Who was James Beckwourth?
He was an explorer, scout, fur trapper and mountain man.
James Beckwourth (1798-1866) was born into slavery in Virginia. He gained his freedom when he was manumitted by his slave owner who was also his father.
According to legend Beckwourth was well liked and respected by Native Americans and was made an honorary chief. He spent several years living with the Crow Indian nation and married a Crow woman.
He left the Crow nation in the 1830s and joined the Missouri volunteer military as a scout. During the Seminole War in Florida he scouted for General Zachary Taylor, who later became the 12th president of the United States.
Beckwourth left the military in 1840 and spent his next years exploring the west and working as a scout for military parties.
In 1850 he discovered a pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains that was a safer and faster route for pioneers trying to reach California during the Gold Rush. That pass became the Beckwourth Pass and is now part of the United States Interstate Highway system.