P.O. Box 35
Mountain View, Wyoming 82939
Hopefully, anything you read here, will encourage you to any or all of these books.
I compiled the above for a trek that the Utah Valley Historical Society took in the summer of 1995. These are only my notes, are not a historical treatment, but more interesting tib bits, to whet your appetite to read more.
Forward (page vii)
In human history, trade has ever been a prominent feature of life. Centers for barter developed at the crossings of travel routes, growing in size and importance as the traffic increased. Crossroads on land were important, but transfer of goods from water to land and vice versa were generally more significant in promoting and enlarging centers of trade.
Earliest and easiest travel in the American West was on rivers. So water transportation was utilized and early trading posts were established on the Missouri River and its navigable branches. But as fur men penetrated the central Rockies they came into territory without navigable rivers. In such a region Fort Bridger was to come into existence. For this outpost and similar ones horses and mules were the only means of transport.
The first trade in this western country was carried on between white men and Indians. Later, as whites took up fur-trapping, much of the trade was conducted between trappers and their business-wise suppliers of equipment and goods.
The annual Rendezvous, a temporary and movable trade fair, was introduced in 1825. It was cheaper than maintaining a permanent trading post, and it served trade requirements well. The factors that determined a good site were an open valley, ample water, and abundant grass for the horses that provided transportation for men and goods.
The rendezvous was short-lived. As furs diminished they were supplanted by buffalo robes, and the rendezvous gave way to the trading post, or fort. Then as fur animals, buffalo, and other game were killed off, the Indians' food supply and trade items diminished, and their economy and very lives were threatened.
An important new development that increased the Indians' difficulties was the coming of land-hungry emigrants seeking homes in the West. Lengthening trains of covered wagons rutted the pack horse trails and frightened away the game. As the wagons emptied their loads of settlers upon the choicest lands, the Indians grew restive. Accompanying or following the emigrants came dragoons and foot soldiers to protect the travel routes of the white men. The government took over many of the early trading posts and converted them into military forts. The new conditions changed the relations between the two races from peaceful trade to constant conflict.
As hostilities continued between the grasping white settlers and the protesting Indians, the first military forts were reinforced and numerous new ones were established. Vigorous campaigns against the red men were launched as increasing and expanding settlements demanded the expulsion or elimination of the Indians.
The wars of the 1870s and 1880s with the Indians were finally terminated by the disreputable confrontation at Wounded Knee in 1890. The same year marked the abandonment of Fort Bridger and Fort Laramie. Dozens of other forts were dismantled before or after these two. A period of American history punctuated by many bloody events came to an end.
It, is interesting to observe how quickly some of the significant and romantic acts of the Western drama passed across the stage of history. The fur traders' rendezvous lasted but sixteen years (1825-40); the burro and mule trains of the Old Spanish Trail moved between Santa Fe and Los Angeles but eighteen years (1830-48); the overland stagecoach careened to the Pacific for only twenty years (1849-69); the open range cattle herds followed the long trail northward for twenty years (about 1865-85); and the main Indian Wars of the West reddened the plains for about three decades (the 1860s to 1880s).
Fur trade posts dotted the map of the West during most of the early nine-teenth century. Lewis and Clark established Fort Mandan on the upper Missouri in 1804; Manuel Lisa founded Fort Manuel at the mouth of the Bighorn in 1811; Astor's men built Fort Astor on the Columbia in 1811. The fur trade of the West burgeoned in the 1830s. Forts Laramie, Hall, and Boise were built in 1834. Hiram M. Chittenden, the first great historian of the American fur trade, located scores of fur trade posts on his excellent map; many of these were converted into military forts.
Fort Bridger was the first emigrant way station, the initial trading post established specifically to serve the covered wagon trains to the far West. It was a notable trading outpost. Not only did it supply westbound emigrants, but it catered also to the Indian trade. It played an important part in the so-called "Mormon War" of 1857-58 and then became a United States military fort and continued that role until 1890, the year generally accepted as the termination of the Frontier.
During almost a half century it was a notable outpost of the American West. A number of other Western forts have already inspired book-length narratives. It is gratifying that at long last we now have a worthy account of historic Fort Bridger.
LeRoy R. Hafen
Professor Emeritus of History
Brigham Young University
Jim Bridger was one of approximately one hundred young men who answered the following notice which appeared in Missouri Republican in St. Louis on 20 March 1822, at the age of 19.
To Enterprising Young Men: The subscriber wishes to engage one hundred young men to ascend the Missouri River to its Source, there to be employed for one, two or three years. For particulars, inquire of Major Andrew Henry near the lead mines in County of Washington, who will ascend with and command the party of the subscribed near St. Louis. - signed William H. Ashley
But approximately twenty years later, when Jim Bridger decided to settle down, he had become one of the most famous mountain men in the Rocky Mountain West and his name was destined to live on, associated with the fort that he helped to found. In the public mind Jim Bridger, perhaps more than any other man in the fur trapping period, has become a symbol of mountain men.
Jim was the son of James and Clarey Bridger, from Scotland. The family moved to Richmond Virginia in 1812, where his father ran a hotel and large farm, by 1817 Jim was the only surviving family member from the hardships of frontier life.
One of Bridger's first adventures brought him questionable notoriety. He was present at an unlucky encounter between a bare and the mountain man Hugh Glass.
Jim Clyman, a famous trapper described as follows :
Amongst the party was a Mr. Hugh Glass who could not be restrained ... and kept under subordination. He went off the line of march one afternoon and met a large grizzly bear.... which he shot and wounded... he attempted to climb a tree but the bear caught him and hauled him to the ground tearing and lacerating his body in fearful rate.
Jim Bridger and another trapper John Fitzgerld volunteered - or were drafted - to remain with Glass and take care of him. Believing that Glass would not survive, they left him behind. Miraculously, Glass survived and found his way back to Fort Kiowa, some three hundred and fifty miles from the spot where he had been deserted. Some accounts of the incident say that Glass although determined on revenge, excused Bridger because of his youth.
