Books For Teachers and Secondary Students

A Special Note to K-12 Teachers:

As you prepare to teach about Jedediah Smith—regardless of the grade-level you teach—you may wish to (1) read the basic biography of Jed on this site, (2) read one or two other books or articles that provide background information on Jed, (2) study the materials listed under the “Jedediah Strong Smith” menu tab, and (3) look closely at our interactive maps (which you could easily project on a screen for your young scholars to view).

Here are ten important books on Jed and the fur trade:

Barbour, Barton H. Jedediah Smith: No Ordinary Mountain Man. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009. In this thoughtfully conceived biography Barbour paints a more ambiguous portrait of Jed than some admiring historians have allowed, arguing that Jed’s mythic status is called in question by evidence that “his behavior was by no means universally saintly.” Barbour rises above the level of merely reporting facts to make readers feel as if Jed is a real human who faced complex situations, geographical and human, with mixed results. He also provides welcome attention to Jed’s understanding and feelings for the challenging demands of a varying terrain and for the diverse characteristics of the Natives he encountered. Contains a useful bibliographic essay.

Berry, Don. A Majority of Scoundrels: An Informal History of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Sausalito, California: Comstock, 1961. Reprint, Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2006. A study of the remarkable cast of characters who made up the fur trade, including Smith, Sublette, Bridger, and Wyeth. This popular book begins with the 1822 Ashley-Henry expedition up the Missouri and traces the development of the fur trade for approximately twelve years. Contains two helpful maps. Written in a lively and readable style.

Brooks, George R., ed. The Southwest Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith: His Personal Account of the Journey to California 1826-1827. Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark, 1977. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. Brooks presents Jed’s previously unknown journal, discovered in 1967. One reviewer calls this book “a significant contribution to the history of exploration in the early nineteenth century.” Highly recommended.

Carter, Harvey L. “Jedediah Smith.” In The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, edited by LeRoy R. Hafen, vol. 8, 331-348. Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark, 1971. This outstanding essay narrates Jed’s experiences in the West and offers insights into his character. Carter lauds Jed for “his recuperative powers,” for “reorganizing to carry on after disasters that would have discouraged others.”

Dale, Harrison Clifford. The Explorations of William H. Ashley and Jedediah Smith, 1822-1829, with the Original Journals Edited by Harrison Clifford Dale. Rev. 1941. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. Originally published as The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific, 1822-1829. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark, 1918. A vital work superseded only by Sullivan and Morgan. Dale includes the first and second journals of Jed’s clerk, Harrison G. Rogers, and Jed’s letter to Father Duran. Contains a map of the routes of Ashley and Smith, and Albert Gallatin’s 1836 map of the locations of Indian tribes.

Morgan, Dale L. Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964. Still, the indispensable biography of Jed. Contains Morgan’s map of Jed’s travels.

Morgan, Dale L., and Carl I. Wheat. Jedediah Smith and His Maps of the American West. San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1954. This rare book contains informative chapters on Jed’s influence on early western maps, the Fremont-Gibbs-Smith map, Jed’s own map of the West, Jed’s itineraries from 1822-1826 and 1826-1831, and his contributions to science. Even those who are already impressed by Jed’s accomplishments should read the final chapter, which details Jed’s achievements in the areas of botany, zoology, geography, and especially ethnology, about which topic the authors say that Jed “was the first man to produce an ethnographic survey of the West as a whole.” Seven maps supplement the text. This book ranks among the five or six essential books on Jed.

Sullivan. Maurice S. The Travels of Jedediah Smith: A Documentary Outline, including the Journal of the Great American Pathfinder. Santa Clara, California: Fine Arts Press, 1934. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Bibliographers Patrick Church and Don Chase justifiably consider this book “a decisive turning point in establishing Smith as a premier explorer” mainly because it relies extensively on the Smith’s diaries.

Utley, Robert M. A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. New York: Henry Holt, 1997. Republished as After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. In chapter 4 Utley calls Jed the “atypical mountain man” and suggests that his dreams transcended commercial success. Utley says no other mountain man “held more potential for enriching the world’s understanding of the North American West.” He credits Jed as mapmaker, fur trapper, explorer, geographer, and gatherer of scientific data. Contains useful maps by Peter H. Dana. The New York Times considers this book a “definitive study.”

Weber, David J. The Californios versus Jedediah Smith 1826-1827: A New Cache of Documents. Spokane, Washington: Arthur H. Clark, 1990. With letters discovered in 1984 and 1985, Weber documents and clarifies Jed’s sometimes strained relationship with Mexican authorities. He concludes that Smith was “. . . more devious and less ‘perplexed’ by the californios than he himself suggested.” Contains a helpful foldout map of Jed’s first southwest expedition. This groundbreaking, impeccably researched book ranks among the most important on Jed.