Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sept 26: Bonneville Camps at Salmon-Lemhi

On September 26, 1832, the trapping expedition of Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville arrived at a location where he planned to stay for the winter. They camped on the Salmon River about three miles below the mouth of the Lemhi. (We know the location from its verbal description; Bonneville’s latitude determination placed their position about 50 miles further north than it actually was.)

In any case, a quick appraisal showed that the area had nothing like enough forage for the entire party of over 100 men. Thus, the Captain retained about 20 men at the Salmon-Lemhi spot and split the rest into three parties and sent them off in different directions. The arrival of many Indians of various tribes further strained the area’s resources, so Bonneville’s party had to move twice during the winter.

(The photograph is clearly the Captain, later brevet  Brigadier General, as an older man -- neither the National Archives nor the Library of Congress have any earlier images.)

H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986). Originally publication date: 1935.

Washington Irving, Edgeley W. Todd (ed.), The adventures of Captain Bonneville U.S.A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West. Digested from his journal. University of Oklahoma Press (1961).


  1. I read somewhere that Bonneville was overrated, and just got really good press. Did he really do anything worthwhile?

  2. Bonneville failed miserably as a fur trapper/trader -- the ostensible reason for his venture.
    For some years, people believed he hadn't done much exploring either, apparently because most of his reports and maps got lost in Army back files. When these finally turned up, more recent scholarship rehabilitated his reputation as a western explorer (but not as a trader).