VIPS in San Francisco: 1800s
Between the expedition of Louis and Clark in 1804 - 1806 and the work of Fremont in the 1840s, the exploration of the Trans-Mississippi experienced a kind of dark age. Nevertheless, while no official teams were pushing cartography westward, trappers and fur traders were slowly penetrating the region. Most of these figures were illiterate and did little to extend cartographic knowledge.
The exception was Jedediah Smith, a trapper whose wanderings in the west and subsequent cartographic innovations the historian C. I. Wheat considers a "tour-de-force unprecedented and never equaled in the annals of Western exploration."
Smith spent roughly 9 years, between 1821 and 1830, exploring the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada, the Rocky Mountains and the valleys of California. He perished before his important work could be published.
Smith's now lost map was taken by his partner and friend, Missouri Congressman William H. Ashely, and eventually made its way into the hands of David H. Burr, who was then composing his own important map of the United States. Smith's work must have seemed a revelation to Burr who struggled to reconcile conflicts between the mappings of Humboldt, Pike, Miera, and of course, Lewis and Clark.
Burr, realizing the importance of Smith's work, incorporated it throughout his map, thus redefining the cartographic representation of the region. Shortly after Burr published this map, Smith's original manuscript was lost, making Burr's map the sole printed representation of Smith's work. Curiously and somewhat inexplicably, this map never attained significant popularity in its day, leading to a very small publication run and, today, extreme rarity.
November 8, 1855, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California
[From the Pioneer for November.]
The American Pioneers of California.
BY J. W.
The first Americans that arrived in California, overland, were under the command of Jedediah S. Smith, of New York. Mr. Smith accompanied the first trapping and trading expedition, sent from St. Louis to the head waters of the Missouri, by Gen. Ashley. The ability and energy displayed by him, as a leader of parties engaged in trapping beaver, were considered of so much importance by Gen. Ashley, that he soon proposed to admit him as a partner in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The proposal was .accepted, and the affairs of the concern were subsequently conducted by the firm of Ashley and Smith, until 1828, when Mr. Wm. L. Sublette, and Mr. Jackson, who had been engaged in the same business in the mountains, associated themselves with Mr. Smith, and bought out Gen. Ashley. They continued the business under the name of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, until the summer of 1830 when they retired from the mountains, disposing of their property and interest in the enterprise to Messrs. Fitzpatrick, Bridger, Solomon Sublette, and Trapp. Mr. Wm. L. Sublette subsequently re-engaged in their business.
In the spring of 1826, Mr. Smith, at the head of a party of about twenty men, left the winter quarters of the company to make a spring and fall hunt. Traveling westerly, he struck the sources of Green river, which be followed down to its junction with Grand river, where the two form the Colorado.
He there left the river, and traveling westerly, approached the Sierra Nevada of California; when, traveling westwardly, in search of a favorable point to continue his exploration towards the ocean, he crossed the mountains, and descended into the great valley of California, near its southeastern extremity. Thus being not only the first American, but the first person who, from the east or north, had entered the magnificent valley of the San Joaquin and Sacramento, or who had ever seen or explored any of the rivers falling into the bay of San Francisco.
The following winter and spring he prosecuted with success the catching of beaver, on the streams flowing into the lakes of the Tulares, on the San Joaquin and tributaries, as also on some of the lower branches of the Sacramento. At the commencement of summer, the spring hunt having closed, he essayed to return, by following up the American river; but the height of the mountains, and other obstacles which he encountered, induced him to leave the party in the valley, during the summer. He accordingly returned ; and having arranged their summer quarters on that river, near the present town of Brighton, prepared to make the journey, accompanied by a few will tried and hardy hunters, to the summer rendezvous of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. Selecting favorite and trusty horses and mule. Mr. Smith, with three companions, left camp to undertake one of the most arduous and dangerous journeys ever attempted.
Ascending the Sierra Nevada, he crossed it at a point of elevation so great, that on the night of the 27th June, most of his mules died from intense cold. He descended the eastern slope of the mountains, and entered upon the thirsty and sterile plains that were spread out before him in all their primitive nakedness ; but his horses were unable to accomplish the journey.
Next to the Bedouin of the great African desert, if not equally with him, the trapper of the wilds of the American continent, worships the noble horse; which not only proudly carries his owner up to the huge bison, when hunger presses the hunter, and swiftly flees from the overpowering horde of savages who seek his life; but while the solitary, benighted, and fatigued hunter matches a few shreds of repose, stands the trusty sentinel, with ears erect and penetrating eye, to catch the first movement of every object within its view, or with distended nostril to inhale the odor of the red man with which the passing breeze is impregnated, and arouse his affectionate master. What, then, were the feelings of these men, as they saw their favorite steeds, which had long been their companions, and were selected for their noble bearing, reeling and faltering on those inhospitable plains. Still worse, when they were compelled to sever the brittle thread of life, and dissolve all those attachments and vivid hopes of future companionship and usefulness, by the use of the rifle, which at other times, with unerring aim, would have sent death to the man who should attempt to deprive them of their beloved masters. They hastily cut from the lifeless bodies a few pieces of flesh, as the only means of sustaining their own existence; and in this manner they supported life until they passed the Desert and arrived on foot at the rendezvous.