Later to avoid competition between his own trading post and another by Vasquez, after leading a caravan en route to St. Louis then returned to Black's Fork on the Bear River built a trading post that later became Fort Bridger.
Vasquez was a little older than Bridger. Bernard De Voto said that Louis Vasquez was born of aristocratic birth like Fontenelle and that "bits of aristocratic elegance clung to him in the mountains like cottonwood fluff."
The current site of Fort Bridger is not the only fort that Bridger had built. In the summer of 1841 Bridger built a fort consisting of several log cabins on the Green River between the Big Sandy and Black's Fork, as described later by William Lorton and William Clayton. Jim's partner in that fort, Henry Frab, was kill by Indians before the buildings were completed.
I have established a small fort, with a blacksmith shop and a supply of iron in the road of the emigrants on Black's Fork of Green River, which promises fairly. In coming out they are generally well supplied with money, but by the time they get here they are in need of all kinds of supplies, horses provision, smithwork, etc. They bring ready cash from the states, and should I receive the goods ordered, will have considerable business in that way with them, and establish trade with the Indians in the neighborhood, who have a good number of beaver among them. The fort is a beautiful location on Black's Fork of Green River, receiving fine, fresh water from the snow on the Uintah range. The streams are alive with mountain trout. It passes the fort in several channels, each lined with trees, kept alive by the moisture of the soil. (page 11)
This fort is owned by Bridger and Basquez. (sic) It is built of poles and dogwood Mud. It is a shabby concern. There are about twenty five lodges of Indians or rather white trapper lodges occupied by their Indian wives. They have a good supply of robes, dressed deer, elk, and antelope skins, coats, pants, moccasins, other Indian fixins which they trade low for flour, pork, powder, lead, blankets, butcher knives, spirits, hats, ready made clothes, coffee, sugar, etc. They have a herd of cattle, twenty or thirty goats, and some sheep. (page 12)
John McBride, who visited Fort Bridger in July of 1846 with his family, wrote:
Pursuing our journey in three days more, we arrived at Fort Bridger so called by courtesy. It is only a camp where some fifty trappers were living in lodges. A single cabin of logs where the roof composed of willow brush covered with earth composed the fort. There was a large village of Indians of the Snake Tribe encamped here and a brisk traffic in dressed deer skins, buffalo robes, and logs went on during our stay with them which was half a day and the following night. The mountaineers and the Indians alike wanted to buy whiskey and brandy, but were not provided with this kind of merchandise. The next most desirable articles were coffee, sugars, soap, and flour.
When the Donner party reached Fort Bridger, James Reed included the following in a letter written July 31st 1946 :
I want to inform the emigration that they can be supplied with fresh cattle by Messrs. Vasquez and Bridger... and they can be relied on for doing business honorably and fairly ...Vasquez and Bridger are the only fair traders in these parts.
On July 31, one of Donner's partners, James Reed, in a letter to James
Fort Bridger, one hundred miles from the Eutaw or Great Salt Lake, July 31, 1846
We have arrived here safe with the loss of two yoke of my best oxen . They were poisoned by drinking water in a little creek called Dry Sandy, situated between the Green Spring in the Pass of the Mountains, and Little Sandy. The water was standing in puddles.... I have replenished my stock by purchasing from Messrs. Vasquez and Bridger, two very excellent and accommodating gentlemen, who are the proprietors of this trading post. The new road, or Hastings' Cutoff, leaves the Fort Hall road here, and is said to be a saving of 350 or 400 miles in going to California, and a better route. There is, however, or thought to be, one stretch of 40 miles without water; but Hastings and his party, are out a-head examining for water, or for a route to avoid this stretch. I think that they cannot avoid it, for it crosses an arm of the Eutaw Lake, now dry. Mr. Bridger, and other gentlemen here, who have trapped that country say that the Lake has receded from the tract of country in question. There is plenty of grass which we can cut and put into the waggons (sic), for our cattle while crossing it... Mr. Bridger informs me that The route we design to take, is a fine level road, with plenty of water and grass, with the exception before stated. It is estimated that 700 miles will take us to Capt. Sutter's Fort, which we hope to make in seven weeks from this day.
Whatever advice the Donner & Reed party received at Fort Bridger, they were sure to have questioned it many, many times during the proceeding 4 months.
The praise that Reed had in his letter for Bridger and Vasquez was later changed to contempt, since Reed put considerable blame on them for the Donner tragedy. His reason was that the letters written by Bryant to his "friends in the emigrant parties in the rear" on July 18 and left at Fort Bridger were never delivered. Whether this is true or not, it seems certain that Bridger and Vasquez were active in promoting Hastings' Cutoff. It meant the difference between success and failure of their trading establishment. Of course, they would not know that the Donner-Reed party would take a full month to go from Fort Bridger to Salt Lake Valley, and would eventually be marooned by an early snowstorm in the high Sierras, leading to the tragic death of over half of the eighty-seven emigrants. They avoided total starvation only by eating human flesh.
Despite this tragedy, Hastings' cutoff brought new prosperity to Fort Bridger.
Totally unperceived by Bridger and Vasquez at the time the location was selected, was the mass migration of thousand of Mormons to the Salt Lake Valley.
The Discovery of Gold in California in 1849, with people using light and fast methods of transportation, insured the success of Fort Bridger for years to come. Dr. Leonard Arrington estimates that between 10 to 15 thousand 49ers passed through Fort Bridger, and SLC to California in 1849 & 50.
Also a the new Cherokee trail bypassing 150 miles up and back from south pass, this rout was favored by many emigrants who passed through Fort Bridger on their way to California.
On 28 June 1847 the Mormon pioneer party, migrating to the Rocky Mountains, met James Bridger and two Frenchmen, who were traveling from Fort Bridger to Fort Laramie. Each party being anxious to interview the other, they camped together for the night on the Little Sandy. Bridger had dinner as the guest of Brigham Young, and talked far into the night with him and the
apostles of the Church who accompanied him. It was during this conversation that Bridger criticized the Fremont maps the Mormons were using to aid them.
