Jedediah Smith’s explorations in the American West began when he was 21 and lasted until his death at age 32. He crisscrossed the region in search of beaver pelts and new travel routes. His travel journals became a foundation for the first accurate maps of what is now the western United States.
A Life of Exploration
After three years in the Rocky Mountains, Jedediah Smith led trapping expeditions to California in 1826 and 1827. Both times he was ordered to leave by Mexican authorities. On the second expedition, Smith purchased more than 300 horses. Unable to cross the Sierras with their large herd, Smith’s party drove them to the Pacific coast, then north into Oregon. The large party would have made a substantial enviornmental impact and likely angered the native people whose lands they passed through. Disagreements about trade and differing notions of property and tespass probably also led to conflict.
On July 13, 1828, Smith’s party camped near the mouth of Smith River. A skirmish erupted and three others escaped and made their way on foot north along the Oregon coast. Tillamook Native Americans delivered the trappers to the British Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver; which sent out an expedition to investigate, accompanied by Smith. They recovered some of their horses and beaver pelts, and more important for us today, Smith’s travel journals.
Jedediah Smith returned to the Rocky Mountains from his California ventures with little profit but a wealth of knowledge about the West unrivaled by any other Euro-American. After a season trapping in Montana, Smith retired to St. Louis and began leading freight wagons across the Santa Fe Trail. In May 1831, he rode ahead to search for water and was killed by Comanche warriors.
This marker was made possible in part through a grant from The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Historic Trails Fund.