Bridger, James, 1804–81, American fur trader, one of the most celebrated of the mountain men, b. Virginia. He was working as a blacksmith in St. Louis when he joined the Missouri River expedition of William H. Ashley in 1822. From that time until the fur trade declined in the 1840s he was a trader and trapper in the mountains, becoming familiar with most of the country N of Spanish New Mexico and E of California. He was associated with Thomas Fitzpatrick and Jedediah Smith in many of their journeys, and he is generally credited with being the first white man to see (1825) Great Salt Lake. He was the guide for the party of Marcus Whitman, and in 1843 he and a partner, Louis Vasquez, opened Fort Bridger on the Oregon Trail. They later were forced by the Mormons to give up the post. Bridger was a guide, notably to Gen. A. S. Johnston on the Mormon campaign in 1857, to an expedition to the present Yellowstone Park (a region he did much to publicize), and to the surveying party of Gen. G. M. Dodge for the Union Pacific RR. He came to be famous for his talk, was a fine spinner of "tall tales," and was one of the most picturesque figures of the frontier.
See biographies by J. C. Alter (1925; rev. ed. 1962, repr. 1967), S. Vestal (pseud. of W. S. Campbell; 1946, repr. 1970), and G. Caesar (1961); B. De Voto, Across the Wide Missouri (1947).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.