Yellowstone Genealogy Forum


James Felix Bridger – Yellowstone County


Wednesday, February 18, 2004


James (or Jim, as most people called him), was born March 17, 1804, probably in Richmond, VA. He was the son of James Bridger and Chloe Tyler who were married in 1803. The elder James was a Tavern Innkeeper in Richmond, and the County Surveyor. In 1812 the family packed up and moved to a spot just outside of Saint Louis called Six-Mile Prairie. Both parents died there in 1818 from unreported diseases. Three children were born into the family: Jim, the eldest, followed by sister Virginia born in 1808, and the youngest son, born in 1812, whose name wasn’t reported, died in 1818 on the family farm. That left Jim and Virginia. A maiden aunt came to look after Virginia, and Jim took a job on a flatboat ferrying people and wagons between St. Louis and Six-Mile-Prairie. He never had an opportunity to learn how to read or write, and couldn’t sign his name. However he had a nearly perfect photographic memory of the land, its rivers and the trails. These he could draw without hesitation, and were copied by his friends into maps used for Indian Treaties and Military Excursions. Following the hard work of ferrying, he signed on to become an apprentice blacksmith in St. Louis. It was there that Col. James Ashley advertised for men to join his fur trapping enterprise. Jim volunteered in 1822 and signed on for a three-year stint. Eagerly looking forward to the mountains he was very disappointed the first year when he was stationed on bridger.JPG (55662 bytes)the Yellowstone River near the Montana-Dakota borders. .  Returning to Idaho in the spring of 1838, Bridger came from the Yellowstone country to Henry's Lake, Pierre's Hole, and Snake River, where he learned that rendezvous would be held on Wind River in Wyoming.  He came back to Idaho immediately, reaching Pierre's Hole again on August 5.  He returned to the Salmon River with his wife's people for a time, where he left his family for the winter.  He now joined the American Fur Company and made a trip to St. Louis.  There he became acquainted with Pierre Jean De Smet, a Jesuit missionary whom he escorted back to the Flathead country in 1840.  How far he went with De Smet is uncertain, but he may have brought him at least to Pierre's Hole in Idaho. [Sketch courtesy Nebraska Historical Society]

His close friend Jeremiah Smith, who likened him to the Angel Gabriel, called him “ Gabe”. Others quickly adopted the name, and as time went on it was quite naturally changed to Old Gabe. The Indians called him Big Throat, because of the goiter he had that was caused by drinking so much spring water, or Blanket Chief because of the colorful blanket his wife made for him and which he wore almost all the time.

Jim had three wives, although some have tried to add a fourth.

He was first married to Cora INSALA (daughter of Insala, CHIEF OF FLATHEAD NATION (Little Chief or Scar Face) in the spring of 1835 at the Green River Rendezvous Site.   This was soon after Kit Carson married Waa-Nibe, an Arapahoe maiden at the same Rendezvous. Jim probably met Cora earlier, and they knew each other for some time before marriage.  Cora INSALA was born in 1820 in Montana Territory.  She died in 1845 at Fort Bridger, Unita Co, WY, shortly after delivery of their third child, Josephine in the wintertime.  

            Mary Ann BRIDGER, his first child, was reportedly born on November 18, 1835 in the Rocky Mountains.  Her actual birth was probably one year later as she was confirmed to be 11 years old at time of her death in Oregon.  She died after November 29, 1847 in Oregon Territory.  "Cayuse Indians at Walla Walla on November 29, 1847 killed Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife who managed a school, plus eleven men. The Indians took fifty men, women and children captive. Many were never rescued or returned. Among these was Bridger's daughter, Mary Ann and Helen Meek, daughter of former trapper friend Joseph Meek. The raiders were later surrendered by the tribe, convicted and hanged by U. S. Marshal Joseph Meek. The news reached Bridger in April 1848 when Marshal Meek passed by Fort Bridger on his way to Washington D.C. carrying official papers relating to the Territory of Oregon." [Extracted from:  Robert Covington; Assembly Room speech at the A. K. Smiley Public Library; Feb 4, 1999.]



