- Education and Science
Professor Black's History, James Pierson Beckwourth a Pioneer you probably never herd of
James Pierson Beckwourth
1798 - 1866
Is the time in which a person lives just a twist of fate, or is it as Stevie wonder says in one of his songs, “God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed”? It seems like some people were born at the right time and gifted with the right skills to achieve historical and legendary greatness. Take for example some of the legendary pioneers, scouts, fur trappers, mountain men and explorers who opened up the western frontier of our country. The names we saw in our history textbooks growing up were Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Davy Crockett and more recently Jean Baptiste Du Sable (the black man who founded Chicago). There is another name that should be mentioned with that group and some believe it belongs at the top of the list, James Pierson Beckwourth.
Beckwourth was born on April 6, 1798 in Fredericksburg Virginia to a slave mother and a white father most historians think his father was either, the plantation master or the slave overseer. He moved to St. Louis as a teenager, he apprenticed to a blacksmith. Beckwourth and the blacksmith came to blows one night over the late hours Beckwourth was asked to work. He eventually left St. Louis to work in the lead mines of Illinois and later made his way down to New Orleans.
In 1823, Beckwourth returned to St. Louis and signed on with the Ashley Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This was the beginning of enough adventure to fill more than one lifetime. It took little time for Beckwourth to adapt to the rough lifestyle and rugged terrain he encountered. He was able to acquire horses from the Pawnee for the trip into the Rocky Mountains. He learned how to trap beaver and hunted for food during the expedition. Beckwourth became an expert at the handling of a Bowie knife, tomahawk, and a gun. Once while in a battle with the Blackfeet that lasted five hours, he galloped through the Indian lines twice without being wounded. He later wrote “I now began to deem myself Indian-proof and to think I never should be killed by them”.
It was easy for Beckwourth to adapt to the Native American culture and in 1828; he was adopted by the Crow Indians. Another fur trapper told the Crow Indians that Beckwourth was a Crow who had been abducted as a baby. An old Crow woman claimed him as her long lost son and the tribe gave him the name Morningstar. After he led the Crow into a battle against the Blackfeet and fought so bravely, they renamed him Bloodyarm”. . He married a Crow woman named “Still Water”; she was the daughter of Chief Black Lodge. He was so popular with the tribe that he was also chosen as a chief and given the name Bulls Robe. He stayed with the Crow for about six years.
After leaving the Crow, he wandered the country and set up trading posts in New Mexico and California. Along with his partners, he built the trading post pueblo in Colorado. This trading post later became the city of Pueblo Colorado. James P. Beckwourth also served as a scout for the U. S. Army, prospected for gold, and carried dispatches during the Mexican war of 1846. In April of 1850, James P. Beckwourth discovered a pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, making a way for people to reach California and the Pacific Ocean much more easily. The pass is located between Portola, California and present day Reno, Nevada.The pass and the valley still bear his name.
In 1866, the U.S. Army recruited Beckwourth to lead a peacekeeping mission to the Crow Indians. According to the legend, his son, Chief Black Panther asked him to stay with the tribe and lead them in battle again. Backwourth told his son he could not stay. The legend says the Crow poisoned him to keep his spirit among them, so goes the legend. The fact is that he probably died of food poisoning. Whatever the cause of death, the fact remains that his life was one that is unparalleled in the history of our country’s frontier expansion.
Beckwourth's life was told by Justice of the Peace Thomas D. Bonner in "The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians". The book was first published in London and New York in 1856. it was also translated and published in France in 1860.
James P. Beckwourth is just one of many people you probably will never see in your history text books used in most of our schools. Beckwourth's story, like many Afrcan-Americans who helped to make this country great is not a secret, they are just hidden in plain sight in books and on the internet. You just need to know the names so you can know who to look for. That is why Professor Black's History was crated. So be on the look out for more from Professor Black's History because there is lots more to come.