James W. Bridger "Jim" (1804-1881) - Born 17 Mar 1804, Richmond, Virginia. Died 17 Jul 1881, Washington, Missouri.
He was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States during the decades of 1820-1840. He was also well known as a teller of tall tales.
Bridger had an extraordinarily strong constitution that allowed him to survive the extreme conditions he encountered walking 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 would come to know many of the major figures of the early west, including Brigham Young, Kit Carson, John Fremont, Joseph Meek, and John Sutter.
Bridger began his colorful career in 1822 at the age of 17, as a member of General William Ashley's Upper Missouri Expedition. He was among the first non-natives to see the geysers and other natural wonders of the Yellowstone region. In the winter of 1824-1825, Bridger gained fame as the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake (though some now dispute that status). Due to its salinity, he believed it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.
In 1830, Bridger and several other trappers bought out Ashley and established the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, competing with the Hudson's Bay Company and John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company for the lucrative beaver pelt trade. In 1838, Bridger and Louis Vasquez built a trading post, later named Fort Bridger, on the west bank of the Green River to serve pioneers on the Oregon Trail.
In 1835 he married a woman from the Flathead Indians 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 the daughter of Shoshone Chief Washakie with whom he had two more children. Some of his children were sent back east to be educated.
In 1850, looking for an alternate overland route to the South Pass, he found what would eventually be known as Bridger's Pass, which shortened the Oregon Trail by 61 miles. Bridger Pass would later be the chosen route for both the Union Pacific Railroad and later Interstate 80.
Bridger was known as "Blanket Chief" by the Flatheads and Crows after his Flathead wife made a beautiful and unusual multicolored blanket that he wore and had for special occasions. The name meant little at first but as he became known for the qualities the Indians admired, the name became greatly respected and honored. As a leader he was often called "Captain" and later he had temporary Army appointments with the rank of "Major" in the 1850's and 1860's.
He served as guide and army scout during the first Powder River Expedition against the Sioux and Cheyenne blocking the Bozeman Trail (Red Cloud's War). In 1865 he was discharged at Fort Laramie. Suffering from goiter, arthritis, rheumatism and other health problems, he returned to Westport, Mississippi in 1868. He was unsuccessful in collecting back rent from the government for its use of Fort Bridger. He died in Washington, Missouri on 17 Jul 1881.
Bridger was well known during his life and afterwards as a teller of tall tales. Some of Bridger's stories -- about the geysers at Yellowstone, for example -- proved to be true. Others were clearly intended to amuse. Thus, one of Bridger's stories involved a "peetrified forest" in which there were "peetrified birds" singing "peetrified songs." Over the years, Bridger became so associated with the tall-tale form that many stories invented by others were attributed to him.