Bring Back The Mountain Man – Jim Beckwourth – Part One

Bring Back The Mountain Man

Jim Beckwourth ( 1798-1866 ) A documented Mountain Man – Part One

We have chosen Jim Beckwourth’s history as our first Mountain Man to share with our readers. By far he is one of the most venturesome and daring of the many that recorded history has left us. We have acquired most of  our information from the James Pierson Beckwourth biography site.

Snow covered cabin in Canada.


James Pierson Beckwourth was born in 1798 in Frederick County Virginia. His mother was an African American slave and his father an Englishman, Sir Jennings Beckwith.  His father raised him as his own son, but he was still legally considered a slave, although attempts were made to emancipate him. There is no explanation why the difference in the spelling of the last name, which often happened over time.

Early on, the family moved to Missouri and Jim was apprenticed to a blacksmith in St. Louis as a young man. When Beckwourth was about twenty-four and unhappy as an apprentice there was a dispute with his boss and Jim left home. It was 1822 and he went on an expedition to the lead mines in the Fever River area. His travels took him to New Orleans, but this brief adventure soon ended and he returned home to his fathers. It wasn’t long before he was struck with wanderlust again and in 1824 he signed up with General William Ashley for a trapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains. adobestock_47197649_wm

Thus, began Jim Beckwourth’s explorations and a major role in American history, although he was dismissed by many historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many were very blatant about their prejudices of this “mongrel of mixed blood”. Even though there were numerous people of many races and nationalities on the frontier, Beckwourth was the only African American who recorded his life story. His adventurous nature took him from the everglades of Florida to the Pacific Ocean and then from southern Canada to northern Mexico. All of this he dictated in his autobiography to Thomas D. Bonner, an itinerant Justice of the Peace in the gold fields of California. It was 1854-55 when Beckwourth dictated his story. Once Bonner had “polished up” a rough narrative the book, The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians was published by Harper and Brothers in 1856.

It would appear that the book achieved some amount of popular success as it was followed by an English edition in the same year, a second printing two years later, and then in 1860 a French translation was introduced.  The following quotes give us an idea of how historians look back on this Mountain Man:

Stich, Abbildung, engraving, gravure : 1863.


“ But Beckwourth was a man of his times, and for the early fur trappers of the Rockies, the ability to ‘spin a good yarn’ was a skill valued almost as highly as marksmanship or woodsmanship. And while Beckwourth certainly had a tendency to exaggerate numbers or to occasionally make himself the hero of events that happened to other people, later historians have discovered that much of what Beckwourth related in his autobiography actually occurred. Truth is often something much bigger than merely the accuracy of details. And to discover the truth of what life was like for the fur trappers of the 1820’s, the Crow Indians of the 1830’s, the pioneers of the Southwest in the 1840’s, or the gold miners of California in the 1850’s, you can find no better source than the life of Jim Beckwourth”.

 Found in the Notes of the site was this rather funny story we think you will enjoy:

The Gaudy Liar:

An often-told story has it that when the book appeared, a group of miners who were well-acquainted with Beckwourth commissioned one of its members to pick up a copy while on a trip to San Francisco. But the man, being careless, got a copy of the Bible instead. In the evening, he was requested to read aloud from the long-awaited book, and opening it at random, he hit upon and read the story of Samson and the foxes. “That’ll do!” one of the men cried. “I’d know that story for one of Jim’s lies anywhere!”

We will continue the story of Jim Beckwourth in Part Two telling of his adventures once he went on the trapping expedition in the Rocky Mountains with General William Ashley and his company of trappers.





Overall preparation for what nature can throw at us is not that overwhelming but it does take a little effort. USI has a wealth of information, equipment and training for everyone about all forms of mitigation so visit our web site at and if you have a need feel free to call!

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Author Ben Barr is a 30+ year SERE Specialist who has been a curriculum developer for the USAF Survival School, USAF Water Survival School, USAF Air Mobility Command, USMC and USN

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