in coming out are generally well supplied with money, but by the time they get there, are in want of all kinds of supplies. Horses, Provisions, Smith work, &c, brings ready cash from from the same establishment will be trading with the Indians, who have mostly a good number of beaver among them. My present intention is to make a spring hunts and after receiving the enclosed equipment, to make an expedition into the California, which country now is the only one remaining unexplored and is rich with beaver. I shall trap it thoroughly and make a large return of Horses, Valuable shells &c. The conduct of Mr. Vasquez at the Platte was not such as it should have been considering the recommendation he had in St. Louis. The note given to him by O'Fallon, I wrote you to protest and hope you have not paid it I have also bought a draft on Mr. Redman Stewart, for the sum of $450, which is at Black's Fork. Should it be necessary to have our license renewed, you will be so good as to have it done, as also a passport to travel in the California and return therefrom The above is all that I know of at the present time, and I conclude by presenting my best respects to all the gentlemen of the company." [S] J. Bridger, by E. S. Denig.
William Laidlaw, in charge of Fort Union and perhaps an employee of Chouteau very likely saw or at least knew of this letter for he wrote to the Company the same month and it probably was in the same mail sack. Laidlaw's letter read, `'Bridger has come in with a mountain party of thirty or forty men. He is not a man calculated to manage men, and in my opinion will never succeed in making profitable returns. Mr. Vasquez, his partner, is represented to be, if possible more unable than he, as by drinking and frolicking at the Platte, he neglected his business.'' It is no surprise with such an unfavorable recommendation, that Bridger's order divas not filled.
As emigrants and others stopped by the fort, comments were mixed though almost all were
pleased with the location, its excellent pasture and water. The following that are recorded are typical: This trading fort is a shabby concern...about twenty-five lodges of Indians, or rather white trappers with their Indian wives. . .They have a good supply of robes' dressed deer' elk and antelope skins7 coats pants, moccasins, and other Indian toxins, which they trade low for flour, pork, powders lead, blankets, butcher knives, spirits, hats, ready-made clothes, sugar,etc....had a herd of cattle, twenty-five or thirty goats, and some sheep they generally abandon the Fort during the winter months. The bottoms are covered with grass. Cottonwood timber in plenty. The stream abounds in trout...." Another stated, "Moved our encampment near Fort Bridger...... The location is, in every respect, the best Or a trading post that I have seen on the route.... We were very much indebted to Capt. Walker and Mr. Vasquez for their kind attention and assistance." One other description of the Fort, "Fort Bridger is a small trading post,: established and now occupied by Messrs. Bridger and Vasquez. The buildings two or three miserable log cabins, rudely constructed, and bearing faint resemblance to human habitations."
There is evidence Bridger did make a trip to California from which he returned in September 1845 and delivered to Fort Laramie 840 beaver skins, 675 dressed deer skins, 25 mules, 24 horses, 1400 California sea shells, the whole amounting to about $5000 exclusive of the California shells which were separately valued at an unknown amount.
At about this time and probably the winter of 184546 Bridger's first wife died shortly after the birth of there third child, a girl. The other girl was now at the mission school and the boy was four. She had been a good mother and faithful wife which was true of most of the Flathead women, at least as characterized by Patrick Gass who wrote of the tribe, "To the honor of the Flatheads...... we must mention them as an exception; as they do not exhibit those loose feelings of carnal desire, ruler appear addicted to the common custom oiPpro~stit~ion; and they are the only Nation on the whole route where anything like chastity is regarded."
For a period of about four years it is thought that Bridger's travels were concentrated in the southwest, west and northwest at least as far as Walla Walla where his oldest daughter was attending the mission school run by Dr. Marcus Whitman. In his stories around the campfire he could describe characteristics of the mountain ranges, passes, rivers and plains as clearly as if one were looking at them. When requested he would lay out a deer skin on the ground and build an accurate topographical map of an area with dirt and sand, shaping it with his hands and drawing with his fingers. He explored and trapped, returning to the Fort unexpectedly for a few months and then be off again.
