Archives On The Air 167: Jim Beckwourth—Toppan Rare Books Library

Nov 14, 2019

Portrait of James Beckwourth, circa 1856, from The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout, Pioneer and Chief of the Crow Nation, by James Beckwourth, 1856, Roebling Collection, Toppan Rare Books Library.
Credit American Heritage Center

Jim Beckwourth was born into slavery. He came West around 1820.

Beckwourth lived with a Crow band for years. He claimed that he gained the highest rank of a Crow war chief.

Beckwourth later led settlers over the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains.

The 1847 Donner Party tragedy led Beckwourth to seek a safer passage through the Sierra Nevada.

In 1850 he discovered a new trail. In 1851 he used it to lead 17 wagons over the Sierra Nevada. It is now called Beckwourth Pass.

Beckwourth wrote an autobiography in 1856.

He died in 1866. In the funeral custom of the Crow tribe his body was left to the elements in Laramie, Wyoming.

Jim Beckwourth's autobiography is part of the Toppan Rare Books Library at UW's American Heritage Center.