Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
The Southwest Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith: His Personal Account of the Journey to California, 1826-1827.
Edited with an Introduction by George R. Brooks. Western Frontiersman Seríes, Volume XVIII. Glendale, California: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1977. Bibliography. Index. Maps. 259 pages. $24.50
Reviewed by George M. Ellis, Editor, Brand Book III. San Diego Corral of the Westerners.
The discovery and editing of documentary materials relating to the once little known southwestern fur trade has produced a series of important books in recent times, particularly in regard to pivotal figures in the trade. As a result, new historical accuracy and perspective have been given to the careers of Jedediah S. Smith by Dale Morgan, George C. Yount by Charles L. Camp, Kit Carson by Harvey L. Lewis, and Erving Young by Kenneth L. Holmes.
Now, a new manuscript has been discovered and edited by George R. Brooks, whose book The Southwestern Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith extends our knowledge of that crucial first expedition to California in 1826-27.
Smith apparently intended to publish what was listed in his estate as: “A Manuscript Journal of the travels of Jedediah S. Smith thro’ the Rocky Mountains and West of the Same together with a description of the Country and the Customs and Manners of the different Tribes of Indians thro’ which he travelled.” Smith’s original journals and notes reportedly were destroyed by fire, but two transcripts in the hand of Samuel Parkman, a friend and colleague of Smith, have been found, edited, and published. The first transcript was the basis for Maurice Sullivan’s The Travels of Jedediah Smith (Santa Ana, California, 1934). The second transcript, which came in-to the possession of the Missouri Historical Society, preceded in content the Sullivan manuscript and is the basis for Brooks’ The Southwestern Expedition of Jedediah Smith. Brooks, who originally was working with the advice and encouragement of Dale Morgan (Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, 1953) until the latter’s death in 1971, has gone to the original Parkman transcripts and edited a complete version of the 1826-27 first expedition which incorporates both transcripts. The Missouri Historical Society manuscript was used for the period August 7, 1826, to June 21, 1827, and the Sullivan manuscript was used to extend the journal from June 22, 1827, through July 3, 1827.
In addition, Brooks also adds most helpfully the text of the Harrison G. Rogers “Daybook I,” a journal written by the clerk of the expedition and recovered by Smith from the Umpqua Indians following the death of Rogers in the massacre of July 14, 1828. This document was originally edited and published by Harrison Dale in The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific 1822-1829 (Cleveland, 1918: Glendale, California, 1941). Reworked from the original manuscript and with the addition of the ledger and account items, this journal is a valuable corollary to the Smith journal.
The content of the combined Smith journals and the Rogers Daybook, as compared by Brooks, gives new insights into many aspects of Smith’s Southwestern expedition of 1826-27. First, it clears up a number of controversies concerning his route. Second, it clarifies to a greater extent his purposes in making the expedition. Third, it arouses new speculation that he was aiming for the Columbia River watershed all along. This latter point is enhanced by the appearance on Smith’s roster of Marion, an “Umpqua” Indian slave, whose presence in the party would indicate perhaps a desire to have such a member along for a purpose. Brooks treats the third issue as an interesting but not necessarily correct hypothesis.
Jedediah Strong Smith was a worthy successor to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. For eight years, he made notable contributions to the fur trade and to geographical knowledge of the west. He made the first “effective” discovery of South Pass; he was the first American to reach California overland from the fur trade frontiers; he was the first white man to cross the Sierra Nevada; he was the first to traverse the length and width of the Great Basin; he was the first to reach Oregon by a land journey up the California coast. He survived the three worst massacres of the fur trade. His stature as a worthy and genuine American hero has now clearly been established. He died at the age of 33 on the Santa Fé trail at the hands of the Comanches.
Smith led two expeditions to California and the Pacific Coast. The first was the Southwestern expedition of 1826-27 in which he left the Bear River rendezvous of 1826 on August 7, 1826 and went southwest to the Virgin and the Colorado and hence westward from the Mojave Villages to California. This journey resulted in visits to Mission San Gabriel, San Diego, Santa Catalina Island, and a trapping expedition into the Great Central Valley of California along the Sierra Nevada face as far north as the American River.
While his men made a summer camp on the Stanislaus, Smith and two men returned to the Bear Lake Rendezvous of 1827 by way of Ebbetts Pass, Walker Lake, Connors and Sacramento Passes, Salt Marsh and Great Salt Lakes, returning on July 3, 1827. It is this first expedition which is the subject of the journals contained in the book now the subject of this review. Smith’s second expedition of 1827-28, in which he returned to his encampment on the Stanislaus with reinforcements and additional supplies, is not part of the scope of Brooks’ account.
The book is admirably organized and footnoted and benefits from three excellent maps. The “bibliography,” presumably as a matter of publishing economy, is primarily a listing of references actually cited. A short but effective index completes the book. The book repeats very little of what is available in the classic Morgan biography, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West (New York, 1953) or the condensed biography by Harvey L. Carter in the series, The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West (Volume VIII; pp. 331-48; Glendale, California, 1971).