By Mick Woodcock

The area that would become Arizona still was Mexican territory when American trappers began a series of illegal entries in search of beaver pelts.  While Americans could obtain permission to live in the region, Mexican officials would not license them to trap there.  This made the trapping expeditions by American mountain men to the remote Gila, Salt and Colorado Rivers not only dangerous, but illegal and subject to fines and imprisonment as well.

James Ohio Pattie, who led an 1825 trapping expedition into eastern Arizona—where beaver were plentiful—was the earliest.  Western Apaches killed one of the expedition members and the men lost their horses to an Indian raid.  When Pattie went back to recover the cached furs, they were missing.

The following year Pattie joined an expedition put together by Miguel Robidoux.  That party was welcomed at a Pima (Akimel O’odham) village at the confluence of the Salt and Gila Rivers and its members were invited to stay overnight.  Pattie and another trapper wisely refused to stay the night; all those who stayed in the village, except Robidoux, were killed while they slept. The three survivors then joined with a trapping party headed by Ewing Young.  After extracting retribution on the village, they proceeded to trap on the Salt and Verde Rivers, and then went down the Gila to the Colorado.  They enjoyed friendly relations with the Yuma Indians, then turned up the Colorado, trapping as they went.  When the Young party reached Mohave territory they encountered armed resistance from that tribe.  Several encounters produced casualties on both sides.  If that was not enough misfortune, when they arrived in Santa Fe, the Mexican authorities seized their furs as penalty for trapping without a license.

Young outfitted an 1829 expedition into Arizona that did not produce many furs, but did produce a fight with White Mountain Apaches that Young felt evened the score from his previous expedition’s losses to the mountain dwellers.  He traveled into California and back up the Gila, returning with a large cache of pelts.

In August 1826, Jedediah Smith led an expedition south from the Great Salt Lake.  After some hardship they arrived on the Colorado River and went down it to the Mohave villages.  There they rested for 15 days and traded for food before moving on in the direction of California.  Retracing his route the next year, Smith again stopped with the Mohaves.  Trading was amiable as before, but as Smith’s men were crossing the river the natives attacked, leaving ten dead, and the remainder on the west side of the river with no horses and few supplies.  The survivors suffered terribly in the desert as they traveled to the Pacific coast.

Christopher “Kit” Carson began his career as a mountain man when he joined Ewing Young’s second fur trapping party in 1829.  He crossed Arizona again in 1846, leading Stephen Watts Kearney’s army to California.

William Sherley “Old Bill” Williams was one of the most famous trappers to visit Arizona and was noted for his solo expeditions.  He was found trapping in northern Arizona in 1837 by Antoine Leroux, who honored him by naming both the river he was trapping on and the mountain near it after him.  Williams started as the guide for John C. Frémont on an ill-fated 1848 expedition to find a winter route across the Rockies.  It is believed that Williams was killed by Ute Indians in early 1849 while in an attempt to recover Frémont’s lost equipment.

Operating out of Taos, New Mexico, Antoine Leroux trapped Arizona and made a number of trips to California.  His knowledge of the trails brought him into government service several times.  He served as a guide for the Mormon Battalion, the Lorenzo Sitgreaves survey, the John Bartlett boundary survey and the Amiel Whipple survey.  He died near Taos in 1861.

Paulino Weaver trapped in Arizona and was well-enough acquainted with it to serve as a guide for the Mormon Battalion.  He discovered placer gold deposits at La Paz, Arizona, and guided the Peeples party to the central Arizona gold fields in 1863.  He spent his remaining years at Fort Verde, dying there in 1867.  His grave is on the Sharlot Hall Museum grounds.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.