He was also reputed to have offered to pay $1,000 for the first ear of corn raised in Salt Lake Valley, but there is some question as to what the old mountain man really said on that occasion.
From the Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was during this conversation that Bridger criticized the Fremont maps the Mormons were using to aid them, and is reputed to have made his famous offer to pay $1,000 for the first ear of corn raised in Salt Lake Valley. On 8 July 1849 in the Journal History the following is found: "the mountaineers never thought we could raise corn here, Mr. Bridger says he would give a thousand dollars per bushel of all the corn we could raise in the valley." It is interesting that part of this statement has been rubbed out and someone has written in pencil, "this is edited wrong." The right version is on the opposite page which reads, "Mr. Bridger says he would give $1,000.00 if he only knew if we could raise an ear of corn." This is signed by Andrew Jenson and William Lund as being correct.
Descriptions of Fort Bridger in 1847-48 The Mormons reached Fort Bridger on 7 July 1847, and many of their diaries contain excellent descriptions of the fort. William Clayton made reference to Fort Bridger on July 3, when he wrote, "At night Pres. Young gave the brethren some instructions about trading at Fort Bridger and advised them to be wise, etc." Clayton's journal related that Bridger told Brigham Young that his blacksmith shop at the fort had been destroyed by Indians on an earlier raid and that they would have to use their own equipment. Several of the diaries made reference to blacksmithing during the layover at the fort. On July 7, upon reaching the fort, Clayton reported the distance to be 397 miles from Fort John, near Fort Laramie. The company camped half a mile beyond the fort, having traveled seventeen miles for the day. (page 28)
Clayton describes the natural surroundings:
The grass is very plentiful in this neighborhood and much higher than we have generally seen it. The whole region seems filled with rapid streams all bending their way to the principal fork. They doubtless originate from the melting of the snow on the mountains and roar down their cobbly beds till they join Black's Fork.
Then he continues with a description of the fort itself:
Bridger's fort is composed of two double log houses about forty feet long each and joined by a pen for horses about ten feet high constructed by placing poles upright in the ground close together, which is all the appearance of a fort in sight. There are several Indian lodges close by and a full crop of young children playing around the door. These Indians are said to be of the Snake tribe, the Utahs inhabiting beyond the Mountains. The latitude of Fort Bridger is 41' 19" 13' and its height above the level of the sea according to Elder Pratt' s observation is 6,665 ft. It is doubtless a very cold region and little calculated for farming purposes. (page 29)
Wilford Woodruff, writing on the same day, did not give the detailed description of the fort that Clayton gave but did give some interesting comments on the merits of fishing the small streams by the fort in comparison to other trading posts. Before they reached the campground beyond the fort, he reported they "crossed more than a dozen trout brooks, the water running swiftly but clear, with hard, gravelly (sic) bottoms." He also noticed "the whole region of country up and down these streams was covered with grass knee deep." Some of the Mormons had success catching brook trout, so as the company was to spend the next day at the fort, Woodruff "calculated on a day of fishing." In the style of a true sportsman, he wrote:
As soon as I had my breakfast next morning I rigged up my fishing rod that I had brought with me from Liverpool, fixed my reel line and artificial fly, and went to one of the brooks close by to try my luck. The men at the fort said that there were but few trout in the streams and a good many of the brethren were already at the creeks with their rods, trying their skill, baiting with fresh meat and grasshoppers, but not one was catching any.... I fished two or three hours during the morning and evening and caught twelve in all. One half of them would weigh three-fourths of a pound each, while all the rest of the camp did not catch three pounds in all, which was taken as proof that the artificial fly is far the best to fish with.
Later, he reported his encounter with Bridger's trading post:
In the afternoon I went to Bridger's house and traded off my flintlock rifle for four buffalo robes which were large, nice and well dressed. I found things generally at least one-third higher than I had ever known them at any other trading post I ever saw in America .
One of the most detailed Mormon descriptions of the fort in 1847 was given on July 7 in the diary of Orson Pratt who was traveling in advance of the main party and making scientific observations. After recording his crossing of Black's Fork River, he describes:
Nine Indian lodges stood a few rods distant, occupied by the families of the trappers and hunters, who have taken squaws for wives. Some few half-breed children were seen playing about their lodges. Bridger's trading post is situated half a mile due west of these lodges on an island. The main camp having arrived, we passed over four branches of Black's Fork, without any road but a foot-path. Three quarters of a mile brought us to the door of Bridger's. We here turned to the south, and crossing three more branches camped within half a mile of the post. Black's Fork is here broken up into quite a number of rapid streams, forming a number of islands, all containing 700 or 800 acres of most excellent grass, with considerable timber, principally cottonwood and willow. (page 30)
Bridger's post consists of two adjoining log houses, dirt roofs, and a small picket yeard (sic) of logs set in the ground, about 8 feet high. The number of men, squaws, and half-breed children in these houses and lodges, may be about 50 or 60.... Mosquitoes very numerous and troublesome.
Pratt commented about the cold nights even in the middle of the summer, saying, "The morning is cold. Ice formed during the night, which however, was soon melted by the rising sun." George A. Smith wrote the following description of the fort:
Bridger's Fort consists of two long, low, rough cabins built in the form of an L with a small enclosure for stock built of upright poles. The surrounding country was beautiful, but the fort itself was an unpretentious place.
From the descriptions left in 1847 it is evident that the fort had remained basically the same since its construction in 1843. It would appear that Bridger and Vasquez were satisfied that the fort was meeting their needs during the time spent there. Two companies comprising 177 people, including the majority of the Mormon leaders, returned from Salt Lake Valley to Winter Quarters in August 1847. Several of them made journal entries in reference to passing or spending the night near the fort in late August or early September. As in July on their westward trek, the Mormons did not find Bridger or Vasquez at the fort as they traveled east. In September, two other large companies of westbound Mormon emigrants, totaling (sic) approximately 1,500 souls, reached Fort Bridger. Many of these people described the fort but did not give any additional information. The Mormon migration of 1848, which was much larger than in 1847, passed the fort, and the people wrote descriptions and comments. The majority of the accounts are duplications of the 1847 descriptions of the fort and its setting; however, there were two new items mentioned in the diaries which merit consideration. According to several diaries, Louis Vasquez was present at the fort during the emigration of 1848, although Bridger was absent as usual.
