Met someone I’d never heard of before this morning: Jedediah Strong Smith. We were introduced in the most unlikely of places on the Crescent Heights median immediately south of Wilshire Boulevard when from across the street I spied a plaque embedded in a large boulder (above; click to triplify) there at the gateway to Carthay Circle and decided to investigate because I’m on a bike and can do shit like that a helluva lot easier than people in vehicles who would have to get off their cell phones and find a parking place — and that’s assuming they were taking in their surroundings at a slow enough speed to see the memorial rather than gunning forward focused only on whatever was six-feet beyond their front bumper. Oh how much they miss, poor things.
I found out from the 84-year-old plaque (clickable detail snap of it at right) that Jedediah was known as “Pathfinder of the Sierras,” for being the first American to enter California via an overland route from the east, and that the big boulder into which this commemorative plate had been set had been brought from El Cajon Pass through which he had ventured in 1826.
Later on I did some venturing of my own around the internest with Google as my guide and found out other stuff about this historic figure and his extensive explorations that were significant in opening the American West (after the jump, along with a photo of the entire plaque):
- He was only 32 years old when he was reportedly killed by Comanches while leading a fur trading party on the Santa Fe Trail in 1831. His body was never found.
- Accounts detail his survival in 1822 or 1823 of a grizzly attack near the Cheyenne River in Wyoming and he was said to be recognized afterward by the significant scarring that resulted from the bear essentially scalping him.
- In his brief lifetime, Smith traveled more extensively in unknown territory than any other single mountain man.
- After crossing the Mojave Desert and cresting El Cajon Pass he and his expedition party proceeded to San Dimas and later the San Gabriel Mission where he wrote the Spanish governor at San Diego for permission to go north to San Francisco. On the assumption that they were military in nature, the governor refused them permission to go anywhere except back the way they had come. They did as was demanded… at least until they got back across the San Bernardino mountains where they then ventured north through the Antelope and San Joaquin valleys and ultimately to San Francisco, the sneaky sumbitches.
- The statue of him that stands in San Dimas (placed in 1992) represents that San Gabriel Valley city’s first piece of public art.
- On the Hollywood tip, he’s not to be confused with that other famed mountain man named Jeremiah, but for better or worse he was portrayed by Owen Wilson in Night at the Museum.
It’s good to know you, Jed.