The 1847 shipment of fur and hides from Fort Bridger was not large but wagons were used rather than the customary pack train. Just before reaching Fort Laramie on June 28~ he met Brigham Young and his Mormon pioneers heading west and planning to stop at Fort Bridger on their way. They camped together and Bridger met with Young and his twelve Apostles after which the two of them had supper together. The remark most remembered coming out of their discussion was from Bridger to the effect that he would give a $1000 for a bushel of corn raised in the valley. Many variations of the quote have been heard. Wilford Woodruff, then an apostle and later president of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints said, "We met with Mr. Bridger and found him to be a great traveler, possessing an extensive knowledge of nearly all Oregon and California [which then included all Utah and Idaho3, the mountains, rivers, lakes, springs, valleys, mines, ore &c. He spoke more highly of the Great Basin for a settlement than Major Harris had done. He said it was his Paradise, and that if these people settled in it he would settle with them; and that there was but one thing that would operate against its becoming a great grain country, and that would be frost, as he did not know but that the frost might affect the corn...."Brigham Young expected Bridger to return to Fort Bridger in time to lead them to Salt Lake. The Mormons reached the Fort July 7~, did some trading and made necessary repairs then departed two days later without waiting for their guide.
Cayuse Indians at Walla Walla on November 29, 1847 killed Dr. Marcus Whitman, his wife, eleven men and took fitly men, women and children captive. Many were never rescued or returned. Among these was Bridger's daughter, Mary Ann and Helen Meek, daughter of former trapper friend Joseph Meek. The raiders were later surrendered by the tribe, convicted and hanged by then U. S. Marshal Joseph Meek. The news reached Bridger in April 1848 as Marshal Meek passed by the Fort on his way to Washington D.C. carrying official papers relating to the Territory of Oregon.
About this time but date unknown Bridger married a Ute who could care for the children and reputedly had a good disposition and according to visitors was a good cook. Emigrants now were passing the Fort in greater numbers especially the Mormons heading to Salt Lake, as they now in their own guidebook were directed to take the "left hand road" past the Fort. When Brigham Young's nephew and his family stopped by and he was watching the Indians racing their horses and gambling, Bridger gave him five dollars to bet. He bet it and won. Bridger told him, "My boy don't you ever gamble again, for I have noticed that gamblers nearly all die with their boots on, and you are too fine a boy to die that way.'' He said he never gambled again. Another vagabond Mormon boy came into camp claiming to be a secret messenger of Brigham Young. Bridger looked him over and said, "If you will stay here an marry the Indian squaw that I pick out for you, I will give you a tent and make an Indian trader out of you. " The mountaineers gathered around him at the campfire when night came on and bade him good night. He retired to the tent and all was silent. In a few minutes there were yells of pain, the young man in his shirttail burst from the tent with an angry squaw wielding a heavy quirt following close on his heals. All were roaring with laughter, and Bridger commented, "He has just remembered that secret message Brigham entrusted him with."
At Independence emigrants were being advised to take the upper route which bypassed the Fort and was some miles shorter, depending on the destination of the travelers. To counteract this in June 1849 Vasquez established a temporary trading post at the fork in the road where he also located a number of his trappers and their families for the summer trade. He made a good impression and was able to convince many of the travelers to take the trail to the left. Mrs. Vasquez remained at the Fort during this time and she and Bridger's wife entertained visitors that stopped by as well as each of them could in their own ways. Tragically July 4th Bridger's wife died at the birth of a baby girl named Virginia Rosalie.
A U. S. topographical engineer, Captain Howard Stansbury stopped at the Fort and recorded favorable comments about the Fort, its location and also concerning Bridger who assisted him in his study of routes west of the Fort. He recommended the Fort as a major military post of great strategic value and charted a more direct route to Fort Laramie at a lower altitude. Bridger served as his guide in the selection of the new route east on Stanbury's way home in September 1 8S0. Included in the party were his children and a Shoshone housekeeper who was caring for the children. On the way Captain Stansbury reported, " Indians were approaching, Major Bridger, shouldering his rifle, walked out towards them and made various signs to a party that came to meet him...they recognized him....and commenced a race Or camp... holding out their hands to shake Oglallahs, several hundred of them. Major Bridger who was personally known to many of the visitors was seated among them. He was unable to speak either the Sioux or Cheyenne language....notwithstanding this, he held the whole circle, for more than an hour, perfectly enchained, and evidently most deeply interested, in a conversation and narrative, the whole of which was carried on without the utterance of a single word. The simultaneous exclamations of surprise and interest, and the occasional bursts of heard laughter, showed that the whole park perfectly understood."
The Shoshone caretaker for Bridger's children became his third wife in 1850 and when arriving back in Missouri near Little Santa Fe he bought what he termed a small farm with 375 acres under cultivation and several hundred more forested acres. With the help of a neighbor he built a log cabin for his family now comprising a new wife and three children.