Secondly, it was noted that Bridger and Vasquez had built onto the fort since the fall of 1847. John D. Lee recorded the following about the new additions:
Cloudy and rained till about 9 and about 10 J. D. Lee again resumed his travel. Road slippery. Traveled 14 ms. to Ft. Bridger and Encamped. H. C. Kimbal (sic) stapped 4 ms. back, but several smaul cos, of his camp lay at or near Bridger, Water pure and clear; feed first rate and wood sufficient for camping purposes. The FT consists of 8 Block Houses and a smaul Enclosure picketed in. Land exceeding rich, grass durable winter and summer, all though there is Frost every month of the year. (page 31)
There was a steady stream of people visiting Fort Bridger during the next few years on their way to seek the riches of California. Another event took place in 1849 that helped increase the patronage of Fort Bridger. It was early that year that a band of Cherokee Indians en route to California "came north along the Front Ranges of the Rockies to the Cache la Poudre, then went via the Laramie Plains and Bitter Creek to strike the Salt Lake Road east of Fort Bridger." This was the opening of the Cherokee Trail. It became one of the major routes for emigrants in 1849 traveling via the present site of Denver to intersect the Oregon and new Overland routes.
The Overland route, which ran in almost a direct line from Fort Laramie to Fort Bridger, was being traveled in 1849 and was described by John Wilson.
There is a road already opened by partial travel almost in a direct line from Fort Bridger to Fort Laramie which crosses Green River below the mouth of Hams [Black] Fork and perhaps above the mouth of Marys [Yampa] river and thence pretty directly across the mountains to one of the forks of Laramie river and thence down to Fort Laramie which will cut off more than 150 miles in
the distance.... Mr. Vasquez says it is a much better road and passes the Rocky Mountains by a pass considerable lower than the South Pass and affords a far better supply of both water and grass.
This route was favored by many emigrants who visited Fort Bridger on their way to California.
Early on Jim Bridger demonstrated evidence of friendship with the Mormons, in spite of conflicts and competition with Indian trading. On 9 April 1849 a letter showed further evidence of friendly relations with Bridger and Vasquez where they warned of possible Indian attack against the white man. A month later Vasquez sent a letter to Brigham Young telling of Barney Ward and two other men that were killed while trading with the Indians. Vasquez wished to know how many horses Ward had brought into the Salt Lake Valley, and that the Indians were incensed and talked of coming to the Salt Lake valley to war upon the white.
In a rather curious reaction to this correspondence, President Brigham Young commented, "I believe I know that Old Bridger is death on us, and if he knew 400,000 Indians were coming against us, and any man were to let us know, he would cut his throat".
Young revealed his position on this matter when he wrote "Vasquez is a different sort of man. I believe Bridger is watching every movement of the Mormons, and reporting to Thomas Benton at Washington."
One further contention between the Fort and the Mormons was the sale of liquor at the Fort. With the Walker war in 1853 Brigham Young revoked the Fort's license to sell liquor, but in a raid of the Fort that same year found a large amount of sprits. (page 35)
Dr. Thomas Flint, who arrived at Fort Bridger on August 27, recorded the following concerning the takeover of Fort Bridger by the territorial office:
... [I] went to the fort for ammunition but found the fort in possession of the territorial officer. Mormons had 24 hours before driven old man Bridger out and taken possession Here Bridger had established his trading post many years before his fort had been taken by the Mormons with a good supply of merchandise selected for the Indian trade.
More explicit information was recorded in a diary by a Mormon, John Brown, who was en route to Salt Lake Valley:
At Fort Bridger I found Capt. James Cummings with twenty men in possession of the fort he had come out here in the summer to arrest Mr. Bridger for treason. Affidavits having been made to the effect that he had sold or furnished hostile Indians with ammunitions and etc. He made his escape but some of the posse were still here. They left for home however when we passed we being the last emigrants of the season. (page 55)
It would appear that part of the Mormon posse, at least twenty out of one hundred and fifty, remained at the fort from August 27 until October 7 looking for Bridger. This seizure and occupation of Bridger's establishment was distorted by later writers, and Bridger himself added to the misinformation and misunderstanding. For example, Captain R. B. Marcy, a close friend of Bridger's, recorded the mountaineer's own version of the event in his Thirty Years of Army Life, published in 1874:
Here he erected an establishment which he called Fort Bridger and here he was for several years prosecuting a profitable traffic both with the Indians and with California emigrants. At length, however, his prosperity excited the cupidity of the Mormons, and they intimated to him that his presence in such close proximity to their settlements was not agreeable, and advised him to pull up stakes and leave forthwith; and upon his questioning the legality or justice of this arbitrary summons, they came to his place with a force of avenging angels and forced him to make his escape to the woods in order to save his life. Here he remained secreted for several days, and through the assistance of his Indian wife, was enabled to elude the search of the Danites and make his way to Fort Laramie, leaving all his cattle and other property in possession of the Mormons.
In 1873, twenty years after the raid, Bridger dictated a letter to Massachusetts Senator Benjamin F. Butler soliciting his political aid in connection with claims for compensation, and gave the following exaggerated account:
I was robbed and threatened with death by the Mormons, by the direction of Brigham Young, of all of my merchandise, livestock, in fact everything I possessed, amounting to more than $100,000 worth, the building in the fort partially destroyed by fire, and I barely escaped with my life.
