William L. Sublette: Mountain Man, Indian Fighter, Entrepreneur

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William Sublette, in 1822, makes his first fur-trading trip up the Missouri with William Ashley. With him are future mountain men Jedediah S. Smith and David E. Jackson.

Up the Missouri with Ashley

William Sublette was considered one of the most distinguished and successful of the fur traders. He was born in 1799, and came to St. Charles, Missouri in 1818. There he began his business life by putting up the first billiard table in that town. When, in 1822, William H. Ashley advertised employment for young men to accompany him on a one to three year voyage up the Missouri in the fur trade William Sublette was one of many that signed on.

Jedediah Smith and David Jackson

Also signing on with Sublette were Jedediah S. Smith and David E. Jackson, who became long and intimately associated with him in his later business career.

There is little mention of Sublette for the next three years, but it is certain that he was actively engaged in the mountain trade under Ashley. In 1826, Sublette, with Smith and Jackson, bought out Ashley and continued his business under the firm name of Smith, Jackson, and Sublette. This partnership was, however, ended in 1831 by the death of Smith.

Rendezvous at Pierre’s Hole

In the summer of 1832 Sublette went to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company rendezvous at Pierre’s Hole. There, he participated in the battle with the Blackfeet on July 18th, and received a severe wound.

In Partnership with Campbell

On the December 20, 1832, Sublette formed a partnership with Robert Campbell, who had long been with him on numerous mountain expeditions. This firm continued for ten years with their only serious opposition being the American Fur Company. Their two main trading posts were on the Platte River at the mouth of the Laramie, and on the Missouri, River near Fort Union. Their partnership was dissolved “by mutual agreement” on January 12, 1842.

Sublette Weds

In 1844, Sublette married Frances Hereford, of Tuscumbia, Alabama. It is said that the lady had formed a prior attachment to William’s younger brother, Solomon, but that William’s greater fortune swayed the lady’s affection to William.

Death in Pennsylvania

Sublette, in the spring of 1845, wrote to Senator Benton of Missouri to see if he could secure the superintendency of Indian Affairs at St. Louis. It was probably for this business that he made a trip to Washington. While in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 23, of that year, William Sublette became ill and died.

He was buried in the private burying ground on his farm on the outskirts of St. Louis. In later years his remains were removed to Bellefontaine Cemetery, where they now rest.

Sublette willed his property to his wife Frances on the condition that she would not change her name. Four years after William Sublette’s death she married her first love, Solomon P. Sublette, her husband’s brother, thus never changing her last name.

Source:

  1. Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West, Volume 1. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1986.