Jedediah Smith: No Ordinary Mountain Man

Written by Barton H. Barbour
Review by John R. Vallely

The term “mountain man” conjures up visions of doggedly independent and fiercely combative men more than capable of adapting and thriving in areas of the West where few whites had ever traveled and where the Indian reigned supreme. Legends, of course, usually clash with reality, but Jedediah Smith (1799-1831) seems to accurately fit the stereotype. Our hero was a fascinating and colorful individual who was bedazzled as a young boy by first person accounts of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Smith was soon famous for being the first white man to travel to California through the Southwest. Subsequent journeys took him literally all over the West. His end came when he volunteered to go alone in search of water to save comrades from the dreaded Comanche. Reading Barbour’s biography should provide fertile soil for historical novelists seeking background for their Western writings.