Jedediah Smith


Nicholas R. Cataldo

The first American to describe the San Bernardino Valley was a member of a fur trapping expedition which came this way in 1826. The diarist's name was Harrison G. Rogers.

Anxious to explore the country between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Rogers was one of 18 mountain men led by 27 year old Jedediah Strong Smith. The party left northern Utah on August 22, 1826 and traveled southerly to the Mohave villages near the Colorado River.

Jedediah Smith and men in the Mojave Desert
Jedediah Smith and men in the Mojave Desert in 1826
(as imaginatively painted, ca. 1905 by Frederic Remington)

They followed the Mohave Indian Trail from Soda Lake to the San Bernardino Mountains before tromping down into the wide San Bernardino Valley. After a brief stopover, the ragged, dirty, and half-starved band of trappers headed for Mission San Gabriel, where they arrived on November 7, 1826. Jedediah Smith and his men had become the first Americans to reach California by the overland route.

Illustration of Jedediah Smith Visiting San Gabriel Mission
Jedediah Smith visits San Gabriel Mission, 1826
(painting by Oscar Carl Borg, courtesy of the Automobile Club of Southern California)

The Smith party was detained for over two months while Governor Jose Maria Echeandia investigated the reasons why these uninvited guests arrived. California was still under Mexican rule, and any report of "foreigners" entering from the east was disturbing to say the least.

The trappers resumed their journey on January 17, 1827 and headed back to the San Bernardino Valley. This time their layover was for more than a week. They camped at "Jumuba", an Indian village located a few miles west of San Gabriel Mission's Rancho San Bernardino, which was in the vicinity of today's Mission Road in Loma Linda.

While gathering supplies and breaking wild horses, it was at this camp that Rogers wrote his impression of the climate, recorded the trouble that the men experienced because of horses running away and mentioned about the Indians in the San Bernardino Valley.

As they were approaching the San Bernardino Valley, Rogers noted in his diary:

"Sunday 21st--"All hands were up early and getting their horses packed, we were under way in pretty good season, in the morning, and had an Ind (Indian) boy as a pilot, we started and traveled, a N.E. and By East course, 25 or 30 m and reached an Ind (Indian) farm house, about 4 m. distant from San Bernardo (Bernardino), where we have an order from old Father Joseph Sanchus (Sanchez), at the mission of San Gabriel, for all the supplyes we stand in need of the country quit (quite) mountainous and stony.

"Monday 22nd--Mr. S (Smith) and the Interpreter started early this morning up to San Bernardino for to see the Steward, and get supplies we intend killing some beef here and drying meat. I expect we shall remain here two or three days --all hands get milk this morning-- "

We have killed two Beeves and cut the meat, and drying it. Mr. S. has got corn, peas, parched meal, Sanchus has been the greatest friend that I ever met in all my travels, he is worthy of being called a Christian as he possesses charity in the highest degree--and a friend to the poor and distressed. I ever shall hold him as a man of God", taking us when in distress feeding and clothing us --and may god prosper him and all such men, when we left the mission, he gave Mr. S and order to get everything he wanted for the use of his company, as San Burnaindino --the Steward complying with the order so soon as it was presented by Mr. S."

Portrait of Jedediah Strong Smith
George Mathis Portrait of Jedediah Strong Smith, ca. 1970

Rogers' penmanship was adequate. Unfortunately, his spelling was by "ear". This was quite evident every time he attempted to spell San Bernardino.

"Tuesday 23rd--Still at the Ind. farm 3 m from San Burnandeino some of the men are employed in braking Horses, and others making pack saddles and rigging them, mr. S sent a letter back this morning to old Father Sanchius concerning the horses we lossed at Saint Ann (Santa Ana del Chino), six in number, he will wait the result of his answer.

Wednesday 24th-- We are still remaining at the Ind. farm waiting the result of the Priests answer, and drying meat, and repairing saddles for our journey. Some of the men we kept employed braking wild Horses, Daniel Ferguson one of our men, when leaving the mission on the 18th Inst. hid himself and we could not find him, the corporal who commands at the mission promised to find him, and send him on to us, but I suspect we shall not see him again, the weather continues fine.

Thursday 25th--No answer from the priest this morning, and we are obliged to remain here another day. The men will keep at work, braking young Horses, Mr. S discharged one of the men John Wilson, on the 17th Inst., and he could not get permission to stay in the country, therefor we obliged to let him come back to us, he remains with the company but not under pay as yet. I expect he will go on with us--The weather still continues beautiful--things about our camp as usual. Inds (Indians) traveling back and forward from the mission steady the Inds here call themselves the Farrahoots.

Friday 26th--Early this morning we collected our Horses-- and counted them and two was missing -- Mr. S sent a man in search of them, he returned with them about 10 o'clock, we are still at the Ind-farm house, waiting an answer from the priest--at San Gabriel. I expect we shall remain here to-day--if the courier does not arrive, In the Evening James Reed and myself concluded we could go into the cowpen and rope some cows, and milk them, after the Ind-fashion, and accordingly we made ready our rope, and haltered four cows, and tied their heads up to a steak (stake), and made fast their hind feet and milked them, but did not get much milk on account of not letting their calves to them. So soon as we were done Capt Smith and Silas Gobel followed our Example, this country in many respects is the most desirable part of the world I ever was in, the climate so regular and beautiful, the thermometer stands daily from 65 to 70 degrees--and I am told it is about the same in the summer.

Saturday 27th--Still at the Ind farm House waiting the answer from the priest 2 of our horses missing this morning--and four men sent in search of them. Mr. S and Lapoint is gone up to San burnondeino to see the old steward on the business--"

Roger's diary breaks at this point as the Smith expedition continued its exploration in California before returning to Utah.

Map of the Ancient Mojave Indian Trail
The ancient Mojave Indian Trail was used for trade between the Mojaves and the costal tribes.
Jedediah Smith used this trail on his journeys from the Colorado River to Mission San Gabriel in 1826 and 1827 in 1826 and 1827.