James Felix Bridger (March 17, 1804 – July 17, 1881) was an American
mountain man, trapper, Army scout and wilderness guide who explored
and trapped the Western
United States in the first half of the 19th
century. Bridger is known for participating in numerous early
expeditions into the western interior as well as mediating between
Native American tribes and encroaching
European-American settlers, and
by the end of his life had earned a reputation as one of the foremost
frontiersmen in the American Old West. He was of English ancestry, and
his family had been in North America since the early colonial
Bridger was described as having a strong constitution that allowed him
to survive the extreme conditions he encountered while exploring the
Rocky Mountains from what would become southern
Colorado to the
Canadian border. He had conversational knowledge of French, Spanish
and several native languages. He was a contemporary of many famous
European-American explorers of the early west and would come to know
many of them, including Kit Carson, George Armstrong Custer, Hugh
Glass, John Frémont, Joseph Meek, John Sutter, Peter Skene Ogden,
Jedediah Smith, and William Sublette. In 1830, Smith and his
associates sold their fur company to Bridger and his associates, who
named it the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Bridger was part of the
second generation of American mountain men and pathfinders that
Lewis and Clark expedition
Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804.
1 Early life and career
Hugh Glass ordeal
Yellowstone and the Great Salt Lake
2 Business ventures
3 Guide and adviser
Bridger Pass and the Bridger Trail
4 Marriages, Indian wives, and family
6.1 Historical reputation
6.2 Places and things named for Jim Bridger
6.3 Media portrayals
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Early life and career
James Felix Bridger was born on March 17, 1804, in Richmond,
Virginia. His parents were James Bridger, an innkeeper in Richmond,
and his wife Chloe. About 1812, the family moved near to St. Louis
at the eastern edge of America's vast new western frontier. At the
age of 13, Bridger was orphaned when his parents died. Receiving no
formal education, unable to read or write, he was apprenticed to a
blacksmith. He was illiterate the whole of his life. On March
20, 1822, at the age of 18, he left his apprenticeship after
responding to an advertisement in a St. Louis newspaper, the Missouri
Republican, and joined General William Henry Ashley's fur trapping
expedition to the upper Missouri River. The party included Jedediah
Smith and many others who would later become famous mountain men.
For the next 20 years, he repeatedly traversed the continental
interior between the Canada–U.S. border and the southern boundary of
present-day Colorado, and from the
Missouri River westward to Idaho
and Utah, either as an employee of or a partner in the fur trade.
Hugh Glass ordeal
Hugh Glass and
Bridger volunteered to stay with the dying
Hugh Glass after he was
mauled by a grizzly bear in 1823
Bridger continued his employment with Ashley's fur trapping venture
for several seasons. On one expedition, the young Bridger played a
significant role in the ordeal of fellow trapper Hugh Glass. On June
2, 1823, Ashley's men were attacked by
Arikara warriors along the
Missouri River. Fifteen men were killed and the rest of the fur
trappers fled down the river and hid in shelters until U.S. military
support defeated the Arikara. In August 1823, near the forks of the
Grand River in present-day
Perkins County, South Dakota
Perkins County, South Dakota while scouting
for game for the expedition's larder, Glass surprised a grizzly bear
with two cubs. The bear charged, picked him up and threw him to the
ground. He fired into the air to scare the bear away to save his
expedition partners but was left badly mauled and unconscious. Ashley
asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died and to then
bury him. Bridger and John Fitzgerald stepped forward and as the rest
of the party moved on, began digging Glass's grave. Later, claiming
they were interrupted by an
Arikara attack, the pair grabbed Glass's
rifle, knife, and other equipment and took flight. Bridger and
Fitzgerald later caught up with the party and incorrectly reported to
Ashley that Glass had died.
Despite his injuries, Glass regained consciousness. After recovering,
Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger, motivated either
by murderous revenge or the desire to get his weapons back. He
eventually found Bridger at the mouth of the Bighorn River, but
apparently forgave him because of his youth. Glass also found
Fitzgerald and reportedly spared his life because of the penalty for
killing a soldier of the
United States Army.
Yellowstone and the Great Salt Lake
Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone
Great Salt Lake
Bridger was among the first white men to see the geysers and other
natural wonders of the
Yellowstone region. In the winter of
1824–1825, Bridger gained fame as the first European American to see
Great Salt Lake
Great Salt Lake (though some now dispute that status in favor of
contemporary explorer Étienne Provost), which he reached traveling in
a bull boat. Due to its saltiness, Bridger believed it to be an arm of
the Pacific Ocean. Historians are unsure if he was alone when he found
the Great Salt Lake.
