The Preposterous Pathfinder

Giacomo Beltrami’s discoveries were mostly illusory, but he had a glorious time making them, and the people of Minnesota have never forgotten his name.

In the serious story of the exploration of the Mississippi River, there is one unique and preposterous character. He is Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, an Italian of comic-opera proportions. Beltrami was in every way a glorious misfit. He was wayward, unpredictable, and humorous. It was impossible for him to be anything but a charming maverick, and when this dilettante set forth alone to discover the true source of the Mississippi, he did so in a gush of hyperbole.Read more »

Ordeal in Hell’s Canyon

The first men to follow Lewis and Clark across the continent to the Pacific were John Jacob Astor’s fur traders. They discovered the formidable chasm of Idaho’s Snake River—and almost never got out

On October 21, 1810, a large party of fur traders left St. Louis, bound up the Missouri River for the mouth of the Columbia. Before it reached its goal, its members experienced hunger, thirst, and madness, suffering perhaps the most extreme privations and hardships of any westering expedition in American history.

The Question Is: How Lost Was Zebulon Pike?

In a strange message to the intriguing General Wilkinson, the soldier-explorer seemed to predict his own geographical befuddlement and his capture by the Spanish.

In the deepening snows of a high mountain valley, about where Salida, Colorado, now stands, a band of sixteen men were gathered on the day before Christmas, 1806. Earlier they had been separated into straggling parties to forage and explore, but now they were united. Earlier they had been wretchedly hungry, but now they had been so fortunate as to kill several buffalo cows.

Reading, Writing, And History

William Ashley was largely responsible for the development of that most glittering of the West’s romantic figures, the mountain man—the free trapper who explored the western wilderness at imminent peril of his life.

Perhaps the most compelling words in American history are the simple words, “ the West .” From the earliest days, they have been the magnet; they have also been somewhat magical, because they evoke not merely the land where the sun goes down but also the vision of illimitable horizons—the place where there is a crack between the rim of the land and the bowl of the blue sky, through which Americans have always been able to see just a little more than they can ever quite grasp. Those words mean more than they say.

A Man to Match the Mountains

To David Thompson—who died blind, penniless, and bypassed by history—we owe our first knowledge of the American continent’s rugged Northwest

David Thompson was a short, stocky man with snub nose and hair “cut square” across his forehead in a way that made him resemble John Bunyan. That is all we know about his looks. Until recently, historians knew little about who David Thompson was or what he did, and even today, few people recognize his name. Among those familiar with his exploits, however, he is now deemed one of the most important explorers of the New World, and has been acclaimed as one of the greatest land geographers ever produced by the English-speaking people.

First "Dude Ranch" Trip to the Untamed West

Never again can there be a hunting party as gay or as risky as the one Sir William Stewart devised in 1843

In May, 1843, with the first greening of the prairie grass, a strange caravan, billed as a “Sporting Expedition to the West,” rolled spiritedly out from the Missouri frontier past tight-lipped groups of emigrant families grimly preparing what history would call the first great migration to Oregon. It was three years before Parkman, five and more before the California gold rush, and what was still to gain popular calling as the Oregon Trail had never before seen the likes of this train.