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Document Number: AJ-112
Author: Smith, Jedediah Strong
Title: The Expeditions of Jedediah Strong Smith
Source: Dale, Harrison Clifford (editor). The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific, 1822-1829. (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1918). Pages 179-197.
Pages/Illustrations: 20 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Jedediah Smith was born in upstate New York in 1798 but raised on the Pennsylvania and Ohio frontier. At age twenty-four he joined St. Louis fur trader William H. Ashley on a trip up the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone River and he spent the remainder of his short life trapping and trading in the far west. After returning to St. Louis in 1830 he was killed the next year on a trip to Santa Fe.

Expedition of 1826-1827

Smith spent almost a year on this journey, leaving Great Salt Lake with fifteen men for a trapping and trading expedition on August 22, 1826. The trip is summarized in this letter of Smith and the first of the two journals by his companion Harrison Rogers, (see AJ-116).

Starting from an established fur trade rendezvous site at modern Laketown, Utah, Smith's party passed southwest through lands belonging to the Ute, Paiute, and Mohave nations and reached the Colorado River in early October. Crossing the Mohave Desert, they reached the Spanish mission of San Gabriel, near present-day Los Angeles, the following month, where they spent the winter (see AJ-116 Rogers’ journal of this winter residence in southern California).

Because the Spanish would not let Smith trade in their coastal settlements, he traveled north up the central valley of California before climbing through the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the end of May. The party, crossed Nevada close to the route of modern-day U.S. Highway 6 and entered Utah near present-day Grandy. The party reached the rendezvous site near Great Salt Lake again in July, 1827.

Expedition of 1827-1828

After this trip, Smith and Rogers immediately retraced their route with another group of traders. but half were killed before they reached California. Smith, Rogers and the survivors continued north from California into Oregon and up the Pacific Coast, where all but Smith and three others were killed. The journey from California to Oregon is described in the second of Rogers’ two journals (see AJ-116). Smith made it to a British trading post at modern Vancouver, British Columbia, and then to the Missouri country.

Document Note

Two primary sources about Smith’s explorations are presented in documents AJ-112 and AJ-116. The first is a letter Smith wrote in 1827 to William Clark (1770-1838; see AJ-100 and AJ-146 to AJ-149), leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and, in 1827, U.S. Superintendant of Indian Affairs. This letter details Smith's overland route from Utah to southern California and back; its original manuscript is at the Kansas Historical Society. The other primary source on this expedition is a journal kept by Smith’s companion Harrison Rogers during their winter residence near Los Angeles (see AJ-116).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The best online source for further information about Smith, Rogers and their travels is the “Mountain Men and the Fur Trade Virtual Research Center” at which contains dozens of diaries, narratives, and letters of their contemporaries It offers books, maps, pictures, email discussion groups, and links to other sites on the Web related to the history of the fur trade in the far West during the early nineteenth century.

The standard books about these events are George R. Brooks, ed., The Southwest Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith: His Personal Account of his Journey to California 1826-1827 (1989) and Leroy R. Hafen and Harvey L. Carter, eds., Mountain Men and the Fur Traders of the Far West (1982).

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