Mountain Men and Pathfinders of the West
Jim Bridger, Mountain Man
James Felix Bridger, Mountain Man
Born 1804 in Virginia, Bridger and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, when he was still young. By the age of 13, he was an orphan with no formal education, unable to read or write he was fortunate to be apprenticed to a blacksmith. Restless, he left the apprenticeship on March 20, 1822. Learning about an expedition for trapping and exploring with General William Henry Ashley, he applied for a spot with the team. As it so happened, Jedediah Smith, a well-known trapper, was also on that expedition. Bridger and Smith would remain friends for life until Smith died in 1831 by the Indians. Bridger was with the team for some time when on June 2, 1823, the men were attacked by Arikara warriors along the Missouri River. Fifteen men were killed before the rest fled downriver hiding until the U.S. Military defeated the Indians.
In August 1822, near Grand River (today South Dakota), Hugh Glass had been surprised by a Grizzly Bear and her cubs, The bear threw him in the air, but he managed to fire a warning shot. Severely mauled and unconscious, he lay almost dead. Ashley asked for two volunteers to stay with him until he died and then to bury him.
They were attacked again, and the two volunteers took flight and soon caught up with the expedition and told Ashley Glass had died. However, Glass regained consciousness and went looking for the two volunteers who left him for dead.
He found Bridges at the mouth of the Bighorn but forgave him because of his youth. After seeing the second man, he spared his life because of the penalty for killing a soldier os the u.S. Army.
Bridger's nicknames suited him well, and he was known as 'Blanket Chief" and Old Gabe." Bridger was illiterate and could neither read nor write, but he had a photographic memory and could map an area in his head and recite Shakespear. At one time, Bridger hired a young German boy to read to him, and he paid him the sum of $40. per month.
Bridger loved fireside tales and he told many. He seemed to combine fiction and truth but all who heard him loved his tales.
Bear Attacking Hugh Glass
Bridger and His and Military Service
Bridger was one of the first North Americans to see the geysers and natural wonders of Yellowstone. He was one of the first to see the Great Salt Lake. Bridger had already set up Ft. Bridger, and when the Donner Party came through in 1846, they stopped for supplies — assured that the Lansford Hasting's shortcut was OK to use. The Donner Party was told that a stretch of forty miles was waterless. Unfortunately, that was not correct. The waterless time was eighty miles. And, the road was barely passable. Because of these errors, the Donner Party was trapped in the mountains during the winter.
There is some blame for historians for giving wrong information to the Donner Party. Some lay the blame on Lansford Hastings and some even on Bridger and Vasquez.
In 1850, Bridger guided the Stansbury Expedition for a two-year U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to survey the Great Salt Lake. During this time, he discovered Bridger Pass, which would by-pass South Pass shortening the Oregon Trail by sixty-one miles. It later became the chosen route across the Continental Divide for both the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 80.
In 1859, Bridger guided the Yellowstone Raynolds Expedition on its exploring and mapping the area between Ft. Pierce, Dakota, and the headwaters of Yellowstone. He guided them over Union Pass because the mountain passes were covered by snow. They did not reach the Yellowstone Plateau but did explore Jackson Hole and the Teton Range. Bridger received $125. per month for this expedition.
In 1864 Bridger blazed the Bridger Trail, which became an alternate trail from Wyoming to the goldfields of Montana and avoided the dangerous Bozeman Trail.
The army again asked Bridger to find a site for Ft. C.F. Smith and that he would receive $300. a month for his help. After a battle at Ft. Phil Kearny leaving 79 soldiers and two civilians dead, Bridger felt compelled to send a letter to the U.S. military addressing the dangers of the Sioux Indians.
In his letter, he states, "The intention was to attack Ft. Phillip Kearney first and if successful in attacking Ft. C.F. Smith. At this time, the entire northern Sioux Tribe is gathering at Powder River to attack all three forts and all wagon trains." And, that summer, the Hayfield and Wagon Box fights occurred.
Sioux Warriors at Powder River
Jim Bridger's Grave Marker
Bridger's Personal Life
Bridger has married a total of three times. His first wife was named Cora, a Flathead Indian who bore him three children.
His second wife was Mary, a Shoshone chief's daughter.
He retired to his farm near Kansas City, Missouri, where he died July 17, 1881. His grave was on his farm for some 23 years before he was reinterred with a significant marker on his grave in Mt. Washington Cemetery, Independence, Missouri. It was Greenville Dodge, a railroad tycoon and former employer who had Bridger reburied with a monument.
Places Named in Honor of Jim Bridger
Places named in Honor of Jim Bridges:4
Bridger Mountains, Wyoming
Bridger Bowl Ski Area
Bridger power Station
Bridger Trail Run
Schools named in his honor are in Independence, Missouri, Portland, Oregon, Utah, Montana