Jim Bridger and several other trappers bought out Jedediah
Smith's fur company, who had bought out Ashley, and established the
Rocky Mountain Fur Company, which competed with the Hudson's Bay
Company and John Jacob Astor's
American Fur Company
American Fur Company in the lucrative
beaver pelt trade. In 1843, Bridger and
Louis Vasquez built a trading
post, later named Fort Bridger, on the west bank of
Blacks Fork of the
Green River in what is now
Wyoming to serve pioneers on the Oregon
Guide and adviser
Bridger had explored, trapped, hunted and blazed new trails in the
West since 1822, and later worked as a wilderness guide in these
areas. He could reportedly assess any wagon train or group, their
interests in travel, and give them expert advice on any and all
aspects of heading West, over any and all trails, and to any
destination the party had in mind, if the leaders sought his advice.
In 1846, the
Donner Party came to
Fort Bridger and were assured by
Bridger and Vasquez that Lansford Hastings' proposed shortcut ahead
was "a fine, level road, with plenty of water and grass, with the
exception before stated (a forty-mile waterless stretch)." The
preceding statement was false, however, as the 40-mile stretch was in
fact 80 miles, and the "fine level road" was the roadway to hell which
Donner Party enough to become trapped in the Sierra Nevada
in the winter.
In 1859, Bridger was paid to be the chief guide on the
Yellowstone-bound Raynolds Expedition, led by Captain William F.
Raynolds. Bridger guided the expedition over
Union Pass after finding
that mountain passes to the north were blocked by snow. Though
unsuccessful in reaching the
Yellowstone Plateau, the expedition
Jackson Hole and the Teton Range.
Bridger Pass and the Bridger Trail
In 1850, while guiding the Stansbury Expedition on its return from
Utah, Bridger discovered what would eventually become known as Bridger
Pass, an alternate overland route which bypassed South Pass and
Oregon Trail by 61 miles. Bridger Pass, in what is now
south-central Wyoming, would later become the chosen route across the
Continental Divide for both the
Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate
In 1864, Bridger blazed the Bridger Trail, an alternative route from
Wyoming to the gold fields of
Montana that avoided the dangerous
Bozeman Trail. In 1865, he served as a guide and U.S. Army scout
during the first
Powder River Expedition
Powder River Expedition against the
Cheyenne that were blocking the
Bozeman Trail (Red Cloud's War). He
was discharged from the Army at
Fort Laramie later that year.
Suffering from goiter, arthritis, rheumatism and other health
problems, Bridger returned to Westport, Missouri, in 1868. He was
unsuccessful in collecting back rent from the government for its use
of Fort Bridger.
Marriages, Indian wives, and family
In 1835, Bridger married a woman from the
Flathead Indian tribe, with
whom he had three children. After her death in 1846, he married the
daughter of a
Shoshone chief, who died in childbirth three years
later. In 1850, he married
Shoshone chief Washakie's daughter, with
whom he had two more children. Some of his children were sent back
east to be educated.
Bridger died on his farm near Kansas City, Missouri, on July 17, 1881,
at the age of 77. In the Independence Missouri School District, a
junior high and then the middle school which replaced it are named
Jim Bridger (right) honored along with
Pony Express founder Alexander
Majors (left) and Kansas City founder
John Calvin McCoy
John Calvin McCoy at Pioneer
Square in Westport in Kansas City
Sculpture of Bridger by David Alan Clark in Fort Bridger, Wyoming
Bridger is remembered as one of the most colorful and widely traveled
mountain men of the era. In addition to his explorations and his
service as a guide and adviser, he was known for his storytelling. His
stories about the geysers at Yellowstone, for example, proved to be
true. Others were grossly exaggerated or clearly intended to amuse:
one of Bridger's stories involved a petrified forest in which there
were "petrified birds" singing "petrified songs" (though he may have
seen the petrified trees in the Tower Junction area of what is now
Yellowstone National Park). Over the years, Bridger became so
associated with telling tall tales that many stories invented by
others were attributed to him.
Supposedly one of Bridger's favorite yarns to weave to greenhorns told
of his pursuit by one hundred
Cheyenne warriors. After being chased
for several miles, Bridger found himself at the end of a box canyon,
with the Indians bearing down on him. At this point, Bridger would go
silent, prompting his listener to ask, "What happened then, Mr.
Bridger?" Bridger would then reply, "They killed me." Bridger's tale
was similar to the actual death of Jedediah Smith, who had died under
the lances of
Comanche Indians on the
Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail in 1831.
