Jerry Enzler was a trailblazer in the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. His contributions to the industry have been immense, and his work has led to a new era of digital currency.
Jerry Enzler is a trailblazer in the world of automotive design. He has been designing cars since the 1970s and his work has been recognized by many prestigious awards.
The history of Jim Bridger, who went up the Missouri River in 1822 with William Ashley and Andrew Henry’s fur-trapping expedition of 100 young men and subsequently carved paths followed by mountain men, emigrants, surveyors, scientists, and the military, encapsulates the tale of westward development.
In researching and publishing Bridger’s life story, biographer Jerry Enzler—who retired in 2016 after a 37-year career as founding director of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa—has left no stone unturned.
In Jim Bridger: Trailblazer of the American West, Enzler follows the famous frontiersman’s archival trail from his birth in Virginia in 1804 to his death in Missouri in 1881. (see review in the April 2023 Wild West).
Why is Bridger such a well-known Western figure? Bridger, who was orphaned at the age of 13, traveled up the Missouri River at the age of 18 to trap beaver in Blackfeet territory with Andrew Henry, Mike Fink, and a hundred other “enterprising young men.” In the Rocky Mountain fur trade, he became one of the most successful explorers and brigade commanders.
He found the Great Salt Lake when he was 20 years old. He became a leader when he led a band of trappers to retrieve stolen horses from a Bannock camp while Tom Fitzpatrick and other trappers provided cover fire.
He was the first person known to paddle the treacherous Bad Pass rapids on the Bighorn River at the age of 21, and he rose to leadership when he led a band of trappers to retrieve stolen horses from a Bannock camp while Tom Fitzpatrick and other trappers provided cover fire.
Bridger began exploring the marvels of Yellowstone when he was 22 years old, and by the age of 26, he was one of five partners in the Rocky Mountain Fur Co.
He became the embodiment of mountaineers, who were characterized by Washington Irving as “a completely distinct class…[of] merchants and trappers who climb the great mountain ranges…. Perhaps no class of men on the face of the earth…lives a life of more constant effort, danger, and excitement.”
In the 1830s and 1840s, Bridger was the most prominent Rocky Mountain fur brigade commander. Bridger had a “absolute grasp of the Indian nature in all its many stages,” according to trapper David Brown. His courage was undeniable, as did his riding, and his ability with a rifle will be hard to dispute.”
In the eyes of the frontiersmen, where does Bridger stand? Along with Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson, and Tom Fitzpatrick, he is considered one of the best Western frontiersmen.
He was important in three Western eras: first as an explorer and fur trapper, then as a guide to mapmakers and scientists, and lastly as the Army’s main guide during the Utah War, the Overland Trail, and the 1860s war with Red Cloud and his confederacy of Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos.
Bridger is said to have led more trapping brigades, wagon trains, scientific excursions, topographical surveys, and Army missions than anyone else in Western history. He was one of the eight legendary characters envisioned by historian Doane Robinson to be etched into the Black Hills of South Dakota’s rocks.
Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, Jedediah Smith, John Frémont, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody were the others. The original concept was changed to what is currently known as Mount Rushmore.
Is Bridger abandoning Hugh Glass, who is severely injured? The young trapper who offered to care for Hugh Glass before being persuaded to leave him has yet to be identified.
In 1823, a grizzly bear attacked Glass, and Daniel Potts, Black Harris, and James Clyman all reported the event without naming the caretakers. Several versions of the Glass event were later published, including one concocted by Edmund Flagg, an aspiring novelist.
In pursuit of Western tales, Flagg landed in St. Louis in 1837, and in 1839, he wrote a piece on Hugh Glass in the Louisville Literary Newsletter.
The absurd claim that Andrew Henry and the rest of the trappers went approximately 300 miles in one day to reach their fort on the same day they left Glass with the caretakers was one of Flagg’s many mistakes. The juvenile volunteer, according to Flagg, was called “Bridges.”
There were at least seven males called Bridges in Missouri at the time, according to records. Bridger’s sole known remark on the topic, which he gave to ethnologist James Stevenson somewhere between 1856 and 1860, is documented in my book. Bridger recounted Stevenson the tale of Hugh Glass, and “there was no desertion” on Bridger’s part, according to Stevenson.
‘In his dramatic Western paintings, Alfred Jacob Miller included Bridger, and Washington Irving represented him in The Adventures of Captain Bonneville. Bridger’s fort was recounted in schoolbooks, and his adventures as a frontiersman, scout, and guide were recorded in newspapers.
The Mormon vanguard met with Bridger at the Little Sandy, west of South Pass, in 1847, and he gave them information that contradicted what they’d read in Frémont’s books. What impact did this have on Mormon-Bridger relations? Long before they set out on their trip, the Latter-day Saints studied Frémont’s charts.
They even read parts of his report aloud to each other before deciding on Great Salt Lake as the location for their dominion. They were taken aback when they encountered Bridger on the Little Sandy on June 28, 1847, and he informed them that Frémont had erroneously plotted Salt Lake and Utah Lake as a single body.
Bridger reportedly informed them that he was “ashamed of Frémont’s charts” and that Frémont “knows nothing about the land, just the well-worn path.” Bridger also disputed what the saints had received from Black Harris, and according to one of the Mormon scribes, Bridger “spoke without understanding the location.”
Brigham Young was likely irritated by Bridger’s vast knowledge of the Great Basin and his strong status among the Shoshones and Utes. Within two years, Bridger’s colleague Louis Vasquez wrote to Young, warning him of the Indians’ possible threat.
