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James Beckwourth was born on this date in 1798. He was a Black explorer who played a major role in the early discovery and settlement of the American West.
James Pierson Beckwourth was born in Frederick County, Virginia, to an African slave mother and white-English father, Sir Jennings Beckwourth. Beckwourth's family moved to Missouri in the early 1800s, and he was apprenticed to a Blacksmith in St. Louis when he was a young man. In the summer of 1824, he signed on with General William Ashley for a trapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains.
Although there were people of many races and nationalities on the frontier, Beckwourth was the only Black person who recorded his life story. His adventures took him from the everglades of Florida to the Pacific Ocean and southern Canada to northern Mexico. He dictated his autobiography to Thomas D. Bonner, an itinerant Justice of the Peace in the goldfields of California, in 1854-55. After Bonner "polished up" Beckwourth's rough narrative, "The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians" was published by Harper and Brothers in 1856.
Beckwourth's role in American history was often dismissed by late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries historians. Many of his acquaintances considered the book something of a joke. Truth is often something much bigger than merely the accuracy of details. And to discover the truth of what life was like for the fur trappers of the 1820s, the Crow Native Americans of the 1830s, the pioneers of the Southwest in the 1840s, or the gold miners of California in the 1850s, you can find no better source than the life of Jim Beckwourth.
To Become an Interpreter
The Black West by William Loren Katz.
A Touchstone Book, published by Simon & Shuster Inc.
Copyright 1987, 1996 by Ethrac Publications, Inc.