A party was immediately organized, and with such supplies as were required for the company left in California, Mr. Smith hastened his departure. Traveling south, to avoid in some degree the snow and cold of winter, he descended and crossed Grand river of the Colorado, and continuing southwesterly he approached the Colorado river from the east, near the camp of the Mohave Indians. In the attempt to transport his party, by means of rafts, over this river, in which he was aided by the Mohave, who professed great friendship and hospitality, he was suddenly surprised by the treacherous Indians, who, upon a pro-concerted signal, simultaneously attacked the men who were on each bank of the river, and upon a raft then crossing, massacred the party, with the exception of two men and Mr. Smith, who escaped, and after great suffering arrived at the Mission of San Grabiel [Gabriel], in California. They were immediately arrested by the military officer at that place, because they had no passports. This functionary forwarded an account of the arrival and detention of the foreigners to the commandant of San Diego, who transmitted the same to Gen. Enchandia [Echandia], then governor and commander-in-chief of California.
After a harassing delay, Mr. Smith was permitted to proceed to Monterey and appear before the governor. Through the influence and pecuniary assistance of Captain John Cooper, an American, then resident of Monterey, be was liberated, and having procured such supplies as could be obtained in that place, partially on account of beaver fur to be sent from the summer quarters on the Sacramento river, and partly on credit, he hired a few men and proceeded to the camp of the party, which he had previously left in the Sacramento Valley. After forwarding the fur to Monterey he traveled up the Sacramento, making a most successful hunt upon this liver and its tributaries within the valley. Ascending the western sources of the Sacramento, he passed Shasta mountain, when he turned westerly and arrived on the coast, which he followed south to the Umpqua river. While Mr. Smith and two men were in a canoe, with two or three Indians, engaged in examining the river to find a crossing, his camp was unexpectedly surprised by the Indians, who had shown the most friendly disposition, and the entire party, with the exception of one man, were murdered. Mr. Smith and the men with him in the canoe, after wandering many days in the mountains, where they were obliged to secrete themselves by day and travel by night to avoid the Indians, who were scouring the country in pursuit, succeeded in escaping from their vicinity, and arrived at Fort Vancouver, a port of the Hudson Bay Company, on the Columbia river. The man who escaped from the camp from the massacre of the party was badly wounded, and without arms either to defend himself or procure food, succeeded in sustaining life mid making his way through many vicissitudes, for a period of thirty-fight days, when he reached Fort Vancouver. On his arrival there Mr. Smith contracted with the superintendent to sell him a large quanty of fur which had fallen into the hands of the Indians on the Umpqua, provided he would assist in recovering it, and to furnish a guide to lead a trapping party into the Sacramento Valley. A company was fitted out under the command of Capt. McLeod, which proceeded to the scene of disaster, and after recovering the fur, with which Mr. Smith returned to the fort, continued south, under the guidance of one of Smith's men, to the Sacramento Valley, where a most valuable hunt was made. A large number of horses from California was also obtained, with which the party attempted to return, late in the fall of 1829. In crossing the mountain they were overtaken by a violent snow storm, in which they lost all their horses. From the hasty and unsuitable manner in which they attempted to secrete their valuable stock of fur from the observation and discovery of the Indians or other parties of trappers, it was found in a ruined state by a party sent to convey it to the fort in the following spring; and McLeod was discharged from the service of the company, for his imprudence in attempting to cross the mountains so late in the fall.
Another party was fitted out from Fort Vancouver, by the Hudson's Bay Company, under the command of Capt. Ogden, of New York, who for some time had been in the employ of the company, with which Mr. Smith left the fort on his final departure from the Pacific shore, for the rendezvous of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This company traveled up Lewis river, in the direction of the South Pass, when, Mr. Smith pursuing his journey with a few men, Capt. Ogdcn turned south, and traveling along the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada, entered the valley of the Tulares, on the trail which Smith had made in 1826. McLeod having left the valley before he was encountered by Ogden, who spent the winter of 1828-9, and the following summer returned to the Columbia river with a valuable hunt.
One of the survivors of the massacre of Smith's party on the Rio Colorado, remained in California. He was a blacksmith by trade, and obtained employment at the Missions of San Gabriel and San Luis Rey. His name was Gilbraith, and while in the mountains previous to his advent in California, was recognised as the most fearless of that brave class of men with whom he was associated. His stature was commanding ; and the Indians were awed by his athletic and powerful frame, while the display of his Herculean strength excited the surprise of all. Many were the incidents that occurred in California during his residence, of which he was the principal actor. On one occasion, while employed at the Mission of San Luis Rey, he became riotous while under the exciting influence of aguadiente, and was warned that unless he conducted himself with greater propriety it would be necessary to confine him in the guard house. This served to exasperate instead of to quiet his unruly passions. A Corporal with two men was ordered to arrest Gilbraith. On their arrival at the shop they found the follower of Vulcan absorbed in anathemas, which he was pouring forth in rapid succession against the Reverend Father, soldiers and neophites. Having delivered himself, he inquired what they wanted. On the corporal's replying that he had been sent to conduct him to the guard house, Gilbraith seized a sledge, and swaying it above his head rushed upon the soldiers, who, intimidated at the gigantic size of the blacksmith, whose broad and deep chest was swelling with infuriated passion, horror stricken fled in dismay. With uplifted hammer he pursued them across the court of the Mission to the guard house, in front of the Mission, where the affrighted corporals and soldiers arrived among their comrades, closely followed by the terrific mountaineer, who, alike fearless of Spanish soldiers as he had been of Indians, drove the trembling forces, a sergeant and twelve men, to their quarters, where they wore imprisoned. He then hastily loaded with grape shot a tine piece of artillery, which stood in front of the quarters, and directing its mouth towards the Mission, he gathered up the arms which the soldiers in the confusion had abandoned, and prepared to act as exigencies might require. The Priest, seeing the course events were taking, sent a messenger to open communication with the victor, who, from the sudden burst of passion and violent exercise, had dispelled the effects of the brandy, and with its removal his passion had subsided.
[We have been waiting several months for the concluding article. Will our respected contributor furnish us with it at an early day. — Editor Pioneer. ]