James Felix Bridger was born on March 17, 1804 in Richmond Virginia. He received no formal education and was illiterate all his life. After moving to St. Louis, he was orphaned at age 13, and apprenticed to a blacksmith. At age 18 he left to join General William Henry Ashley’s fur trapping expedition. The party included Jedediah Smith and many others who later became famous mountain men. He traversed the continent for the next 20 years, involved in the fur trade.
Bridger was among the first white men to see the geysers and other natural wonders of the Yellowstone region. He gained fame as the first European American to see the Great Salt Lake in 1824, which he believed to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean, because of its saltiness.
He traveled throughout the Mountain West, and while guiding the Stansbury Expedition in 1850, discovered what would become known as Bridger Pass, in what is now south-central Wyoming, an alternate route on the Oregon Trail. It would later become the chosen route of both the Continental Railroad and much later Interstate I-80.
While engaged in the fur trade, Bridger participated in many Rendezvouses, where mountain men, Indians and others exchanged goods. Some of the earliest Rendezvouses occurred on the south end of Bear Lake, along the present Utah- Idaho border.
Bridger served as a guide to the U.S. Army and to various parties of settlers, including the infamous Donner Expedition, and was the chief guide on the Yellowstone-bound Reynolds Expedition in 1859. He advised Mormon leader Brigham Young against settling in the Salt Lake Valley, reportedly offering to pay $100 for the first bushel of grain grown in its hostile soil, believing the fertile Bear Lake Valley to be a far better choice for their settlement.
Jim Bridger was the teller of tall tales, and many yarns actually told by others, were attributed to him. He told of a “petrified forest” in which there were “petrified birds”, singing “petrified songs”. One of his favorite tales was telling of being chased by Indians, and when he told of finding himself at the end of a box canyon, Bridger would suddenly grow silent. When listeners asked, “What happened then, Mr. Bridger?” Bridger would reply, “They killed me.” This tale was actually similar to the death of Jedediah Smith, who was killed by Comanche Indians in 1831.
Bridger died on his farm near Kansas City, MO, on July 17, 1881 at the age of 77.
Source: Wikipedia 2018