The summer of 1 8S 1 was an important one for whites and Indians alike. Indian Commissioner Col. D. D. Mitchell, with a large staff, was in charge of what was to be a Peace Council, using Bridger and Fitzpatrick as interpreters. The various Indian tribes of the mid-west were invited to try to establish boundaries and agree to a peace treaty. Also attending and playing a major role was Father De Smet. About 300 soldiers were present by September 1~ and the encampment was located at Horse Creek and the Platte about thirty five miles down-river from Fort Laramie. Tribes attending included Shoshones, Cheyenne, Sioux, and Crows, with the smaller and weaker tribes declining to attend for fear of attack by the Sioux and Cheyenne.The most difficult task of the Council was the mapping of territories claimed by each tribe.
Maps with boundaries were drawn by Father De Smet with the help of Bridger' knowledge and memory to reach eventual agreement on territories [five maps are on file today, four of them at St. Louis University and the fifth in Washington D. Cal. The Treaty of the Laramie Peace Council was completed September 17 1851. The editor of the Missouri Republican who was present during the deliberations wrote of Bridger [in part}, "The Commissioners had the assistance of James Bridger.... This man is a perfect original....has been in Indian country since he was sixteen [eighteen3....trapping with various companies....roarned over the country on his own as trapper, hunter, trader, or Indian fighter traveled the mountains east and west and from the northern boundary of the United States to the Gila River. He is not an educated man but seems to have an intuitive knowledge of the topography of the count~y when trappers [or others] wished to move from one location to another....or were lost or uncertain of the proper direction....he would survey the country awhile with his eyes strike out a course and never fail to reach the place although several hundred miles to traverse over country he had never traversed to a place he had never seen....He adds the singularly retentive memory of every incident in his own history and that of his companions....?'
Fort Bridger's days as a trading center were numbered. Mormon emigrants continued to use the trail past the Fort, many of them stopping for rest and pasture but buying little. Other emigrant trains to California took the shorter route that bypassed the Fort. The Army had expressed a desire to buy the Fort, but no offer was made. In March 1852 the Utah Legislature created Green River County which included Fort Bridger within its boundaries. Bridger was concerned and in August recorded a document with the Salt Lake County Recorder reading: "$400. August 28 1852. Received of James Bridger7 in full, four hundred dollars, for the right and title of five houses and location in Utah Territory situated one mile and a quarter from Fort Bridged on the south side of Black's fork, extending three miles up the river and three down."
Brigham Young as the Utah ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs informed his chief in Washington that due to a continuing conflict between Indians and settlers [who were taking their land without compensation], he had "issued a revocation of all licenses to trade with Indians to prevent trading of guns, powder and lead to our enemies." Fort Bridger could no longer legally trade with the Indians. Following this proclamation affidavits were filed claiming Bridger was providing powder and lead to the Indians to kill Mormons. The Sheriff was ordered to take possession of the Fort and to arrest Bridger. On August 25th a posse of at least form men took over the Fort, its cattle and other property - no guns or ammunition - but there were provisions and a good supply of whiskey and rum. Bridger and his family were nowhere to be found, but the posse remained, searched for over a month. They left when the provisions were gone and they had poured the last drink. With the help of his wife Bridger had managed to keep hidden during the search and after the men had given up, the family rode to Fort Laramie.
Early in November Bridger hired John Hockaday, a government road surveyor, to survey his land at Fort Bridger, which was completed November 6th and proved to be 3898 acres. A copy was filed at the General Land Office, Washington 13. C. March 9, 1854. Bridger and his family were on the farm for the rest of the winter and in the spring of 'S4 while in St. Louis he met a wealthy Englishman, Sir George Gore who had come across to America to organize a big game hunt. It was not long before Bridger was engaged as a guide and adviser for the expedition. After extensive and time consuming preparations, Bridger, Sir George and his entourage set off for Fort Laramie where Sir George decided to spend the winter to try organization in preparation Or a mayor hunt in the spring and summer.
Out equipment and Bridger returned to the farm in autumn, laid out a large foundation for new home. He either moved, as tradition holds, or built a large two story house located on a commanding site as a kind of hilltop lookout. For a long time it was the largest home in the valley, and a popular place for parties, dances and holiday gatherings. His total land area when final purchases were completed gave him about one square mile.
