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James Pierson Beckwourth

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A famous trapper of Colorado's early days is James Pierson Beckwourth. Beckwourth was born in 1798 in Virginia to a slave mother and Irish American plantation owner. He grew up in St Louis, Missouri where he trained as a blacksmith. He left home in 1822 because of his love of travel and became a fur trader until 1828. Beckwourth began living with the Crow Indians, according to legends of that tribe, became their chief for a time. He led them on many warlike expeditions against the Cheyenne, Lakota, and other enemies.

After he left the tribe, he served as an army scout in Florida and then headed west to mine for gold. In 1850 he discovered a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Colorado that bears his name, Beckwourth Pass. It was used by many wagon trains as they traveled west.

Around 1864 Beckwourth returned to the Crow tribe because he felt civilization was crowding him. In 1866 at the age of 66, Beckwourth died. The way he died is a mystery. According to legend, the Crow Indians poisoned Beckwourth because they were afraid he would leave and take his good luck with him. It is thought he was buried in the tradition Crow fashion on a tree platform.