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How black explorer James Pierson Beckwourth became a Native American chief in the 1800s

July 05, 2018 at 11:39 am | History

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Staff Writer

July 05, 2018 at 11:39 am | History

James Beckwourth

His journey to being one of the first African-American explorers and frontiersmen of the West and eventually a Crow Nation chief began in 1805 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

James Pierson Beckwourth was born into slavery to Sir Jennings Beckwith who was of Irish and English descent and a mulatto slave.

After spending most of his early years as a slave, he became a freed black man when he reached adulthood.

Working as a blacksmith in St. Louis, Beckwourth was able to meet the famed William Ashley, co-owner of The Rocky Mountain Fur company.

Beckworth decided to join Ashley on his many fur-trapping expeditions to the Rocky Mountains.

James Beckwourth

Working as a fur trapper was a tedious task, and what made Beckwourth’s journey more dangerous was the fact that it was winter, meaning he had to deal with the freezing temperature, coupled with fears of attacks from wild animals and Native Americans, as well as, frequent hunger.

Beckwourth sailed on despite these threats and would end up being close with the Native Americans of the Crow Nation.

There are two sides to the story as to how he ended up being very close to the Crow.

One account says Beckwourth was captured in 1828 by the Crow, who thought he was the long lost son of a Crow chief and so they wanted him back.

Beckwourth was suddenly adopted and he eventually became a chief.

Crow Indians in the 1800s

Other accounts indicate that Beckwourth got closer to the Crows because they were willing to establish trade relations.

It is further documented that Beckwourth, during his almost 10-year-stay with the Crows as their chief, married at least two native women, and fathered many children.

He subsequently left Crow and trapped in Utah before taking part in the Seminole War.

The famous “Mountain Man” left the army and engaged in trading but rejoined the army as a courier when the Mexican-American War began.

He allegedly played a role in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 before going back to the Crow tribe.

A historical marker located near Beckwourth in Plumas County, California — hmdb.org

Beckwourth died in 1866 and was given a traditional Crow funeral.

Till date, his accounts of the Crows and their way of life are considered accurate and revealing by many people.

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