Matthew Despain and Fred R. Gowans
Utah History Encyclopedia
James Bridger was one of the greatest frontiersmen of Utah and American history. During his lifetime he was a hunter, trapper, trader, Indian fighter, and guide, and one of only a few trappers to remain in the Rockies after the demise of the fur trade. In 1822 young Bridger heeded William Ashley's call for one hundred "enterprising young men" and ascended the route of the Missouri River under Major Andrew Henry's command.
Bridger spent his first year with the company on the upper Missouri until Blackfoot Indian hostilities forced the expedition back down river in the spring of 1823. Bridger then accompanied Henry's brigade to the Yellowstone River, where, en route, Hugh Glass was attacked by a grizzly. Evidence would indicate that Bridger volunteered as one of Glass's caretakers, but that he abandoned Glass believing he would not live. Glass miraculously survived and apparently exonerated Bridger's desertion due to his youth.
Bridger spent the fall of 1823 and the following winter and spring of 1824 trapping and wintering in the Bighorn region as part of John Weber's brigade. By summer's end, he had pushed west across South Pass to trap the Bear River. The brigade assembled in "Willow Valley" (Cache Valley) to winter on Cub Creek near present Cove, Utah. Allegedly during that winter of 1824-25 a dispute arose concerning the Bear River's course south of Cache Valley. Bridger was selected to explore the river to resolve the question. His journey took him to the Great Salt Lake, which he believed was an arm of the Pacific Ocean due to its saltiness. For years, Bridger was recognized as the first documented discoverer of the great "Inland Sea"; however, more recent evidence seems to indicate that this honor should be given to Etienne Provost.
The following spring, Weber's brigade spread along the Wasatch Front to trap. In May, Bridger was probably at the Ogden-Gardner trappers' confrontation near present Mountain Green; however, there is no documentation that indicates he participated in the proceedings. That summer Bridger attended the Randavouze Creek rendezvous, just north of the Utah-Wyoming border near the present town of McKinnon, Wyoming.
The winter of 1825-1826 was spent by Bridger and most of Ashley's men in the Salt Lake Valley in two camps: one at the mouth of the Weber River and one on the Bear. Bridger continued to trap the regions of the Wasatch Front for approximately the next four years, spending some of his winters in the Salt Lake Valley. He was present at all the rendezvous, including the Cache Valley rendezvous of 1826 and the rendezvous of 1827 and 1828 on the south shore of Bear Lake at present-day Laketown, Utah.
In 1830 Bridger and four other partners formed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company; however, exhausted fur reserves and increased competition from John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company forced the company to venture north into hostile Blackfoot territory. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was dissolved in 1834 and by the end of the decade the fur trade itself was over.
During the final years of the fur trade, Bridger, with partner Louis Vasquez, planned and constructed what was to be Fort Bridger, located on Black's Fork of the Green River. This new enterprise was to become one of the principal trading posts for the western migration, established specifically to serve the wagon trains heading to the far West. Bridger's post served many immigrants heading west, including the ill-fated Donner-Reed party.
In June 1847 Bridger had his first encounter with the Mormon pioneers near the mouth of the Little Sandy River. At this gathering, Bridger and Brigham Young discussed the merits of settling in the Salt Lake Valley. Also during this meeting Bridger drew his map on the ground for Young depicting the region with great accuracy and conveyed to the Mormon leader his misgivings regarding the agricultural productivity of the Salt Lake area. This first meeting between the Mormons and Bridger appears to have been pleasant, yet this relationship was to become a bittersweet one for Bridger.
The coming of the Mormons increased the number of immigrants at the fort. However, the Mormon settlements attracted away a significant portion of Bridger's trade, including that of the Indians, causing economic hardships for the post.
In 1850 Bridger consulted and guided the Stansbury expedition, which established a road much of which would later become the route of the Overland Stage and the Union Pacific Railroad. The same year, the territory of Utah was created; it included under its jurisdiction the Fort Bridger area.
Animosity between Bridger and the Mormons festered in the summer of 1853. Mormon leaders were convinced that Bridger was engaged in illicit trade with the Indians, especially guns and ammunition, and that he had stirred hostility among the Native Americans against the Mormons. Mormon leaders revoked Bridger's license to trade and issued a warrant for his arrest; however, before the posse's arrival Bridger had fled.
