US pioneer and mountain man who discovered a lower pass, now known as Beckwourth's Pass, through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to California's Sacramento Valley in 1850. Beckwourth participated in the Ashley–Henry fur-trading expeditions into the Rocky Mountains, lived with the Crow Indians, and served as a guide, trapper, trader, army scout, and hunter.
The trail through Beckwourth's Pass ran from near the current site of Reno, Nevada to Marysville, California, and was safer for migrants to follow. It was used heavily between 1851 and 1855, before being supplanted by the railroad.
Beckwourth was born to an African-American slave in Virginia, and was raised by his English father, who went through the legal formality of freeing him 1824–26. He was briefly apprenticed to a blacksmith in St Louis, Missouri, a centre of the fur trade, and took part in his first trapping expedition in 1824, after which he worked as a trapper in the Rocky Mountains. From 1828 he spent nearly eight years living with the American Indian Crow people, and was reputedly made chief of the Crow nation after gaining the status of a warrior chief.
When the fur industry declined, Beckwourth joined US forces in the second Seminole War in Florida, and fought at the Battle of Okeechobee (1837). From 1838 he traded on the Santa Fe Trail and helped to found Pueblo, Colorado, as a trading post in 1842. He discovered the Beckwourth Pass while on a prospecting expedition in the Sierra Nevada in 1850.
His autobiography The Life and Adventures of James P Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians, as told to the travelling judge Thomas D Bonner, was published in 1856. Although Beckwourth's stories are often exaggerated and inaccurate, his account nevertheless gives a valuable and vivid representation of life on the frontier.
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was the son of a white man and an African-American woman. In 1851, he discovered what is now called the Beckwourth Pass. This was a safer way to