Explorer Jedediah Smith

(Frank) OK, we’re back. Have you seen the movie “Revenant?” (Deb) No. (Frank) No, I haven’t either. (Deb) I feel so badly because all my history nerd friends have seen it. They’ve argued about it. It’s…Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, he is from the mountain man era. So that’s pre-Civil War, pre-territorial period. And what would become Kansas of course is very prominent in that era. My friends have mixed reviews and I can’t wait to see the movie. I just haven’t had time, honestly. But Hugh Glass really met the bear in South Dakota on the high prairie, not in the mountains, and it was the summertime, not the winter and so that got me thinking about Jedediah Smith. And Frank, you and I of course remember very well Jeremiah Johnson. (Frank) Oh ya, one of my favorite movies. (Deb) Well that’s based on the life of Jedediah Smith, who actually, incredibly was a famous mountain man of the time, a contemporary of Hugh Glass. He died probably somewhere in the vicinity of Dodge City, somewhere in southwestern Kansas is where Jedediah Smith died. And so probably not as handsome as Robert Redford, you know. It’s a good plan. Who’s gonna play you in your life story? You get Leonardo DiCaprio or Robert Redford. That’s going to be good for posterity you know, but he probably wasn’t quite that cute. But still a really fascinating figure. (Frank) Yea that was an incredible time. I mean, if you think about it, you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you’re on your own. Even if you’re with a group of other mountain men or whatever. The thing is you don’t go to the 7-Eleven or the Kwik Shop. I mean, you are on your own. And if you read some of these histories and you kind of let your imagination go and you think, this is wide open spaces out here, there isn’t a town every 20 miles, it gets rather overwhelming. (Deb) They take self reliance to a ridiculous degree, don’t they? I mean really. Let’s take a look at the real life of Jedediah Smith. Okay, so maybe Robert Redford’s movie Jeremiah Johnson was NOT based on the life of Jedediah Smith, but on the equally colorful life of John “liver-eating” Johnson who came along a few years later. No, Jedediah Smith may be known to modern moviegoers for Night at the Museum’s character, the cowboy Jedediah. No matter. His real life exploits were beyond any filmmaker’s imagination. And, like our friend Hugh Glass in the new movie the Revenant, Smith did survive a bear attack and grew his hair long to cover the scar. Smith’s blazing of the South Pass through the Rockies would have secured his claim as one of the great explorers of the American West, but during the following decade, Smith also explored the Great Salt Lake, the Colorado Plateau, and led the first expedition to cross the Southwest to California, all before he was 30 years old. Having lived through dozens of narrow escapes on his intrepid journeys, Smith decided to retire from his dangerous trade in 1830 and enter the mercantile business. Ironically, being a trader proved more deadly than exploring: while leading a trading caravan along the Santa Fe Trail in 1831, Smith was killed by Comanche Indians near the Cimarron River in southwestern Kansas. He was 32 years old.

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