Jedediah Strong Smith

Jedediah Strong Smith

It was during the Mexican period that the first Americans began visiting this area. In 1827, Jedediah Strong Smith, referred to as “Mountain Man” Smith, entered the San Joaquin Valley. The New York native was a trapper and explorer.

On Aug. 22, 1826, accompanied by 17 men and 40 horses, Smith moved from the Great Salt Lake on a two-year trek that was to make him the first Yankee to enter California and Kern County.

Smith entered California at the Mojave villages near Needles and pushed across the Great American Desert to Mission San Gabriel. Smith and his clerk, Harrison Rogers, headed south to confer with the governor, Jose Maria de Echeandia at San Diego, which was then the governor’s choice as the capital of the province.

Recognized that this might be the start of an American invasion that could spell the end of California as a Mexican province, he had Smith and Rogers jailed as spies. Only through the intervention of several American shipmasters in San Diego harbor were they to win their release with a vague promise to leave California.

Retracing his steps as far as Cajon Pass, Smith and his party swung westward toward Oak Creek Pass and crossed Tehachapi Pass. His route brought him to a spot a few miles east of present-day Edison, where he turned north to cross the Kern River at about the same place Padre Garces had crossed it 50 years before.

Smith was ambushed by Comanche Indians on another expedition the Cimarron River along the Santa Fe Trail and slain at the age of 33. His travels though this area were to herald the arrival within a few years of hardy fur trappers along the Kern.

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