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Biographies Unit Biographies

James “Jim” Pierson Beckwourth 1798–1866
Explored the Western Frontier

James Beckwourth was a rugged explorer who spent his life roaming the West. He was born in Virginia. His mother was an African American slave and his father was English. According to the law of the state, Beckwourth was considered a slave. Later, his father went to court to give James his freedom. His family eventually moved to Missouri, where he grew up free. As a young man, Beckwourth hunted and traded furs in the Rocky Mountains. He then lived with the Crow Indians and became a Crow leader. Later, he fought the Seminole Indians in Florida. He traded with the Cheyenne Indians in New Mexico and ran a trading post in Colorado. In the 1840s, his love of adventure took him to California. He became a mail rider and then a gold prospector.

In 1850, Beckwourth discovered a pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Many settlers traveled this route to get to California.

Beckwourth loved telling stories with himself as the hero. Around 1855, he told his life story to a writer who later published it. Though the book contains some tall tales, it also tells about many events that really happened.

Comprehension Check

What did Beckwourth do to help settlers going west?

Critical Thinking

What skills did Beckwourth need to be an explorer?