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The first Europeans in Wyoming


Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark Expedition

Although for many years after the European discovery of America no European set foot in Wyoming, the area was often included in European territorial agreements. It is possible that Spaniards may have traveled through Wyoming in the late 16th or early 17th century or that the French trader François de La Vérendrye and his brother Louis-Joseph may have reached the Wyoming country in about 1743.

Wyoming Territory was included in three important land transactions. First, in 1803 France sold the United States a vast expanse of land, known as the Louisiana Purchase, which included portions of Wyoming east of the Rocky Mountains. In 1848 parts of Wyoming became part of Oregon Territory. In 1848 the United States acquired parts of Wyoming under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which settled the Mexican War between the United States and Mexico. In the course of its history, Wyoming’s boundaries were changed some 30 times. Parts of Wyoming were also in Washington Territory, Idaho Territory, Montana Territory and Dakota Territory. Throughout these years of active map changing, most of its land remained unknown and unexplored.

In 1805 President Thomas Jefferson sent out the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the land to the west of St. Louis, Missouri. One of the members of this expedition, John Colter, became the first white man known to have explored Wyoming. In 1806 Colter was released from the expedition to enter the trapping business. Colter entered Wyoming in 1807 and probably discovered such landmarks as Jackson and Yellowstone lakes, but his trapping efforts were unsuccessful and in 1810 Colter returned to Missouri.

In 1811 an expedition organized by the Pacific Fur Company and led by Wilson Hunt Price traveled through northern Wyoming to take charge of a trading post being built at Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River.

A party returning from Astoria in 1812, led by Robert Stuart, was the first to follow what would become the Oregon Trail, a historic trail that crossed the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. The trail was used by thousands of settlers headed for Oregon country. Stuart’s party found the South Pass, an easy route through the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Wyoming. The fur trade was not organized in Wyoming until the 1820s. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company, established by General William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry, began to send trappers into the Wyoming country in 1822. The first company expedition sent to Wyoming was wrought with difficulties. The party lost cargo when its boat got caught on a snag in the Missouri River; later the group lost 14 men to a Native American attack.

Trappers in Wyoming did not establish strategic forts or trading posts, but instead met annually, starting in 1825, often on the Green River to exchange goods and replenish supplies. Trappers led a lonely, solitary life and the rendezvous system, as the annual meetings were called, gave mountain men an occasion to socialize, drink, and gamble. In the 1830s as beaver supplies diminished in present-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, trappers from other fur trading companies, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the American Fur Company, began to trap in Wyoming territory. Mountain men continued to assemble at the annual rendezvous until the 1840s when the beaver population had almost disappeared because of overtrapping.

Among the trappers who worked for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and explored the rich Wyoming region were James Bridger, Robert Campbell, David Jackson, Jedediah Strong Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Kit Carson, and two of the Sublette brothers, William and Milton. Smith and Fitzpatrick, approaching the South Pass from the east in 1824, marked the route that became part of the Oregon Trail. The mountain men publicized the pass and used it regularly. William Lewis Sublette and Robert Campbell built Wyoming’s first permanent settlement, Fort William, on the Laramie River in 1834. Soon the fort acquired the name of Laramie, named for an early trapper, Jacques la Ramie. Sold to the American Fur Company in 1835, Fort Laramie was a chief meeting place for Native Americans and trappers in the area and a stopping point for westward travelers. In 1849 the fort was sold to the United States government and became the second military post on the Oregon Trail. Fort Bridger, a supply post opened by James Bridger and Louis Vásquez in 1843 on Blacks Fork of the Green River, also became a famous landmark on the trail. Taken over by the U.S. government in 1857, it served as a military post until the late 19th century. "Wyoming" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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