When Jedediah was 23 years of age he went to St. Louis and enlisted with General William H. Ashley as an employee of the Rocky Mountain Fur co. In 1823 he was with Ashley and a party of 90 trappers, traders, and boatmen when they were attacked by the previously friendly Aricara Indians as the group camped near their villages 5 miles upstream from this monument . After the bloody encounter they regained their boats and drifted downstream. When the boatmen and some of the others refused to
try to pass the villages. Ashley had to send word to his partner. Major Andrew Henry, on the Yellowstone to warn him of the treachery of the Aricara. Jedediah Smith responded to Ashley's call for a volunteer. Being a deeply religious young man. Smith made what Hugh Glass described as a "powerful prayer " for his slain companions and the success of his own mission. This is recorded as the first act of Christian worship in South Dakota. Although the journey was through and unknown wilderness full of hostile Indians, the boy from New York was successful and made marvelous speed. Much impressed Ashley named Smith Captain in the Motley army of trappers, traders, and Indians who were a potent auxiliary to Col. Henry Leavenworth's 6th Infantry in its August attack to punish the Aricara.
Tapper, Trader, Explorer
1826 General Ashley sold his interests in the Rocky Mountain Fur Co. to Smith. Jackson, and Sublette. As a member of this latter combination Smith charted the way for the spread of the American empire from the Missouri River to the West Coast. While searching for new streams in which to trap beaver, he discovered the central route form the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. During his career in the West, he became the first white man of record to cross the Black Hills, and he opened the South Pass, used by later immigrants. He was the first to traverse Nevada, Utah and the Sierra. He was the first Americans to go overland to California and the first white man to explore the Pacific hinterland from Mexico to Canada. His exploration brought him to the Great Salt Lake, itself a bitter brew but having plenty of the streams flowing into it and beaver sign every where.
After selling his interest in the successful partnership he shifted his efforts into the Southwest, and while searching for water to succor his party he was killed by Comanche arrows at the age of thirty-two at a scooped-out mudhole on the Cimarron.
No other man's record better typifies the hard life of the successful frontiersman of the Great West.
Jedediah Smith gained great fame in his short span of years as both frontiersman and explorer. Less
emphasis is placed on his religions zeal though he was truly a missionary by example. A Methodist by faith, he carried a Bible with him wherever he went and practiced the Christian life among the rough men with whom he was thrown into daily contact. Some excerpts from his letters reveal this fact of his character. Writing to his brother he said: "As it respects my spiritual welfare, I hardly durst speak. I find myself one of the most ungrateful, unthankful creatures imaginable. O, when shall I be under the care of a Christian Church? I have need of your prayers. I wish our Society to bear me up to a Throne of Grace."
Smith's worth as an explorer, his resourcefulness as a leader, and his skill as a mountain man were only surpassed by his integrity and faith. Men spoke of him as a Christian gentleman. Those who knew him best said that he made religion "an active principle from the duties of which nothing could seduce him."
Jedediah Smith was big — 6ft. 2in., brave, and daring, and an example of piety for the rough men with whom he dealt and dwelt.