There is no evidence that Bridger was threatened with death, but only with arrest, and the fort was not partially destroyed by fire as Bridger testified in writing to Senator Butler. Bridger was guilty of trying to use the burning of the fort in 1857 by the Mormons to dramatize his losses in the 1853 raid. Actually, the sheriff and posse kept itemized ledgers from the time of their arrival in August 1853 until their departure in October, keeping careful track of each item that was purchased from the fort's commissary or used while the posse resided at the fort. The ledgers are available and show that $802.91 in goods were either purchased or used during that period (page 55)
Prior to this Bridger had another deed recorded on some property he had purchased from Charles Sagenes on 28 August 1852. This property was near Fort Bridger and consisted of five houses with some acreage. Bridger paid Sagenes four hundred dollars for his property, which was later included in the survey by John M. Hockaday. This bill of sale was recorded at the Great Salt
Lake County offices on 28 October 1853.
After completing the survey of Fort Bridger, the mountaineer took his family and settled on a farm at Little Santa Fe, Jackson County, Missouri, near Kansas City. Even though Bridger had left Fort Bridger, he was still a thorn in the side of the Mormon leaders. Brigham Young, in a dictated letter addressed to Stephen A. Douglas in April 1854, expressed concern because Bridger:
... had become the oracle in Congress, in all matters pertaining to Utah; that he had informed Congress that Utah had dared to assess and collect taxes; that the Mormons must have killed Capt. Gunnison, because the Pauvenetes had not guns ...that the Mormons were an outrageous set, with no redeeming qualities. Gov. Young expressed his astonishment that Bridger should be sought after for information on any point when a gentlemen like Delegate Bernhisel was accessible. (page 59)
By the end of 1853, Orson Hyde had fulfilled his assignment of starting a settlement in Green River Valley, but apparently was not happy with the prospects. In the spring of 1854, when Hyde was traveling east and stopped at Fort Supply, Hosea Stout, one of Hyde's traveling companions, gave his opinion of the new settlement when he wrote:
It is the most forbidding and godforsaken place I have ever seen for an attempt to be made for a settlement and judging from the altitude I have no hesitancy in predicting that it will yet prove a total failure but the Brethren here have done a great deal of labor.... Elder Hyde seems to have an invincible repugnance to Fort Supply.
However, the benefits derived from this outpost justified the project in the eyes of the Church leaders, who made plans to establish Fort Supply as a permanent settlement. It became a resting place for the emigrating Saints, a place to replenish their food supplies, an Indian mission and a defense against the mountain men's activities among the Indians. If it had been permitted to continue, Fort Supply would very probably be a community in Uinta County, Wyoming, today, whereas at the present time there is nothing left of the establishment except stumps in the ground-remnants of what the Mormon settlers built there in 1853-57.
It did serve as a Mormon center in Green River Valley, and a companion colony to Fort Bridger after this post was purchased and occupied by the Mormons in 1855.
Mormon Church made to him. Since there has been considerable controversy concerning the time and details of this purchase, it is appropriate to examine the results of extensive research on the problem. Accounts have varied all the way from Bridger's claim that he was "run off" of his property without ever receiving payment, to Mormon Church Historian Andrew Jenson's assertion that prior to November 1853 Brigham Young had "purchased of James Bridger a Mexican Grant for thirty square miles of land and some cabins afterwards known as Fort Bridger. This was the first property owned by the Church in Green River Country."
A letter written by Lewis Robison, the Mormon purchasing agent, to Daniel H. Wells, dated 5 August 1855, found recently in the LDS Church Historical Department appears to answer some of the questions concerning the possession of Fort Bridger from the time of Bridger's escape until the purchase of the fort in August 1855. This letter reports that the mountain men controlled Fort Bridger until the spring of 1855 when Bridger returned and resided there until he sold it to Lewis Robison on 3 August 1855. 'Me Mormons did not take possession of the fort until it had been legally purchased. This document, which is now available to scholars, is important in clearing up the controversy of the purchase of the fort by the Mormons, and should put an end to mis-understandings and false accusations against the Mormon Church.
According to this research, when Bridger escaped arrest by the posse in August 1853, he returned to the east, spending much time in Washington, D.C., trying to legalize his title to the property and seeking redress through the federal government for the losses he had sustained at the hands of the Mormons. Unsuccessful in his efforts, Bridger returned to the mountains in the spring of 1855. John L. Smith reported on 19 June 1855 that "near Fort Kearney I met Bridger on his way to the mountains." During the summer of 1855 William A. Hickman, an agent of the Mormon Church, approached Bridger about selling his fort. Lewis Robison arrived at Fort Supply on Tuesday, 31 July 1855, to make the final transaction. William A. Hickman had been in contact with Bridger prior to July 31, waiting for Bridger to make up his mind if he would sell. Hickman arrived at Fort Supply on Wednesday, August 1, and told Robison that the mountain men were putting pressure on Bridger not to sell and that Bridger seemed to be still "careless and indifferent." Robison went to Fort Bridger on Thursday, August 2, and found that Bridger would not reduce the $8,000 price he had earlier indicated would be his selling price. Vasquez was not present at this time, but knowing of the plans to sell, had commissioned H. F. Morrell to be his agent. Robison, realizing that Bridger would not reduce his selling price, told Bridger that he would take him
newly described walls were erected in 1848 when Bridger and Vasquez brought their new wives to live at the fort. It should be remembered that in 1848 additions were made to the fort by its owners and it could very well be that the walls were fortified for added protection for the families.
Pierey's statement concerning the sign is interesting. Had Bridger completely withdrawn in 1853 from any trade with the emigrants? It is very possible that this was the reason Mrs. Ward never got any closer to the fort than the main road. The majority of the emigrants passing the fort were Mormons which at this point could explain the sign. Possibly, too, Bridger was concerned about his pastures which could have been overgrazed by the emigrants' stock.
Mormon Reconstruction of Fort Bridger Concerning the reconstruction of Fort Bridger, Coutant stated in his History of Wyoming that "Louis Robision rebuilt it in 1855, and when it was finished it presented a very substantial appearance. It was constructed of boulder stone, one hundred feet square and fourteen feet high. On the top of the walls were pickets and on diagonal corners were bastions, somewhat after the style of Fort Laramie. A corral fifty-two feet wide was built against the fort.,, 26 Milton R. Hunter adds the following, "During the summer of 1855, the Mormons constructed a few buildings at Fort Bridger and a heavy wall of cobblestone masonry was erected. This replaced the original picket wall of logs which stood on end. ,
Several details of these accounts are incorrect, and the date is wrong, for as of April 1857 Lewis Robison had not started the construction of the fort. In writing to Daniel H. Wells during that month, Robison said: "The President spoke of my forting in. I would like to know his mind about what size fort to make also what length and what thickness of wall. The present fort is about 80 feet square."
