FUR TRAPPERS DISCOVER THE OREGON TRAIL
American and French-Canadian beaver hunters were the first men of European origin to explore the headwaters of the North Platte. The first visit to the mouth of Laramie Fork that can be documented was that of seven men of the American Fur Company led by Robert Stuart, taking dispatches from the new post of Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River to St. Louis, by way of Jackson's Hole, South Pass, and the Platte. On December 22, 1812 Stuart noted in his journal that here "a well wooded stream apparently of considerable magnitude came in from the South West." He also referred to buffalo, antelope, and wild horses in this region. The Stuart party, compelled to winter near present Torrington, Wyoming, is credited with the effective discovery of South Pass and the near-level Platte River route which led to this natural mountain gateway.
Several geographical names attest to the early infiltration here of French-Canadians, among them one "Goche" who has become immortalized as the namesake of present Goshen County. Another was a shadowy figure commonly identified as Jacques Laramee or Laramie.
According to an 1831 report by Indian Agent John Dougherty at Fort Leavenworth this was "J. Loremy, a free man" killed in 1821 by Arapahoe Indians "on the Platte", presumably near the river and later fort which now bear his name. The euphonious "Laramie" has also been bestowed on other features of Wyoming, notably the county which contains the State Capital, the city which boasts the State University, and the mountain which dominates the horizon west of the fort.
In 1823 Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, and other enterprising Americans in the employ of William Ashley of St. Louis, going over land from the Upper Missouri, rediscovered South Pass and the lush beaver country in Green River drainage, west of the Continental Divide. In 1824 a small party of "mountain men" under Thomas Fitzpatrick cached furs near Independence Rock and hiked down the Platte to Fort Atkinson on the Missouri River (north of present Omaha), arriving in scarecrow condition. Their glowing account of beaver riches in the Rockies and the merits of the rediscovered Platte River route prompted Ashley to mount an expedition up the Platte to explore the Utah Canyon country, 1824-1825. In the spring, at Henry's Fork of the Green, he inaugurated the large-scale exploitation of the beaver which became known as the rendezvous system. Thereafter for 16 years St. Louis traders would send supply trains up the Platte to the annual rendezvous of the trappers and traders for purposes of riotous celebration and trade, most often in the valleys of the Upper Green or Wind Rivers. In 1826 the first wheeled vehicle, a small mounted cannon in the caravan of Captain Benjamin Bonneville, rumbled past the future fort site en route to a rendezvous at Salt take. That same year Ashley sold out to a famous trio, Jed Smith, William Sublette and David Jackson, who made history with their heroic explorations of the Far West while captaining fur brigades.
In 1830 Sublette brought the first wagon caravan up the Platte, instead of the usual pack train. At Wind River he and his partners sold out to Bridger, Fitzpatrick and others, who were soon confronted with competition from other outfits, principally Astor's powerful American Fur Company. In 1832 William Sublette and Robert Campbell formed a trading partnership, contracting to supply others at the rendezvous. In 1834 they built the first Fort on the Laramie.
Last Updated: 01-Mar-2003