Jim Bridger

Hunter, Trapper, Guide, and Scout

JAMES H. BRIDGER. An important Overland Trail stage station in the Rockies was Fort Bridger, the third military post established on the stage route. Established in the 1830's by Jim Bridger, it consisted of two log houses with dirt roofs, and was located 478 miles northwest of Denver and 124 miles northeast of Salt Lake, its altitude being about 7000 feet. It was nestled in the mountains, in the center of green pastures, and was well watered. Black's Fork, a large, clear, running stream, a prominent tributary of Green river, flows near it. Here was the home of James H. Bridger (Jim Bridger for short, also known as Colonel Bridger,) after whom Bridger's Pass in Southern Wyoming was named. He was the discoverer of this pass into the Salt Lake valley, and is believed to have been the first white man to sail on Great Salt Lake, in 1824. He was a member of General Ashley's expedition in 1826, and it was probably in the '30's that he located permanently along Black's Fork.

Bridger was a renowned hunter, trapper, guide, and scout. He made his home nearly all his life in the Rockies. He was in every sense a pioneer and trapper, and, as early as 1824, was known quite well on the upper Missouri and Mississippi, having carried a load of furs to St Louis that year via the Missouri river.

At his ranch on Black's Fork, he had a large store stocked with dry-goods, groceries, liquor, tobacco, ammunition, etc. He had a space of perhaps two acres surrounded by a stockade--timbers set in the ground elevated eight or ten feet above the surface. Inside this stockade was his residence on one side and his trading post diagonally across from it in one corner. Large swinging gates were in the center of the front, through which teams and cattle could be driven, safe from Indians and renegade white thieves. He kept house with no less than two squaws and had about him quite a number of half-breed papooses. He owned a large number of cattle, horses, and mules, and his place was so situated that he enjoyed a large trade with the Mormons, gold hunters, pilgrims, mountaineers, and Indians. As early as 1847, before the advance guard of the "saints" arrived there, Bridger claimed to have made fifty trips from his place to Salt Lake, but did not then know the exact distance.

Later, in the '50's and '60's, he was a faithful, trusted guide and interpreter in the employ of the Government. During his long pioneer life in the mountains he had become a shrewd trader, a good judge of stock, and few, apparently, could get the better of him in a horse or mule trade. In the later years of his life he was rather uncouth in dress, not very polite in manners, extremely fond of tobacco, and would occasionally take a drink "for his stomach's sake." He was a good talker, with a wonderful memory, could tell lots of interesting stories, and those intimately acquainted with him said it was a pleasure to sit and converse with him about early days on the plains and life in the Rocky Mountains. In all respects Jim Bridger was a far-westerner, and, up until the '60's, when the Overland stages were operating from the Missouri River to the Pacific, his visits to the "States" had been few and far between.

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