“Let’s drink to old Jim Bridger, yes lift your glasses high
As long as there’s a USA don’t let his memory die.
That he was making history never once occurred to him
But I doubt if we’d have been here if it weren’t for men like Jim.”
Jim Bridger was the most famous of the fur trapping men who wandered all over the west in the early 1800’s, and particularly made many discoveries in Utah. Jim Bridger was the first recorded English speaking man (and possibly the first whote man) to discover the Great Salt Lake. Like many mountain men of his time, Bridger was illiterate for the entirety of his life- but that didn;t stop him from learning to speak French and Spanish as well as the tribal languages of the Sioux, the Blackfoot, and the Crow. In addition to the discovery of the Great Salt Lake, Jim Bridger was also responsible for blazing the trail from Wyoming to the gold fields in Montana so as to bypass the extremely dangerous Bozeman Trail, and he also found a route through Wyoming across the Continental Divide that shortened the Oregon trail by 61 miles, became the route for the Union Pacific Railroad, and even today is used as the route for I-80.
Another Utah mountain man of the 1800’s was Etienne Provost, for whom Provo is named. Provost may well have beaten Jim Bridger to the discovery of the Great Salt Lake, though there is something of a debate on that point. At any rate, Provost was responsible for establishing trading posts both on the shores of Utah Lake as well as on the Great Salt Lake.
Peter Skene Ogden lived in Utah as a fur trapper in the 1820’s. For a time, Ogden was known as a dangerous and violent man, even charged with murder due to his cruel killing of a certain Indian who worked for a roval fur company; but then, viokence was a fairly common trait among mountain men of his time so his actions were excused in a legal sense. By 1847, however, Ogden became such a man as was able to negotiate with the Idians of the Cayuse tribe in Washington state well enough to avert a war and save the lives of 49 settlers who had been taken captive by the Cayuse and Umatilla Indians after the Whitman Massacre.
There were many other such men who explored Utah in the early days, whose mighty deeds were never recorded, or if they were it was more obscurely.