Places and things named for Jim Bridger
Fort Bridger, Wyoming
Bridger Mountains (Wyoming)
Bridger Mountains (Montana)
Bridger Bowl Ski Area
Bridger-Teton National Forest
Jim Bridger Power Station
Bridger Lake, a lake and campground near Mountain View, Wyoming
Cache Valley in
Idaho is known as "Bridgerland", a name that
is used in many Logan, Utah-based businesses and institutions, such as
Bridgerland Television and the Bridgerland Applied Technology College.
James Bridger Middle School in Independence, Missouri
Jim Bridger Elementary School in Portland, Oregon
Jim Bridger Elementary School in West Jordan, Utah
Bridger Trail Run outside Bozeman, Montana
Bridger Avenue in Las Vegas, Nevada
Jim Bridger cabins, a motel in Gardiner, Montana, outside the
Yellowstone National Park.
In 2013, Bridger's Battle was announced as the new name for an old
college football rivalry between
Utah State and Wyoming. The winner
receives a .50-caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle, the "Bridger
rifle", as a traveling trophy.
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Raymond Hatton portrayed Bridger in the 1940 film Kit Carson.
Van Heflin played Bridger in the 1951 film Tomahawk.
Dennis Morgan portrayed Bridger in the 1955 film The Gun That Won the
In the late 1950s,
Johnny Horton recorded a song called "Jim Bridger"
about the life of Jim Bridger. Lyrics include the injunction "..Let's
drink to old
Jim Bridger yes, lift your glasses high" – "As long as
there's a USA don't let his memory die" – "That he was making
history never once occurred to him" – "But I doubt if we'd have been
here if it weren't for men like Jim..."
Karl Swenson played Bridger in the episode "The
Jim Bridger Story" of
NBC's Wagon Train, broadcast on May 10, 1961.
Jim Bridger is also briefly mentioned in Sydney Pollack's 1972 film
Jeremiah Johnson, in which Will Geer's character introduces himself as
"Bear Claw Crislap, blood kin to the grizz (grizzly bear) that bit Jim
James Wainwright played Bridger in the 1976 TV movie Bridger, opposite
Ben Murphy as Kit Carson.
Bridger was portrayed on television by the western actor Gregg Palmer
in the 1977 episode "
Kit Carson and the Mountain Man" of NBC's Walt
Disney's Wonderful World of Color. Christopher Connelly portrayed Kit
Robert Reed played John C. Frémont.
Reb Brown portrayed Bridger in the 1978 TV miniseries Centennial.
In the 1982 novel Flashman and the Redskins, lead character Harry
Paget Flashman is interviewed by Bridger just before heading west with
his prostitute-laden wagon train.
In the 1984 film Red Dawn, Patrick Swayze's character of Jed Eckert
says he used to read of the exploits of both
Jim Bridger and Jedediah
Smith, for whom he says he was named.
In Bushcraft, the 2005 televised series hosted by Ray Mears, Ray
traveled along the same trails
Jim Bridger pioneered.
In the 2009 film Inglourious Basterds, lead character Lt. Aldo Raine
(portrayed by Brad Pitt) states: "Now, I am the direct descendant of
the mountain man Jim Bridger. That means I got a little Injun in me.
And our battle plan will be that of an Apache resistance." None of
Bridger's three Indian wives were Apache.
In the 2015 film The Revenant,
Will Poulter portrays Bridger.
Bridger family of Virginia, notable to American colonial and pioneer
Joseph Bridger, a Colonial Governor of
Virginia and ancestor of Jim
William Sublette, explorer, fur trader, and fellow mountain man of
^ Fischer, David Hackett (1989). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways
in America. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 633–639.
^ a b c d e f Dale 1929, p. 33.
^ a b Dale 1929, pp. 33–34.
^ Monumental Mysteries
Jim Bridger Abandon Hugh Glass". HughGlass.org/. Museum of the
Mountain Man. Retrieved December 18, 2015.
^ "Biographical Notes - Hugh Glass". Wandering Lizard History.
Archived from the original on 8 May 2006. Retrieved 4 October
^ wallis the land beneath heaven 2017
^ "Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest - Bridger Lake
^ "JIM BRIDGER Lyrics - Song by JOHNNY HORTON".
Dale, Harrison Clifford (1929). Allen Johnson, ed. Dictionary of
American Biography Bridger, James. New York: Charles Scribner's
Alter, J. Cecil (1951), James Bridger Trapper, Frontiersman, Scout And
Guide A Historical Narrative, College Book Co.
Caesar, Gene (1961), King Of The Mountain Men, E.P. Dutton Co,,
Vestal, Stanley (1946),
Jim Bridger Mountain Man, William Morrow &
"Affidavit discussing Jim Bridger's property and Fort Bridger"
Jim Bridger in Idaho[permanent dead link]
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