Compared to life as a slave, life on the frontier must have seemed like been Club Med. This might help explain why this one former slave went on to become one of the most famous mountain men of the West.
Born into slavery in Frederick County, Virginia, James Beckwourth’s mother was a slave and his father was an Englishman. Roughly 20 years later, Beckwourth received his freedom and hooked up with General William Ashely’s outfit, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Called “Ashley’s Hundred”, this group of trappers working the Rocky Mountain West was a who’s who of mountain men. Men such as Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass and Jedediah Smith were among the 100, and Beckwourth no doubt learned how to survive the frontier with the best. Beckwourth’s adventurous life is captured in the bookThe Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. While some of the numbers are embellished in the book, the events recounted by Beckwourth likely happened. And they may even have happened to him.