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Jedediah Smith in Kansas

Drawing of Jedediah SmithExplorer. Born: January 6, 1799. Died: 1831?.

Long a forgotten figure in western exploration, Jedediah Smith is known primarily for his path-finding explorations and fur trading expeditions, which helped so significantly in opening the American West. In addition to these achievements and in conjunction with these endeavors are his travels in the 1820s in what was to become Kansas. Smith's initial path-breaking efforts followed watercourses and Indian paths, which ultimately led to what would be one of the great overland routes to the Pacific--the Oregon Trail.

No doubt, seeking a shorter route to the Rocky Mountains in order to expedite the then flourishing fur trapping and trading enterprise, Smith deviated from the practice of following the Missouri River north from its confluence with the Kansas River on his second expedition to the West in late 1825. Leading a company of about 60 men with 160 horses and pack mules from its headquarters at St. Louis, this expedition crossed the mouth of the Kansas River and proceeded up the banks of the Kansas until it reached the Smoky Hill River-Republican River junction. It wintered along the Republican River and spent time with the Republic band of the Pawnee Indians in early 1826. This expedition ultimately traveled to the North Platte River and onto its destination in the South Pass area of Wyoming.

In subsequent expeditions, Smith and his fellow associates and companions were to travel a similar route through Kansas in their travels except it became refined to conform more to the recognized route of the Oregon Trail, which was traveled heavily in its heyday of the 1840s and 1850s.

By 1830 the Oregon Trail was essentially established via the Kansas, Blue, and Vermilion River systems. Jedediah Smith's efforts at establishing new routes and trails in Kansas led directly to the formation of a trail that was to prove instrumental, not only to the settlement and commerce of the American West, but to the state of Kansas in its early development.

Entry: Smith, Jedediah

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: January 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.