“Old Bridger is death on us,” Young said after hearing the letter read out. “If he thought 400,000 Indians were coming against us, and any man were to let us know, he would slit his throat.”
What caused the Mormons to seize Fort Bridger? Young was becoming more interested in gaining control of Fort Bridger and the profitable Green River ferries, one of which was run by Bridger and Vasquez. Bridger’s financial gain and considerable power over the Shoshones and Utes did not sit well with many of the saints.
Some claim Bridger broke Young’s order by selling weapons and ammunition to the Shoshones or Utes. Others claim that a warrant for his arrest was issued in order to compel him to sell.
When the Mormons were unable to arrest Bridger, they devised a plan to seize his fort. Seth Blair, the Mormon U.S. Attorney for Utah Territory, suggested to Young a plan in which Blair would draft numerous lawsuits against Bridger, which would be signed and placed in the fort.
They might lawfully seize Bridger’s fort if he did not pay the accumulating damages. Young sought advice from a federal court, who recommended against this course of action but suggested that Fort Bridger might be taken under Indian laws if it could be proved that he supplied spirituous liquors or rum to Indians.
Why hasn’t the well-traveled Bridger gained the same renown for pathfinding as Frémont? Frémont’s widely read books on his trips, which were authored in part by Fremont’s wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, propelled both Frémont and Carson to national prominence. Frémont became more famous after running for president as the Republican candidate in 1856.
Carson became the protagonist of a number of dime novels. Daniel Boone’s adventures were also documented in literature and folklore. Davy Crockett was elected to the United States Congress, and his life was fictionalized and even staged.
Bridger couldn’t write, and he showed little desire in working with others to convey his tale. He did, however, become a part of the American identity.
In his dramatic Western paintings, Alfred Jacob Miller portrayed him, and Washington Irving depicted him in The Adventures of Captain Bonneville. Bridger’s fort was recounted in schoolbooks, and his adventures as a frontiersman, scout, and guide were recorded in newspapers.
As the beaver trade faded away, how did Bridger adjust? Even though the bison hide trade was more profitable, Bridger continued to trap and sell for beaver fur long into the 1840s. Bridger was approached by Hudson’s Bay Co. about leading American mountaineers who would trap for Hudson’s Bay, but he refused.
In 1840–41, Bridger went on a trapping trip to Pueblo de Los Angeles, then in 1844–45, he went to the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). Bridger didn’t start directing mapmakers, Smithsonian scientists, wagon trains, and numerous commanders in the US Army until 1849.
Bridger’s daughter Mary Ann was sent to the Whitman Mission for a reason. The Sioux assaulted Bridger’s partner Henry Fraeb, as well as other trappers and their Indian spouses, in 1841. Bridger relocated his fort west from Green River to Blacks Fork in the same year.
Bridger wanted his daughter to have a good education and be safe, so he sent her to Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s mission in Waiilatpu, Oregon Territory. Bridger had met the Whitmans during a meeting in 1835, when Dr. Whitman had removed a three-year-old Blackfeet metal arrowhead from Bridger’s back.
Mary Ann was kidnapped during the Cayuse assault on the Whitman Mission in 1847, and she died a year later. Bridger taught his other children at St. Charles, Mo., near St. Louis, with the assistance of Robert Campbell and Father Pierre-Jean De Smet.
‘Bridger had a wild and free life. His capacity to accept, live with, and assist Indian tribes was one of his greatest achievements. At the ages of 12 and 13, he resided among the Potawatomis. He had seven offspring after marrying a Flathead woman, then a Ute woman, and finally a Shoshone woman as an adult.
What was Bridger’s most significant contribution to the West? Bridger had a wild and free life. His capacity to accept, live with, and assist Indian tribes was one of his greatest achievements.
At the ages of 12 and 13, he resided among the Potawatomis. He had seven offspring after marrying a Flathead woman, then a Ute woman, and finally a Shoshone woman as an adult.
Bridger was well ahead of his time in terms of accepting indigenous cultures and their land rights. Bridger had a big dispute with Carson, Joe Meek, Osborne Russell, and many other free trappers who intended to attack the sick Blackfeet in 1838, when the Blackfeet were suffering from smallpox.
Bridger, the brigade’s captain, stood firm against the assault. The others were free to assault since they were free trappers.
To avoid conflict with the Red Cloud’s confederacy of Lakotas, Arapahos, and Cheyennes, Bridger built the Bridger Trail in 1864. The Sioux halted miners on the Bozeman Trail and told them to leave, but that if they proceeded “via the Blanket Road” (Bridger’s Crow name), they would be allowed to continue.
What were his most difficult challenges? One of Bridger’s difficulties was persuading people he was leading that he understood the area they were passing through.
At times, Army commanders such as Howard Stansbury, William Raynolds, Patrick E. O’Connor, and others overruled him and led troops in the wrong direction. People didn’t believe Bridger when he warned of hazards in Indian Territory or told them of the marvels he’d seen in Yellowstone’s thermal areas.
Bridger’s biggest difficulty was losing his house to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he regretted for the rest of his life. He yearned for the West and sought every chance to see there, even sleeping on a bed in the supply room of Fort Laramie’s shop.
He sat on his balcony, almost blind, just before his death, and remarked, “I wish I was back there amid the mountains again.” In that nation, you may see so much more.”
How challenging was it for you to write your book? Finding and collecting facts on Bridger’s life was one of my most difficult tasks.
But it was the National Archives, the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives, the Huntington Library, the Newberry Library, the Fort Laramie Archives, and the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints Archives that became my biggest success. Documenting this significant life was both a task and a privilege. WW