Jedediah Smith

Jedediah Smith was a mountain man. With the middle name Strong, he epitomized the word.

As a fur trader and prolific explorer he survived a grizzly bear mauling and hostile encounters with natives. Born on January 6, 1799 on the East Coast in Jericho, N.Y., he spent the better part of his 32 years looking Westward.

Smith was the first white man to travel into California from the East. And in 1827 he was the first to cross the Sierra Nevadas.

Smith, in his lifetime, covered more land than the famed Lewis and Clark. On April 10, 1828, Smith and his 20-person crew began their trip past the Sacramento Valley that would eventually bring them into Del Norte County.

While on their trek north, Smith encountered the Trinity River and traveled along its banks for many days. He was so impressed by its size that he named it after himself.

This designation, obviously, did not stick.

Smith followed the Trinity until he encountered the Klamath River, camping along the banks of tributary creeks. It was here that Smith had his first meeting with the Yurok Tribe.

Trading razors and beads, Smith was able to buy canoes from the Yurok to help his party cross the Klamath. The Yurok again assisted Smith and his men when they were nearly starved.

The Yurok visited Smith’s camp multiple times with loads of berries, lamprey eel and blubber for trade. Smith said of the Yurok’s propensity for capitalism: “They were great speculators and never sold their things without dividing them into several small parcels, asking more for each than the whole were worth. They also brought us some blubber, not bad tasted but dear as gold dust.”

It was around this time that Smith reached Crescent City, resting at South Beach and Pebble Beach, then traveling north through Jordan Creek and Lake Earl. Smith and his fellow trappers encountered the Tolowa in this area, trading with them for fish, clams, strawberries and camas root.

On June 20, 1828, Smith headed east, crossing Howland Hill and first glimpsed the flowing waters of his official namesake river. Three days later he crossed into Oregon and followed the coastline until reaching the Umpqua River, the eventual location of his groups demise.

While cooking breakfast on July 14, 1828 over 100 Indians attacked Smith’s camp. Everyone was killed save Smith and two others – Arthur Black and John Turner.

The three men escaped through the mountains until they reached Fort Vancouver in Vancouver, Washington.  Smith spent the next two years, 1829 and 1830, trapping animals along the Wind River in Wyoming and Montana.

On May 27, 1831 Smith ended his explorations of the West. He was going to Santa Fe when he was ambushed by the Comanche.

He shot their chief in hopes of scaring away the group. He died with a Comanche lance in his back.

Smith is the namesake of both the Smith River and the Jedediah Smith State Park. The latter of which is home to some of the “noblest” trees Smith ever saw – the redwoods.

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