A History of Black Americans in California:
Beckwourth Cabin/Trading Post
This building was fashioned of logs with chinking construction. Reportedly, the structure has not had any major alterations. Flooring has been replaced over the years, and the exterior patched, but no structural changes have been undertaken.
James Beckwourth, a shrewd, enterprising Afro-American explorer, fur trader, and speculator, made major contributions to western history not yet fully recorded in historical annals. While this Black man's contributions toward expanding the western frontier have been largely omitted from historical accounts, White contemporaries Kit Carson and Jim Bridger have become legendary figures.
Born in 1798, Beckwourth apprenticed with a St. Louis, Missouri blacksmith at the age of 14, but the apprenticeship ended abruptly after five years, following an altercation between the young student and his teacher. By the 1820s, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company had employed Beckwourth to make forays into Indian Territory. For the next 25 years, he worked as a trapper, scout, and trader in the Rockies, the Southwest, and California. When Beckwourth moved his operation into California in 1850, he came as no stranger to the region.
At the start of his nearly 10-year sojourn on the Pacific Coast, Beckwourth blazed a trail through a Sierra Nevada pass, northwest of what is now Reno, Nevada. The pass was then the lowest and least precarious route through the mountain range. Overland travelers could come through Beckwourth's pass directly into Marysville, the gateway to the northern gold fields, to be outfitted for the mines. This pass crossed the Sierra Nevada at the middle fork of the Feather River and headed down the east ridge past Bidwell's Bar, directly into Marysville.
Aware of the potential value to Marysville and Bidwell Bar if the pass could be developed as an immigrant route, Beckwourth solicited subscriptions in these towns for construction of a wagon road. Beckwourth and Company completed the road in 1851 at Beckwourth's expense, and brought the first immigrant party in that summer. Beckwourth's comments in the Marysville Herald on August 13, 1853 implied that the Marysville town government and its citizens defaulted on their pledges to Beckwourth and Company although repeated attempts were made to collect the money. After completing the road, Beckwourth continued to lead wagon trains over the pass into Sierra Valley and down to Marysville for several few years.
Beckwourth settled in the valley beneath the pass by 1852, and became an innkeeper and trading post manager. Wagon trains crossing Beckwourth's pass enroute to Marysville obtained provisions and lodging at his establishment, the first ranch encountered on the California side. His first log cabin burned, but was rebuilt in 1852. During Beckwourth's occupancy, the building was variously used as a trading post, inn, and ranch house. Today, the cabin reported to have been on Beckwourth's ranch stands just 1.25 miles from the hamlet that bears the name.
The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, memoirs dictated by Beckwourth to T. D. Bonner, a resident in the cabin, were published in 1856 by Harper & Row. The publication was another of this mountain man's notable achievements. The autobiography generated considerable controversy then and for years thereafter. Many asserted that the accounts were unbelievable, but later critics considered the work to be generally accurate.
By 1858, Beckwourth had left California and settled in Colorado where he engaged in various business enterprises. For a brief period during the Civil War, he acted as a United States government agent in Indian negotiations. James P. Beckwourth died in Colorado in 1864 at the age of 66.
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