En the spring of '55 Sir George with Bridger as guide took his lavish safari north to the Black Hills of the Dakotas. He then moved west because of Indian troubles and camped near the mouth of the Tongue River. His hunts must certainly be considered a success based on numbers. The total was reported as 105 bears, well over 2000 buffalo 1600 elk and deer and uncounted small animals with trophies as proof The Indian Agent at Fort Union complained to his superior in Washington as did the Crows on whose land he was camping but nothing came of it. He floated by flatboat down to Fort IJnion and the wagons and other equipment were taken overland to the Fort. There Sir George tried to sell al} that he no longer wanted or needed. He was so upset by what he considered unfair treatment in the offer that he took the wagons and other flammable material, put it all in a pile and burned it. The metal objects that remained were tossed into the river. Bridger then floated with him safely down the river to Fort Berthold, N. D. where Sir George spent the winter and Bridger proceeded by canoe to winter with his family at the farm by Little Santa Fe.
Troubles with Brigham Young had intensified to the extent that President Buchanan appointed a new Governor for the Utah Territory and ordered 2500 U. S. Army troops to escort him to Salt Lake City. The entire unit was composed of 12 wagon trains with a total of 312 wagons, 800 beef cattle and 3250 oxen handled by 360 civilians in addition to the soldiers. In July '56 the Quartermaster hired Bridger as guide at Fort Laramie where he remained for a month until the interim Commander, Col. Alexander arrived. Brigham Young responded with a Proclamation of War on September 15th, instructing his militia of 6000 men to harass and repel any invasion. Mormon settlers at the Fort Bridger area took what they could remove and burned all remaining improvements before moving off to Salt Lake. Three supply trains were destroyed soon after. A conference of Officers and including Bridger was called for October 10th & l lit at which he recommended locations for short and long term camps and suggested a main Headquarters which was called Fort Scott close to the remains of Fort Bridger. During the summer and fall Bridger made five trips back and forth from Fort Laramie, the last being with the permanent Commanding Officer Col. Albert Johnson. He must have been impressed with Bridger's knowledge, judgement and ability for on November 3rd he appointed him Principal Guide with a rank of Major. Two weeks later Bridger signed for himself and Vasquez [who was in Salt Lake3 a ten year lease with the Government for the Fort Bridger land as described in the Hockaday survey and map. Payment would be $600 a year and begin when Bridger could establish title and the Government would have the right to purchase the land at any time fore $10,000.
No Mormons remained close to the troops. Until the spring of '58 Col Johnston's main task was with help from the Major to meet with various tribal leaders to discourage raids on the Mormons and to keep the peace. At the same time Brigham Young was encouraging the Indians to attack the military supply trains. When he found out that the army was on its way to the valley in June l 858, he ordered his followers to leave the area at least temporarily and they went about fiord miles to the south and waited to see what was going to happen. T he Army found virtually an empty city except for those whose task was to remain to set fire to the buildings if there were reason to do so. The Army camped two miles to the south and the next day continued continued on another thirty odd miles to an area selected by the Army as a long term camp where there was no Mormon development and also was accepted by Brigham Young. Bridger was released from his position as guide July 20th and returned to his farm and family. He was happy to greet a new son but to find that his wife had died and was he now was a widower for the third time. He found a couple to take care of the children and to share-crop farm.
On October 21, 1858 documents were recorded in Records Book B. p. 128 and dated August 3, 1855 that purported to sell Fort Bridger to the Mormon Church represented by Lewis Robinson with the sellers names, James Bridger and Louis Vasquez signed by H. OF. Morrell, Agent in the presence of Almerin Grow and Wm. A. Hickman. In the same Book on pp. 125-127 another document of sale dated October 1 S. 1858 was also recorded on October the 21 st. The price to be paid was $8000 in gold in each instance but methods of payment were different. There were a number of inconsistencies and peculiarities that make the transaction suspect. Vasquez had not been seen at Fort Bridger since 1844 although he was in Salt Lake City on October 11, 1858 and could have received part or all of the money. Also he did sign one of the sale documents. All the evidence would indicate that Bridger had no knowledge of the sale and received no payments. He had refused at some point an offer of $8000 and never signed or authorized the signing the signing of any deed. In the summer of 1855 abridger was guiding Sir George and in October 1858 he was back home at the farm.
A steamer moved up the Missouri River in June 1859 with Captain William Raynolds in charge of a party to explore "the headwaters of the Yellowstone Missouri Rivers and of the mountains of which they rise" The order also authorized personnel that included seven scientists such as astronomer, topographer, geologist, meteorologist, botanist and naturalist and a guide, each to be paid $125 per month and "found."There also was an escort of thirty infantrymen under a lieutenant, and seven Congressmen. Bridger was employed as the `' very best guide" for such a project. Although it was exploration and study for the Army and its scientists and politicians, for Bridger it was mostly a revisiting of the areas where he had trapped many times years before, although one difference was to find and use trails where heavy wagons could travel. The detailed report of Captain Raynolds repeatedly refers to Bridger's extensive knowledge and invaluable advise which with few exceptions they followed consistently.