In a second letter written to Daniel H. Wells on May 30, 1857, Robison
In the first place I have laid out the Fort 100 feet square in the clear and the horse corral joining on the North 80 feet by I 00 feet, which I am putting up a wall 2h feet thick at the bottom and 8 feet high. I wish to know the Presidents view with repair to gates, port holes and also to know how I am to pay the hands that are laboring for me. Thus far I have paid them mostly in flour. If it would not be asking too much I would like to have a draft of the Fort frame as he would like to have it built and sent to me. I have no Mason here except Jerome Thempton and I hardly think him competent to put up the fort as it should be done. If you could send a good mason out to boss the work I would be glad. 29
Again two weeks later Robison wrote Brigham Young stating: "I have got my horse corral finished except the gates and am getting along quite well with
the fort. The north wall is up 16 feet high and we will nearly finish the west line tomorrow." This was confirmed by Orson Pratt's diary of August 14, which reported the following: "Spend 14th of Aug. at Fort Bridger Brother Lewis Robison in charge of the station and just completed the wall of the new fort built of rock in mortar."
Two days earlier John Pulsipher wrote in his diary that "Brother Robison made feast and dance, invited us all to celebrate the completion of the new Fort Bridger. Strong walls 16 feet high and five feet thick. ,32 Tragically, events were developing that would cause Robison to burn the fort to the ground just two months after the completion of the new additions. The cause was the approach of Johnston's Army in the fall of 1857.
Grasshoppers presented a major problem as evidenced by Robison's note to Daniel H. Wells reporting that :
... the grasshoppers have nearly destroyed my garden and have injured the crops very much.... The crops look very well where the grasshoppers have not taken it. The grasshoppers are nearly grown and we feel in hopes they will soon emigrate.
Life at Fort Bridger at best was difficult for the Mormon colonists. For most food items and supplies they depended upon freight from Salt Lake City. The constant pressure for the safety of the emigrants and the hard physical life necessary for survival did not make living easy. With the association of only the migrants, the occasional visitors from Salt Lake Valley, such as church authorities, or missionaries en route to or from missions, and the Indians (some-times more trouble than company), there must have been lonely days. There was no social life whatsoever except a rare visit to friends at Fort Supply. It was little wonder the women and children spent considerable time in the valley, and Lewis Robison referred to Fort Bridger as dull.
The Burning of Fort Bridger and Fort Supply So many complaints of misunderstanding, suspicion, malice, and troubles in the Utah Territory had filtered into Washington that in the 1857 session of Congress President Buchanan pointed out that the supremacy of the United States in that region must be restored and maintained. He therefore appointed Alfred Cumming to replace Brigham Young as Governor and ordered Cumming and other federal officers to proceed to Utah accompanied by a large military escort.
The exact date the settlers began to leave Fort Bridger and Fort Supply by the order of Brigham Young is not known, but by September 29 the majority of the families were bound for Salt Lake City. George A. Smith, on his way east with a military expedition, reported that "on the 29th of September, I met some fifty families fleeing from Fort Supply and Fort Bridger, with ox and horse teams, and their herds of cattle bound for Great Salt Lake City.
Upon deserting their property in Green River County, the settlers burned all their buildings and fields. They did not want to leave supplies that would aid the army, which to them was the threat "of an armed mob."
During the evening of October 2, Lewis Robison set fire to Fort Bridger. The torch was set to Fort Supply around midnight of the same day. Jesse W. Crosby, one of the Mormons who participated in the campaign against Johnston's Army, reported:
The company to which I belonged left Salt Lake City September 25, 1857. We took out our wagons, horses, etc., and at twelve o'clock set fire to the buildings [Fort Supply] at once, consisting of one hundred or more good hewed log houses, one sawmill, one gristmill and one thrashing machine, and after going out of the fort we set fire to the stockade work, straw and grain stacks, etc. After looking a few minutes at the bonfire we had made, thence on by the light thereof. I will mention that owners of property in several places begged the privilege of setting fire to their own, which they freely did, thus destroying at once what they had labored for years to build and that without a word. We then went our way a few miles and stopped to set fire to the City Supply, a new place just commenced; there were ten or fifteen buildings perhaps, and warmed ourselves by the flames. Thus was laid waste in a few hours all the labor of a settlement for three or four years, with some five or six hundred acres of land fenced and improved.
Our work of destruction was now finished and we moved silently onward and reached Bridger a little after daylight and found it in ashes, it having been fired the night before.
Four years of colonizing efforts in the Green River Valley were left in ashes, bringing to a close the Mormon control of Fort Bridger. With the army's arrival in November of 1857, Colonel Johnston took possession of the fort in the name of the United States and declared it to be a military reservation. The reservation was also extended over the settlement and farming lands of Fort Supply.
There are varying estimates of the amount of money the Mormons lost
e of the fire and the possession of the fort by the Federal Army. Milton
When Johnston's Army and the accompanying civic officials left Camp Scott in June 1858 the Fort Bridger area lost most of its population; however, it still remained a very busy place. The post was promised new life when Colonel Johnston announced that a new Fort Bridger would be erected by part of his troops and the area would be converted into a military reservation. On 6 April 1859 President Buchanan supported Colonel Johnston's recommendation designating that a coal reservation of about a hundred acres located southwest of Fort Bridger be set aside for the use of the military. Then, following this action, he declared on July 14 that the military reservation of Fort Bridger should embrace territory twenty miles east and west, and twenty-five miles north and south, or about five hundred square miles. This was announced by Colonel Johnston in General Order #21, Department of Utah at Camp Floyd on 9 September 1859. Thus Fort Bridger became a military reservation with quite an extensive territory.
