Jim Bridger

Jim BridgerJames Bridger was born in Richmond, Virginia on March 17, 1804. In 1812 Bridger’s family moved west to Missouri. In March of 1822, he began his life on the frontier as a member of General William Ashley’s Upper Missouri Expedition, trapping furs. Jim was in good company when he signed on with Hugh Glass, Jedediah Smith, and Thomas Fitzpatrick to be a member of General Ashley's Upper Missouri expedition. At the age of 17, he was the youngest member of the expedition. This was beginning of a long and colorful career in the mountains for Jim Bridger.

Jim and several other trappers bought out General Ashley and established the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1830. In 1843 Bridger and Louis Vasquez built a trading post on the west bank of Blacks Fork of the Green River in south-western Wyoming. The trading post became a major way station on the Oregon and California Trails, a military fort, and a Pony Express station.

After working for Ashley, Bridger trapped the Rocky Mountains with various companies and partnerships. Renowned by his peers, Bridger was an able brigade leader and an excellent trapper. Year after year he was able to avoid Indian attack and turn a profit from his trapping.

One particular discovery early on in Bridger's career brought him lasting celebrity. To settle a bet in the winter camp of his trapping party of 1824, Bridger set out to find the exact course of the Bear River from the Cache Valley. He returned and reported that it emptied into a vast lake of salt water. The men were convinced he had found an arm of the Pacific Ocean. In reality, he was the first white man to view The Great Salt Lake. Bridger's most important discovery would come years later, in 1850. Captain Howard Stanbury stopped at Fort Bridger and inquired about the possibility of a shorter route across the Rockies than the South Pass. Bridger guided him through a pass that ran south from the Great Basin. This pass would soon be rightfully called Bridger's Pass and would be the route for overland mail, The Union Pacific Railroad line and finally Interstate 80.

Bridger had married three times during his lifetime. He married his first wife, a woman from the Flathead tribe and had three children with her. His wife died in 1846 and he remarried the daughter of a Shoshone chief, who died in childbirth three years later. He married another Shoshone woman in 1850 and had two more children with her. He continued to serve as a guide and army scout leading many army units through the Rockies until 1865, when he was discharged from Fort Laramie. Suffering from health problems, he returned to his farm in Missouri in 1868. He died there on July 17, 1881.

BridgerBridger was well known for telling tall tales during and after his life time. Many of his stories were intended to amuse, but some were actually true, like the geysers of Yellowstone. Because he became so associated with telling tale tales, many stories told by others were attributed to him. Today many places bear his name, such as Bridger, Montana and the Bridger Mountains.

Bridger rose to the status of the quintessential mountain man. Biographer Grenville Dodge described him as:
"a very companionable man. In person he was over six feet tall, spare, straight as an arrow, agile, rawboned and of powerful frame, eyes gray, hair brown and abundant even in old age, expression mild and manners agreeable. He was hospitable and generous, and was always trusted and respected."

Bridger had a remarkable sense of humor and he especially loved to shock tenderfeet and easterners with his tall tales. He would tell of glass mountains, "peetrified" birds singing "peetrified" songs, and reminisce about the days when Pikes Peak was just a hole in the ground. These stories were related in such a serious manner as to fool even skeptics into believing them, making Jim's laughter all the louder when his ruse was revealed.

All of these attributes served Bridger well, and made him adaptable to just about every situation he found himself in. By the end of his lifetime, Bridger could claim the titles of trapper, trader, guide, merchant, Indian interpreter and army officer.