The winter of 1859-60 was difficult with heavy snow and an above normal spring melt. This caused delays, problems of crossing rivers and streams. The snow was still eight feet in depth in Yellowstone country and prevented the park from exploring that area to the great disappointment of Bridger, Raynolds and the scientists. The Captain then split the party, sending Bridger and the scientists with a military escort overland while the rest went by boat to meet at Fort Union.
During the Civil War years Bridger was in great demand as a guide and adviser for Army units, transportation companies and settlers all concerned with shorter and more convenient routes and faster forms of transportation. The brief success of the pony express in speeding mail across the country whetted the appetites of shippers for a more rapid and safe means of shipping foods and manufactured materials to new markets in the west.
Friends recommended Bridger to assist the engineer of the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company to select a direct route west from Denver to Salt Lake City. Through the summer of 1861 Bridger and the surveyors explored various possibilities.. The road chosen had to cross at a point 11,314' in elevation, known since as Berthout Pass which would be limited to summer use. They could have used Bridger's preference a few miles to the north over Bridger's Pass 5000' lower. In the Spring of'62 Major Bridger was assigned to Col Collins, new to the west, to guard the mail and protect the mail stations from Indian attack and thievery. They also protected wagon trains when necessary and patrolled the trails. In the winter Bridger rejoined his family and the next spring he was back with Col. Collins and had one close encounter with a large Indian war party. The Army scouting party, relatively few in number was attacked by the Indians who were concealed by bushes and grass when they began firing. Bridger and the others withdrew to the hillside, then with a favoring wind set fire to the brush. This exposed great numbers of the Indians and the troopers opened fire with good results and the Indians soon withdrew.
A temporary release from Army service was granted to Major Bridger in April 1864 to lead a company of about 300 emigrant miners to Virginia City and the Montana gold fields. He took a shorter, safer and easier route south of the Big Horn mountains which also avoided the Sioux. Shortly before reaching their destination two other groups of miners using the same new trail caught up with them filling the main street of Virginia City with 1000 new emigrants in early July. Bridger returned quickly to Fort Laramie and was back on duty in August for about a month probably for an Indian conference then wintered with his family in '64 - '65.
Indian policy was in disarray for the last years of the war, and it remained so for several years thereafter. Treaties were neglected, disregarded and forgotten, communication was still slow in reaching local commanders, orders were sometimes inconsistent, misinterpreted or disobeyed. Wrong decisions were made because of ignorance and others related to expediency. This situation created additional confusion and hostility among the Indians who retaliated with attacks and raids as they saw their food sources slaughtered and their lands taken.
General Dodge came west in early 1865 with limited knowledge of the area and the Indians to try to bring consistency and order. He soon came in contact with Bridger and placed him under General Conner in charge of the new District of the Plains where he served as Chief Guide and had six assistant guides working with him. There were still instances of poor judgement on the part of commanders and their subordinates - an Arapaho village of men, women and children were attacked suddenly in a non-military action. Most of the tribe was killed, the loages burned along with their winter meat supply, another time two Sioux Indians resumed two white women captives to the Army post expecting a reward. The commander promptly Hanged them and left them dangling for several Jays. Bridger divas heard to prophesy that this hanging would lead to dreadful consequences later on the trails. General: Dodge Bras very concerned about the Indians for which he was nominally responsible and did not subscribe to the oft quoted phrase, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." In addition to try to maintain peace with the Indians, he was required to submit detailed information on a route for the Union Pacific railroad line and would soon retire to become chief engineer for its construction. Using the route Bridger roughly designated, surveys were completed in a year showing elevations, grades, and other necessary details along what was neatly identical to the route he had shown Capt. Sta~sbu~y G~fteer1 years earlier. Bridger was discharged In November and rode in a mail wagon up to Fort Kearny, Nebraska where he was among friends.