By the end of 1853, the Mormons had begun to move in and secure control of Bridger's Green River Basin, opting to establish Fort Supply rather than occupy Fort Bridger. Bridger had gone to the east, but returned to the mountains in 1855. That summer, Bridger sold his fort to the Mormons for $8,000. The Mormons paid Bridger $4,000 in gold coin that August; however, the final payment was not made until 1858, when Vasquez received the remaining $4,000 in Salt Lake City.
The Mormons took possession of Fort Bridger in 1855, making much-needed improvements, including erecting a large cobblestone wall around the fort. However, in 1857, the fort was destroyed by the Mormons to hinder the advance of Albert Sidney Johnston's Army, which was being guided by none other than James Bridger. The army occupied the fort until 1890. Bridger tried to deal with the army regarding leasing the fort under the premise that the Mormons had forced him out and stolen it from him. During the 1870s and early 1880s, Bridger inquired about the army's lease, but without success.
Bridger died in July 1881. After his death, the government paid his widow for the improvements of the post, which consisted of thirteen log structures and the eighteen-foot-high cobblestone wall, which, ironically, were built by the Mormons.
See: Cecil J. Alter, Jim Bridger: A Historical Narrative (1986); Fred R. Gowans and Eugene E. Campbell, Fort Bridger, Island in the Wilderness (1975); LeRoy R. Hafen and Harvey L. Carter, eds., Mountain Men and Fur Traders of the Far West (1982); and Dale L. Morgan, ed., The West of William H. Ashley (1964).
With permission of David R. Gunderson, we include the following book to our blog. I will do a few increments at a time, as I have done with the Andrew Madsen and James Monsen histories. I will also paste the pages over to David's own blog page:http://davidrgunderson.blogspot.com/
This book will be of interest to not only the Gunderson Family but also to theBrotherson, Ericksen, Peel, Madsen, Larsen and more.
1 Lever, p. 201, The Hamilton settlement was established by Madison D. Hamilton and his associates in the spring of 1852 and burned out about July 25, 18532 Longsdorf, pp. 46 - 513 Calculations indicate that the area of the fort was actually about 4.225 acres. If the fort had enclosed 5.5 acres, the dimensions would have been about 29.66 rods
At the turn of the century there was a very common superstition that all graveyards were inhabited by
ghosts who slept by day but were very active come nighttime. Those ghosts were of special interest to the
young folks of Ephraim with whom I associated. This fear of ghosts was kept alive by many parents as a means
of controlling their offspring. Their threat of “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll give you to the ghosts”, brought
immediate compliance in almost every case.
I lived on our farm north and west of the city. On my way to or from town I had to pass the old Pioneer
Cemetery, but that fact did not trouble me. I accepted it. I was mature enough to know that most events
have a reason for happening, and also I knew that most ghosts were most prevalent at Halloween time. As
this holiday approached I heard more and more real or fanciful stories regarding ghosts.
It seemed to me that
the other kids began to become interested in me and the fact that I passed the cemetery so often.
One night, just west of the cemetery, I brought my horse to a stop by yelling, “Whoa, whoa!” several
times before I reached down to undo the wire that held our farm gate closed. My horse did not seem to
understand because he kept shifting our position, and perhaps I even said several other words. Suddenly I was
startled to hear voices coming from the cemetery. I am frank to admit that these voices scared me and I
hurried for home. I decided that the safest thing to do was to not tell anyone about my fright, but to stay
A short time thereafter Jim, my brother, came to me and proposed that we go to town that night.
Thinking there would be safety in numbers, I decided it would be safe to go with him.
At the gate those voices from the graveyard were again heard. To my surprise Jim said, “Those ghosts
scare hell out of me when I am alone, but for some strange reason I would like to see a ghost tonight.” So he,
too, had heard the ghosts.
Jim’s presence buoyed me up and made me feel just like he felt. “I, too, would like to see a ghost
tonight,” I answered. Right then and there we agreed to investigate. At first we whispered as we
communicated with each other. The ghost voices whispered back. We talked more loudly and again the
ghosts answered. Now we knew the secret, for the voices we had been hearing proved to be the echoes of
our own voices coming from one place in that old cemetery.
We pondered this knowledge, if those ghosts didn’t leave the graveyard, then it was fear of ghosts that
Maybe there were never any ghosts there at all. For since the spring cleaning of the old Pioneer
Cemetery in 1907, those ghostly voices have never been heard. What caused the echo has never been
explained and the mystery has never been solved. After that date all has been peace, quiet, dryness, and
serenity in that fenced-in land of the dead.