History of American Exploration from 1822 to 1843

About the history of American exploration from 1822 to 1843 including explorations of Jebediah Strong Smith and Jim Bridger.


1822-1831 An ad placed by St. Louis entrepreneur William Henry Ashley in the Missouri Gazette for "enterprising young men" lured young Jedediah Strong Smith (1799-1831) west in 1822. He was to remain for nine years. An encounter with a grizzly bear that nearly tore off his face did not deter him. He explored 16,000 mi. of territory, leading parties that rediscovered the South Pass in Oregon and carved out the Old Spanish Trail. Dubbed the "knight in buckskin," he was a conscientious Bible reader, not at all typical of mountain men. On his expedition of 1826-1827, he and his party followed the Colorado River south to the Mojave Desert, where they ate their horses when they died of hunger and thirst. Then they went on to San Diego--where the Spanish gave them trouble--to board a ship, which they left to sneak back into California. Next they went over the Sierras and into the Great Basin of the Nevada desert, where, after 32 dry days, they were saved by a waterhole and Smith's sense of direction. Smith later escaped massacre by the Indians near Oregon's Umpqua River in 1828. Though he had finally settled down to be a farmer, he decided to take one last trip, leading a wagon train to Santa Fe. It was an unfortunate decision, for while he was out alone scouting for water, he was ambushed and killed by Comanches.

1824 Virginian Jim Bridger (1804-1881), an illiterate frontiersman who roamed the west for 50 years, led a party of trappers down the Bear River (now the Utah). To prove a bet that it flowed into a salt lake or marsh, he canoed down the river's dangerous cascades through Bear Canyon and emerged on Great Salt Lake--its first known white visitor. He thought he had found an arm of the Pacific Ocean.

1831-1836 "The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career," wrote Charles Darwin (1809-1882), whose trip as H.M.S. Beagle's naturalist along the coasts of Patagonia, Chile, and Peru, as well as to the Galapagos Islands, gave him access to an enormously rich laboratory of plant and animal life. Dramatic evidence of geological change led him, in part, to his theory of evolution through natural selection.

1835-1843 When in 1831 in the British Virgin Islands he saw a slave ship strike an uncharted rock and sink, killing 135 Africans, German-born Robert Hermann Schomburgk (1804-1865) was so appalled that he conducted a survey of nearby waters at his own expense to avert future disasters. Impressed by this, the British government requested that he survey British Guiana, this time for pay, and he agreed. During his exploration, he discovered the source of the Essequibo River, mapped its tributaries, and accurately established boundary lines, which so infuriated the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments that they tore out his boundary posts. Though accurate, his measurements had taken land away from Brazil and Venezuela and given it to Britain.

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