The Faces of the African American National Biography
Photograph courtesy of William Katz Collection.
Jim Beckwourth found his calling in 1824, when he answered a newspaper ad placed by the fur traders Andrew Henry and William Henry Ashley calling for "One Hundred MEN to ascend the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains." Beckwourth soon mastered all the frontier skills of a true mountain man: hunting, trapping, sharpshooting, and handling bowie knives and tomahawks. He lived for a time among the Crow Indians and crisscrossed the Western frontier playing cards, prospecting, trapping, selling whiskey to Indians, stealing horses, brawling in saloons, and guiding settlers. Drawn to California by the discovery of gold, in 1850 he discovered Beckwourth Pass, a route through the rugged Sierra Mountains near present-day Reno, Nevada. Beckwourth spoke English, French, Spanish, and a number of Indian dialects, dressed and acted the part of a fearless adventurer, and made his mark as a true pioneer of the American West.