. There was great pressure for another trail to Virginia City along a route through northern Cheyenne and Sioux territory. A peace conference to seek permission from the tribes was attended only briefly by the Sioux Chief and was denied by the Cheyenne and so was a failure. Nevertheless the order came to CoJ. Carrington to proceed with what was in effect an invasion of Indian treaty territories. His cavalcade left the Fort in a carefree, relaxed attitude with Major Bridger as Chief Guide [and not so relaxed accompanied by Mrs. Carrington and other officers wives, a thirty piece brass band and lots of easy chairs. There is no record of what piece the band was playing. The failure of the Indian conference brought special new orders relating conduct and maintaining a state of readiness at all times. One unusual order provided that the soldiers were to preserve peace, it would be a grave offense for a soldier to wrong or insult an Indian; every soldier must treat every Indian kindly, with formal court martial for certain violations.
The attitude was different when Col. Carrington and his force left Fort L~ramie on north to Fort Reno and then to Big Piney Fork selected as the site for Fort Phil Kearny. Before construction began the Sioux sent two white traders to the camp with an order to not cross their land, build no forts and get out of the country. The Colonel was not in camp at that time but when he returned he called a conference of the tribal chiefs. Cheyenne attended but no Sioux so no progress was made. Construction was started on the fort and two companies were sent up to a site on the Big Horn River to build a second fart - C. F. Smith. In September Bridger visited the Crow village and was informed the Sioux now had a force of 500 lodges in the Tongue River valley and planned to destroy the two forts. The official reports show that from mid-July to mid-December Indians killed 91 enlisted men, five officers, fi~-eight civilians and took 306 oxen, 304 mules, 161 horses in fi~-one raids or attacks. During September Bridger made a trip to Virginia City reviewing the various options for trails and stopped to visit the Crows who confirmed the plans that the Sioux had to attack the Forts.
The Sioux Chief Two Moons and two Cheyenne made a friendly visit to Fort Kearny to see if it could be taken by storm. Bridget took them in tow and showed what a strong and impregnable structure it was without revealing how woefully weak they were in manpower. The Indians reported to The Sioux Chief Red Cloud that the fort was too strong to be taken by force. The attack came instead at 11:00 AM December 21, 1866 against the wood cutting crew and its military guard about two miles from the Fort. A lookout posted about half-way between signaled the Port and Captain Fetterman's Company rushed to the rescue with Colonel Carrington's order, "to support the wood train, relieve it, and report to me; do not engage or pursue Indians....do not pursue over Lodge Trail Ridge." Lt. Gn~mmond's command, under the same orders, left shortly after. Both officers disobeyed orders when they were lured away from the wood cutters by Indian decoys and all the men in both relief forces were massacred and mutilated - eighty-one men total found on the Lodge Trail Ridge.
Bridger remained at Fort Phil Kearny until late April 1867when ordered to report to Fort Laramie to be available for Senate Hearings concerning the Lodge Trail Ridge massacre held at Fort McPherson and also to confer with retired General Dodge who was busy building the Union,. Pacific railroad. He returned to Fort Kearny, Nebraska in July and then home to his family in November. In May 1868 he was assigned to the 4~ Infantry at Fort Laramie which completed the abandonment of Forts Reno, Phil Kearny and C. F. Smith. His wagon master commented with Bridger along, " we always knew what sort of camp the one ahead would be and what kind of country we would travel over to reach it....though his eyesight was failing." His final discharge wasJuly21,1868.
James Bridger - Old Gabe -the name now fit the man - returned to the farm to live out his life with his son-in-law Capt. Albert Wachsman and his devoted and loving daughter Virginia Wachsman. He tried again to obtain payment for the lease of Fort Bridger to the Army but could not prove clear title. Finally eight years after his death the heirs received $6000. His last years were lonely, crippled with rheumatism, and failing eyesight. He would walk his fields with a stick and his dog to check the crops. When asked about them one rather poor year he exclaimed, "Perfect damned failure! Perfect damn failure!" He rode an old gentle horse accompanied by his dog. Sometimes with his poor eyesight he would lose his way. The dog would run home and get someone to find him and bring him home.
Jim Bridger died July 17,1881 at the age of 77. He was buried in a small cemetery close to the farm. General Dodge had a very high regard for Bridger and in the 100th year after his birth had the body moved to a special site in the Mt. Washington Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri. Above the grave a seven foot monument was placed. At the dedication General Dodge said in part, "Unquestionably Bridger's claim to remembrance rests upon the extraordinary part he bore in the explorations in the west. So remarkable a man should not be lost to history!"
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Cress, Hiram 1940
Harris, Burton John Colter Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1993
Mattes, Merle J. Colter's Heel and Jackson Hole National Park Service: Yellowstone Library and Musewn Association, 1962
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Vestal, Stanley Jim Bridger Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1970
Yellowstone National Park Stanford University: Stanford University Press