Unfortunately for the Mormons, the army did not take into consideration the fact that an agent for the Church had purchased the region from Jim Bridger and the federal government did not compensate the Mormons for their losses. Jim Bridger, ignoring his sale of the post to the Mormons, agreed to lease the property to the army for the sum of $600 a year for ten years with an option to purchase this land. If the army so desired at the end of ten years, it could purchase the property for the sum of $10,000.
Brigadier General William H. Bisbee related his experience at Fort Bridger during this time as follows:
As I knew Bridger proper 50 years ago, that is 1874-75, it was occupied by Hd. Qtrs. and four companies of the 4th U.S. Infantry. All buildings were made of logs, single story, all located around the square with a parade ground in the center. Conventional form of defensive building in early Indian days but it was in no other sense a fort. Black's Fork ran through the parade grounds south to north. There were within the main garrison limits 20 buildings, eight officers quarters, four barracks for soldiers, 2 quartermaster and commissary store-houses. One hospital, one guardhouse, one bakery, one stable, one recreation hall and the trading store and the residence of Judge W. A. Carter. As more ancient history items I do not recall buildings that might have been termed a fort and defense place except the old cobblestone wall and the building in the S[outh] W[est] comer of the square [which] was used as a storehouse.
The Post and public cemetery was on a sagebrush plateau one mile south on the right bank of Black's Fork and overlooking it. Nearby on Smith's Fork are Fossil grounds where the friends from the Yale University and Prof. Marsh and students and others found valuable specimens, one a massive Mastadon which they named "Uintatherium. " Yale museum may have reserved some of these collections.
Bridger was an annual meeting place for Chief Washakee and the Shoshones from the Wind River in the North with the Utes from the White River, South. Cattle belonging to Judge Carter and a few other ranchers on Smith's and Henry's Fork were in small groups scattered among the hills towards the mountains.
One of the first to record his impressions of Carter's operations at the fort was the famous British soldier of fortune, adventurer, and writer, Richard Burton. Burton reported that his party was "conducted by Judge Carter to a building which combined the function of post office and sutler's store, the judge being also sutler, and performing both parts, I believe, to the satisfaction of everyone.
One army officer who came to Fort Bridger at this time said that as they approached the fort and conversed with individuals who could give information about the post he usually heard such a remark as the following: "And you will find Judge Carter the sutler there, a finer gentleman you'll never meet. We met the judge and he proved to be all that had been represented." The officer continued:
We found him to be a high toned and intelligent and hospitable Virginia gentlemen. Universally popular with all who associated with him. And deservedly so.
His store contains a larger assortment of every variety of goods and wares than any other establishment West of the Mississippi River. I was informed by good authority that his interests in the East last year, this was 1865, amounted to in excess of $180,000.00. This large trade is by no means confined to those at the post but principally with the miners and immigrants. His success in business had doubtless surpassed his expectations. I have seldom met a more hospitable gentleman than Judge Carter and there is always a place at his table for a visitor at the post or a passing friend. The pleasure of entertaining a guest is the only remuneration he will receive for his liberality.
Archibald Geilsie, a British official who was a guest of the fort in 1879, discussed the history of Fort Bridger, and after mentioning the run-down condition of the buildings, summarized the position of Judge Carter in a rather interesting way:
Judge Carter, who used to be the patriarch of the district still lives at this post, combining in his own worthy person the office of postmaster, merchant, farmer, cattle owner, judge and general benefactor of all who claim his hospitality. His well known integrity has gained him the respect of white man and red man alike, and we found his name a kind of household word all through the west.
that it would be adopted and improved later by the War Department. As the winter of 1881-82 was approaching, there was no time for surveys. He and his crew had to bridge streams, corduroy marshes, clear a roadway through timbered sections, and construct two long and difficult dugways. As a result of hardships suffered in this enterprise, Judge Carter was taken sick at his camp on the stream named Carter Creek after him, and died shortly afterwards of pleurisy in his home at Fort Bridger on 7 November 1881. Thus ended the life of a remarkable man who left his stamp not only on Fort Bridger but also upon the territory and state of Wyoming.
According to Edgar Carter, son of the famous judge, William A. Carter was not fond of Jim Bridger. He said that Bridger's excessive egoism was wearying. His many stories of encounters with Indians and bears were hardly believable, and he claimed credit for all the explorations west of the Missouri River. The Judge said that Bridger was densely ignorant, being unable to read or write, and that he had lived so long with the Indians that he had absorbed all their cunning and duplicity.
Another longtime resident of Fort Bridger, but with a better reputation than Jim Bridger, was Jack Robinson, usually known as Uncle Jack, although his real name was John Robertson. He had been living on the frontier for almost forty years and had adopted many of the habits of the Indians, including marriage to several Indian wives. During the summer he lived in an Indian lodge, and in winter in a log cabin a few miles from the fort. An unknown army officer described Uncle Jack:
. . . as a gentleman . . . one of those characters who has the instincts and character of a gentleman place him where you may. His associations made him great in that you will always find cropping out those qualities that indicate him as intended for a different sphere of life and mark that he would have made under different circumstances. By 1866 he was 65 years old, and hale and hearty though of course not as active as in his early life. But he was a constant visitor at Fort Bridger and well known for his storytelling of legends of the region. He was mistaken for Jim Bridger.
People determine the character of a community, and Fort Bridger had some interesting characters residing there over the years-Bridger, Vasquez, Robison, Johnston, Forney, Luther Mann, Washakie, Robertson, and Carter, but the most influential of these was Carter.
WELCOME TO THE BRIDGER VALLEY
With the majestic north slope of the Uintas for its backdrop, the Bridger Valley is
one of the loveliest high desert valleys in the Rocky Mountains. Because it's situated
on the Green River drainage, the valley was first known as the Lower Green River
Valley. As Jim Bridger established himself in the area, it gradually became known
as Bridger's Valley or the Bridger Valley. It has been part of the Spanish Interior,
then the Louisiana Purchase, Oregon Territory, Nebraska Territory, Utah Territory,
Dakota Territory, and finally, at the urging of Judge W. A. Carter, was included in
the Wyoming Territory in 1869 and later in the state of Wyoming.
