James Beckwourth

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James Beckwourth

James Beckwourth


Mountain man. Jim Beckwourth was born in Virginia, probably Frederick County, the son of Sir Jennings Beckwith, as it was then spelled (a descendent of minor Irish aristocrats), and a mulatto slave. By nature a sportsman and a wanderer, Sir Jennings moved to Louisiana Territory in 1810 and eventually to St. Louis. Some have suggested that he migrated West so that his mixed-blood offspring might have more opportunities. Whatever the motive, it appears that Sir Jennings manumitted his slave son when the youth reached manhood in Missouri.


Jim Beckwourth's handsome features led Francis Parkman to call him a French half-breed; others, impressed by his black, gently waving hair, said that he resembled an Indian. But Beckwourth's first jobs indicate that he was regarded as a free black man, because he was able to travel as he pleased. In 1822 he joined the rush to the new Fever River lead mines and soon thereafter traveled to New Orleans, probably as a roustabout.

The Story

Beckwourth worked for various ROCKY MOUNTAIN FUR COMPANY partners until 1828, when he appears to have been adopted into a tribe of CROW INDIANS. He resided among the Crows for at least six years and lived with a succession of Blackfoot, Snake, and Crow women. His own version of his life as an Indian suffers from exaggeration, for he describes himself as an important chief and superb warrior who took part in many raids (://www.angelfire.com/ca2/nolsongolden/educ540/beckpico.pdf). Although he was undoubtedly a leader among the Crow and may have engaged in the raids and killings he describes, his alliance with them was also a stratagem to get furs for his new employer, Kenneth McKenzie of the AMERICAN FUR COMPANY, just as the Crows' relationship with him gave them access to a valuable trade connection. In any case, the experience did leave its mark on Beckwourth, for thereafter he affected braids, moccasins, and Indian costume (Bonner, 2012).

Beckwourth's contract with the American Fur Company was not renewed in 1837, however, and he next appeared in Florida as a muleteer with a Missouri volunteer company recruited to fight against Indians in the SEMINOLE WAR. Returning to Missouri, Beckwourth became a trader on the Santa Fe Trail for Andrew Sublette (the younger brother of William Sublette; see SUBLETTE BROTHERS) and Louis VASQUEZ. Then, after serving as a wagon loader at BENT'S FORT and a trader in Taos, he and a group of trader-squatters settled at ...
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