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Jedediah Smith

Born: January 6, 1799, Bainbridge, New York
Died: May 27, 1831 (aged 32), south of Ulysses, Kansas

Jedediah Strong Smith was a hunter, trapper, fur trader and explorer of the Rocky Mountains, the American West Coast and the Southwest during the nineteenth century. Jedediah Smith's explorations were significant in opening the American West to expansion by white settlers.

Smith became involved in the fur trade in Santa Fe. Smith was leading a trading party on the Santa Fe Trail in May, 1831 when he left the group to scout for water. He never returned to the group. Members of the trading party discovered a Mexican merchant at the Santa Fe market offering several of Smith's personal belongings for sale. 

When questioned about the items, the merchant indicated that he had acquired them from a band of Comanche hunters. The Comanches told the merchant they had taken the items from a white man they had killed near the Cimarron River, south of today's Ulysses, Kansas. 

What do you know about Jedediah Smith?  Try this quick quiz.


1. What is one of Smith's best known findings?

2. Where was he the first explorer to reach?

3. How did the significant facial scarring happen?

4. Why did Smith's two expeditions to California in 1826 and 1827, land him in trouble with the authorities?

5. Where is Jedediah Smith buried?


1. Smith is best known for leading the party of explorers who rediscovered South Pass (to which the Crow Indians showed him the direction), which shortened the time needed to get to the west slope of the Rocky Mountains from St. Louis, Missouri.

2. He was the first explorer to reach Oregon overland by traveling up the California coast.

3. Smith was often recognized by significant facial scarring due to a grizzly bear attack along the Cheyenne River. Members of his party witnessed Smith fighting the bear, which ripped open his side with its claws and took his head in its mouth. The bear suddenly retreated and the men ran to help Smith. The trappers fetched water, bound up his broken ribs, cleaned his wounds and loosely sewed up the cuts on his head and ear.

4. Smith made two expeditions to California in 1826 and 1827, which landed him in trouble with the authorities. The Mexican authorities saw Smith's party as a harbinger of troubles to come. The Smith party was involved in a private commercial activity, but their excursion deep into Mexican territory was unauthorized, despite carrying United States passports for five members of the party.

Angels on your pillowSmith's body was never found.

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