Jim Bridger Spins The Yarn
“One hundred Cheyenne warriors, arrows drawn, fire in their eyes, riding on the fastest mustangs you ever did see were right on my heels! I could feel the ground rumble as they chased me right into a steep canyon. I looked around at walls and Indians on every side. There I was, surrounded, boxed in …”
“What happened next, Mr. Bridger?” an eager voice called out from the darkness. Dancing shadows and a strange glow from the firelight reflected on the storyteller’s face as he drew out his suspenseful pause. The listeners leaned closer, hearts pounding, not wanting to miss any detail of this mountaineer’s tale.
“Why they killed me!” He bellowed.
Jim Bridger’s yarn at the rendezvous left the audience and me begging for more. The Ogden Rendezvous of July 1826 was my first. It would not be my last! The life of a trapper is hard. The annual Rendezvous’ with its “Mirth, song; dancing, shooting. Trading, running, jumping. Singing. Racing. Target-shooting. Yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent were freely indulged in,” as my friend, Jim Beckwourth, describes it. It may have gone something like this:
As a young man, I joined Peter Skene Ogden’s expedition with the Hudson’s Bay Company in November 1824; along with 131 others, including 30 women and 35 children. We trapped beaver for the fur company. We were expected to live off the land and hunted deer, elk, buffalo, and fished when we could. When food was scarce, we were forced to slaughter our horses.
In some areas, William Henry Ashly and the American company, James Bridger, Etienne Provost, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jedediah Smith, Louis Vasquez, James Beckwourth, and others, had already depleted the beavers. There was contentious, oft times violent competition between the rival fur companies.
There were many dangers. On May 11, 1825, a group of men had a narrow escape with a grizzly bear. It wasn’t uncommon for men to desert the party due to the many hardships encountered.
May 12. A Mr. McKay climbed a high mountain and saw a large lake that the Bear River emptied into. Over the next few months, stories would abound about that great body of water. It was so salty that some claimed it was an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Others called it a salt lake.
May 16. We entered a hole surrounded by beautiful mountains. Mr. Ogden called this area “New Hole.” Later, I would find out that they named the valley Ogden (Huntsville, Eden, and Liberty) after Peter Skene Ogden.
The beavers were plentiful in New Hole as the Americans had not yet been there. We made camp and set traps. On the second day, we caught 244. By the time we left, over 600 had been trapped.
We traversed south over a divide and set up camp. On May 23, some of our deserters came back with members of another party under the command of Provost. Not long after, another group with more Americans arrived, led by Johnson Gardner, carrying flags and claiming this location was part of the American Territories.
Fights broke out over whether it was the territory of Great Britain or America. Accusations and threats were flung at Mr. Ogden and his company. The Americans successfully convinced many men to desert. They offered better wages and conditions if the deserters were to stay in the free “American Territory.” The deserters took over 700 pelts with them.
However, neither party was correct in their argument, for the location in dispute (Mountain Green) was below the 49th parallel, and therefore they were fighting over Mexican Territory.
Mr. Ogden yielded, and with his remaining Hudson’s Bay Company brigade, returned to Oregon. He would return to Utah on another expedition from 1828-29.
As for me, I went my own way and became a freeman: trapping, exploring, mingling with mountain men and natives, never missing a rendezvous or a chance to hear the greats among us like Jim Bridger or Jim Beckwourth spin their yarns or tell a tall tale.
Perhaps one day someone will tell my story as well.
Thank You & Happy Haunting!
Kristen Clay, Owner, Director and Storyteller
Story Tours: Ogden & SLC Ghost Tours and The Story You Tell