From the Museum Archives: The last true mountain man
Born in Illinois in 1818, Jim Baker was one of the most notable mountain men of the American West. He was also a participant in perhaps the fiercest battle that ever took place between native peoples and the mountain men of the Rockies.
In 1839, at the age of 21, Baker joined Jim Bridger as a hunter and trapper with the American Fur Company — the wealthiest business in the nation at that time.
During the summer of 1841, Bridger sent Baker to check on fellow frontiersman Henry Fraeb due to the rumor of an Indian war party in the area. Fraeb was hunting buffalo on the border of present-day Wyoming and Colorado near today’s Savery, Wyoming.
On August 21, 1841, immediately after Jim Baker’s arrival, a dust cloud was spotted on the horizon. Soon an estimated 500 (by Jim’s estimate) Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho attacked. The mountain men, numbering about 25, and a few Shoshone warriors quickly fortified themselves near the confluence of Battle Creek and the Little Snake River on the Colorado-Wyoming border 38 miles northeast of Craig. The ensuing battle lasted two days during which roughly 100 native warriors and four mountain men were killed including Henry Fraeb.
Jim went on to become a scout at Fort Laramie, a ferry boat operator, one of the first coal mine owners in Colorado and one of the very first residents of Denver in 1859. In 1873 he homesteaded near the very battle site where he fought 32 years prior. Here he spent his remaining days in the Little Snake River Valley until his death in 1898. Jim Baker is remembered as one of the last true mountain men of the American West.
Jim Baker’s .40 caliber bullet mold — used to form molten lead into round ball projectiles — was donated to the Craig Women’s Club, and ultimately the Museum of Northwest Colorado in the 1940s by Jim Baker’s Little Snake River Valley neighbors Vin and Lilly Robidoux.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. To learn more, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumNorthwestColorado.