PERRYSVILLE -- Jedediah Smith, who grew up in Perrysville, opened the west and changed the course of American history.
In 1823, 24-year-old Jedediah Smith was leading a trapping party into Wyoming and overwintered with a tribe of friendly Crows. These natives told Jedediah of a gap between the mighty Rocky Mountains that would allow him to cross over easily.
In February, he set off, leaving the safety of the Crow village, in search of this fabled pass. The party struggled through deep snow and went without food for several days, unable to hunt in the harsh winter weather.
For two weeks their only water came from melting snow. Their southwest journey finally took them to a broad, level pass that gradually rose like a shallow ramp. The route was easily traversable by wagon, and would allow for the mass migration of Americans over the Great Divide of mountains separating the west coast from the heartland.
Smiith mapped the terrain and noted the pass, ensuring it could be found again, and sent word to the East. Smith's route became known as the South Pass, the single most important factor in the transcontinental movement of the United States to the Pacific Coast.
The gap served as the passage through the Rockies for the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. With the help of Smith, America's dream of Manifest Destiny was within grasp.
Though Smith was credited with the discovery of the pass, it was later learned that he was not the first white man to traverse it.
In 1812, employees of John Jacob Astor's "Pacific Fur Company" discovered the pass but failed to accurately map the terrain and note the route. The route was, of course, also known to the Crow and likely other tribes.
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