The high desert plains which surround the valley on three sides, often strike uninitiated visitors as bleak and barren landscapes. Explorer J. W. Powell described the
topography in 1869:
"On the west side of the [Green] the mesas rise by grassy slopes to the
Westward into high plateaus that are forest-clad, first with juniper and
pinion, and still higher with pines and firs. Some of the streams run in
canyons and others have elevated valleys along their courses. On the south
border of this mesa and plateau country are the Bridger Bad Lands, lying at
the foot of the Uinta Mountains. These bad lands are of gray, green, and
brown shades that are carved in picturesque forms--domes, towers, pinnacles,
and minarets, and bold cliffs with deep alcoves; and all are naked
rock, the sediments of an ancient lake. These lake beds are filled with fossils,
--the preserved bones of fishes, reptiles, and mammals, of strange and often
gigantic forms no longer found living on the globe. It is a desert to the
agriculturist, a mine to the paleontologist, and a paradise to the artist."
Powell could have also mentioned the fossils of palm bark, ferns, oak leaves, etc.
which are easily found in the badland's chart and the casts of sea shells and snail
shells which also bear mute testimony to the fact that eons ago, the Bridger Valley
was a much different place.
Weather influences the Bridger Valley in a major way. Wind and water are the
masters. On a dry winter as the cold wind roars in, unprotected vegetation struggles
to survive. When the snow is heavy, prevailing westerly winds can move it about
like grains of sand in a desert storm. Either way, inhabitants must take extra
precautions, because being exposed to the wind chill can prove fatal in a short time.
Roads and schools are often closed and it's a local joke that the snow only falls sideways
in southwestern Wyoming. On mild years however, the winds blow the
hillsides clear and enable wildlife and livestock to graze almost year round. That very
fact made the Bridger Valley and Henry's Fork a wintering place for migratory animals
moving south from mountain ranges where the snow always piles deep.
Late winter is heralded with brilliant sunshine on the Uintas, paradise for winter
recreationalist with lots of room for snowmachining, cross country skiing, ice
fishing and sleigh riding. Spring is hardly recognizable; one moment it's all sunshine,
the next a blizzard. Blue skies, rain, hail, snow, and sleet can all make their
appearance within a few hours, then you know summer isn't far behind. Though
short, summers in the Bridger Valley are spectacular. Humidity is never a problem
because of the dry west winds, but by hot August and September, the water is. The
valley is watered in spring and early summer by a myriad of streams and streamlets
flowing from the Uintas. The main streams: Smith's Fork to the east and Black's
Fork to the west, join north of the valley proper and turn to flow in a southeasterly
direction, eventually feeding into the Green River which is the main tributary of the
Colorado River. By the end of summer the snow cover has left all but the highest of
the Uintas and the strearnlets are drying up. Water rights play an important roll for
agriculture in the valley. Thunderstorms which boil up along the Uintas on hot
afternoons are welcome, but the accompanying lightening strikes have often been
fatal to both man and beast. In the Fall the current bushes, quaking aspen, cotton-
woods, willows and birches can be brilliant if they have had enough water. If not,
their leaves curl up a dusty green and slough off in the winter winds. By the end of
October, the valley has usually experienced its first winter storm. Some strike a
month earlier, cutting down crops and leaving a rim of ice on slow streams and the
inhabitants brace themselves for another winter.
The valley consists of several small towns which were established or built up after
the Military Reservation was dissolved in 1890. Lyman, Fort Bridger and Mountain
View are the largest. Railroad Company towns and stations have always played a
part in the valley's history. They include: Piedmont, Spring Valley, Cumberland,
and Carter. To the southeast along the Henry's Fork lay the ranching communities
of Lonetree, Burnt Fork, McKinnon, Manila, and now under the Flaming Gorge's
waters, Linwood. The inhabitants of all these communities know each other and
have intermarried for at least the past four generations, so common cousins are
found in almost every town. Mountain men who choose to stay in the valley and
settle with their Indian wives, Mormon homesteaders who came with strong ties to
Utah, Ex-Army men from "The States," Cattlemen, Southern European coal miners
with their families and a few others who'd rather we didn't know too much about
their backgrounds, all combine to make the ethnic mix of the Bridger Valley unique
and always entertaining .
Those parts that were not typed from the book by the late (and great) Eugene E. Campbell , and Fred R. Gowans' book on Fort Bridger, (BYU PRESS LC# 75-5827) were taken from THE book on Bridger Valley by :
P.O. Box 35
Mountain View, Wyoming 82939
Hopefully, anything you read here, will encourage you to any or all of these books.
I compiled the above for a trek that the Utah Valley Historical Society
took in the summer of 1995.
Other Fort Bridger Information.
Fort bridger on the Oregon trail.
Book about Fort Bridger.
Lyman and Fort Bridger Information. More links could be added.
Or if that does not work, try this mail form.
All opinions are mine and mine alone, and represent
my thinking at this point in time,
All original writings of mine are just that, to
reproduce, forward or use, parts or whole, you need to get permission from
Spellings constructed for effect and to confound
the ridged. ;)
©1996 by Perry L. Porter. All copyrights
are maintained by any parties (individual or corporate) which may have
originally created any of the information or artwork contained herein.
If you see your work, and I've mistakenly not given you or your company
credit, please E-mail me, I'll gladly add the appropriate credit, if you
feel it's necessary.
(subject to change based on better information).
Or if that does not work, try this mail form.
All opinions are mine and mine alone, and represent
my thinking at this point in time,
All original writings of mine are just that, to reproduce, forward or use, parts or whole, you need to get permission from me first.
Spellings constructed for effect and to confound the ridged. ;)
©1996 by Perry L. Porter. All copyrights are maintained by any parties (individual or corporate) which may have originally created any of the information or artwork contained herein. If you see your work, and I've mistakenly not given you or your company credit, please E-mail me, I'll gladly add the appropriate credit, if you feel it's necessary.