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Monday, February 22, 2016

Jim Bridger


James "Jim" Felix Bridger (1804-1881) = Explorer, Guide, Mountain Man. Scout. Storekeeper. Storyteller. Trapper. Best known to have discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824, Yellowstone in 1840 and founded Fort Bridger on the Oregon Trail in 1843.
Born on March 17 in Richmond, Virginia, he grew up to not only speak English, but French and Spanish as well as six Native American languages. He was reported to have been made chief of five tribes as well. He traded with the Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Comanche, Kiowas, and the Sioux Indians, bringing the furs in to Chouteau's trading post. 
When the fur market in Europe crashed and ended his trapping career, Bridger switched to storekeeping, buying a general merchandise store which his son-in-law operated in Westport (present-day Kansas City, MO). In 1855 he bought a farm near the old Dallas community south of Kansas City on State Line running from 103rd to 107th St and east to Wornall Road where on the crest of the hill south of Indian Creek he built a stone farmhouse. It is said that he and George W. Kemper also built a store in Little Santa Fe (f. 1852) which is on the old Santa Fe Trail 2o miles from Independence, however it  burned in 1856 during the border warfare.
Jim acquired a pair of elk horns as a prize once for the fastest steamboat on the Missouri River to mount to their prow. They were first presented to the Polar Star, then the James H. Lucas. Lucas beat the Star's record from St. Louis to St. Joseph by three hours and 16 minutes.
Bridger died, blind at 77, on July 17 and was buried about 200 yards northwest of 101st and Jefferson streets  where he lay until he was removed to Mt. Washington Cemetery in 1904.

Historical Note #1: One of biggest things that led to the downfall of the fur business was the discovery of the detrimental effects of mercury poisoning to the hat makers in Europe. Mercury was used to felt the fur then.
 
 
More to read:
1.)  Here Lies Kansas City: A Collection of Our City’s Notables and Their Final Resting Places. By Wilda and Hal Sandy. 1984
2.) History of Jackson County, Missouri. By W. Z. Hickman. Historical Publishing Co., Topeka, KS.; 1920; reprinted Southern Historical Press, Greenville, SC; 1990.
3.) Jackson County Pioneers. By Pearl Wilcox. Independence, MO; 1975.
4.) Jim Bridger: Frontiersman and Mountain Guide. By Charles W. Maynard. PowerKids Press, NY.; 2003.
5.) The History of Jackson County, Missouri. Union Historical Co, Birdsall, Williams & Co; KCMO; 1881; reprinted by Ramfire Press, Cape Girardeau, MO; 1966.
6.) Oregon-California Trail Association, 524 South Osage Street, Independence, MO 64051-0519, (Map brochure -- Following the Trails in Jackson County, Missouri; magazine & newsletter -- Overland Journey; News From the Plains)
7.) Oregon Trail Tourist Brochure, National Park Service
8.) “New Red Bridge Spans River, Tracks and History” by Seann McAnally. Jackson County Advocate. Nov. 23, 2011, page 1. (One of the old Red Bridges still exists.)
9.) Missouri: Day by Day. By Floyd C. Shoemaker, Editor. Mo State Historical Society, 1942.
10.) 1877 Plat map of Jim Bridger's Land in Jackson County, MO. (look at the most southwestern corner of map.)
11.) "Trailblazers Influenced the First Chapters of New Santa Fe"


Fun Note:  Johnny Horton sings a ballad about Jim Bridger. If you wish to hear the song, click here!
 
 
Places to visit in MO.
1.) Missouri River -- Navigable rivers were the first highways. Plan a driving highway trip along the Missouri River from St. Louis to St. Joseph (or visa versa). Imagine you are Bridger, paddling a canoe up or down river.
2.) Stop, Drop Your Eyes, and Read the marker on Bridger's Bldg, next-door to Kelly's Inn, at 504 Westport Road, Kansas City, MO.
3.) Look up! A Westport Historical marker is attached to a brick building on the corner of Pennysylvania and Westport Roads, Kansas City, MO.
4.) Westport Historical Society, 4000 Baltimore, Kansas City
5.) Pioneer Park, Westport Road and Broadway, Kansas City.
6.) 1963 Westport Historical Society Marker Dedicated to the Memory of the Pioneers Who Settled the Town at the Westport Shopping Center, 1002 Westport Road, Kansas City, MO. (near the old covered wagon at the corner of the parking lot atop a steel post).
7.) Watts Mill markers at 103 St. (south side) between State Line Road and Wornall, Kansas City, MO.
8.) Red Bridge Road. Also stop at Minor Park to see the prairie schooner swales and read the DAR marker, on Red Bridge Road, between Holmes Road (east of) and the Bridge. Kansas City.
9.) New (Little) Santa Fe historical markers, on the Old Santa Fe Trail, between State Line and Wornall Road at the cemetery (west of Avila University), Kansas City, MO.
10.) Red Bridge (Portrait) spans Big Blue River between Blue River Parkway and Holmes Road
11.) National Frontier Trails Center, Independence.
12.) Jim Bridger's Newest Markers -- 901 Carondelet Drive (site of his original farm home) and at the New Santa Fe Historical Society Trails Center, 9901 Holmes Road, Kansas City, Mo.
13.) Findagrave  #21552 and #134 [Note: There is no indication of a cemetery in the quiet neighborhood of 101st and Jefferson streets (just off Wornall Road), south Kansas City.] 
14.) Mt. Washington Cemetery, 614 Brookside Dr., Independence

 
Historical Note #2: Modes of travel across America during Jim Bridger's lifetime were walking, horseback, canoeing, wagons, prairie schooners, ferries, and steamboats. The steamship Arabia traveled up and down the Missouri River around the same time (1850s) as the Polar Star and the James H. Lucas. Visit the Steamboat Arabia Museum, 400 Grand Ave, Kansas City to see the kind of things steamboats brought to supply shopkeepers such as Bridger along the Missouri River. Steamboats have been described as "a Walmart on paddlewheels."

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