            According to the Whitman Massacre Records, Compiled by Stephanie Flora: :

            “Mary Ann Bridger, 11; recovering from measles, was in kitchen at time of massacre, died a few months after being rescued and returned to Oregon City; was the half-Indian daughter of mountain man, Jim Bridger; Mary had been left at the mission to attend school.” 


According to Ezra Meeker, one of the earliest Oregon Trail historians, The Story of the Lost Trail to Oregon, as presented by" Patricia Kohnen.

“By October 6, 1841 twenty-four settlers had passed through Waiilatpu on their way to the Willamette. Mary Ann BRIDGER, the six-year-old daughter of Jim Bridger, came to live with the Whitmans sometime in 1841, perhaps arriving with a group of overlanders. When she was nine, she attended the Whitman Mission School at Waiilatpu in Oregon.”


Their second child was Felix BRIDGER born in 1841.

            Their third child was Mary Josephine BRIDGER2 born in 1845 at Fort Bridger, Unita Co, WY.


His second marriage was to an UTE INDIAN about September 1848.  He felt a need to have someone to care for his children after his first wife died, and after he met the un-named Ute woman, they were married.  She was born about 1830 and died on July 4, 1849 at Fort Bridger, Unita Co, WY.  She died giving birth to her daughter, Virginia Rosalie Bridger (Jim’s fourth child) on July 4, 1849.



His third marriage was to Mary WASHAKIE (daughter of Little Fawn WASHAKIE, better known as "Scar Face") in 1850 at Fort Bridger, Unita Co, WY.  After this marriage, Jim and his family moved to Missouri near Little Santa Fe, where he bought a small farm consisting of 375 acres under cultivation and several hundred more forested acres. With the help of a neighbor he built a log cabin for his family now comprising a new wife and three children. Moving with him was: Felix, age 8, Mary 6, and Virginia Rosalie, 1.   Mary WASHAKIE was born about 1833 in California.  The 1880 census states she was born in California.  She died in October 1857.  Died in childbirth of her second child, William. References to his birth vary from Oct 1857 to January 1858. The Westport history files states: "Mary Bridger had died in October, 1859, and the children were sent to live with a family in New Santa Fe."

  Mary was housekeeper for Jim Bridger and his children for approximately two years before they married. They had two children: Mary Ann BRIDGER "Elizabeth" (Jim’s fifth child) born in 1855, and William BRIDGER (Jim’s sixth child) born on October 10, 1857 in Green River, Sweetwater Co, WY.  Date comes from 1880 census and IGI records. In 1880 he was living with his father.  Jim was a guide for General Johnston at the time of William's birth, and was unaware that his wife had died in childbirth until July 1858. After his final discharge from Army service in 1868, he moved in with his daughter Virginia and his son-in-law. Virginia became the primary care giver of Jim Bridger until his death.


1.  Stanley Vestal.  Jim Bridger Mountain Man.  William Morrow & Company, New York - 1946.  Page 300.

2.  Buck Harvey.  February 1972 issue of Frontier West “Indian Scout – Jim Bridger”


Details of Jim Bridger’s life is presented in three documents:

1 – Timeline reference chart (1822-1826) In Work

2 – From Years 1823 to 1840. Includes summary of expeditions and origins of local Fur Trading Companies. Maps of several routes.

3 – From Years 1834 to 1873. Recaps chronology not included in the above document for years 1834 to 1840.


Jim Bridger

Utah History Encyclopedia - Matthew Despa

Impact of Our Past – Weisberger, 1972

Jim Bridger – Mountain Man, Stanley Vestal, 1946

Bridger, drunk, 1837 Rendezvous, pencil sketch by Alfred Jacob Miller

Wyoming Tails - Rendezvous











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