Beaver Dick - The Mountain Man
Richard Leigh, an English boy, stowed away on a ship to America. He first settled in Pennsylvania near a sister then moved west to the wilds of Wyoming and Idaho. He became a Mountain man, along with Jim Bridger and others of their ilk. Beaver Dick settled on the western side of the Teton Mountains in the north east corner of what would become Idaho.
In those days it was customary for a Mountain Man to carry an Indian Squaw with them. Beaver Dick was the exception he insisted on a Christian marriage ceremony binding he and his Shoshone wife Jenny together legally. It isn't known if it was his love for Jenny or he didn't want his children to grow up being called half-breed bastards, perhaps both.
While Jim Bridger was the best known Mountain Man east of the Tetons, Beaver Dick was the man of influence in the Fire-hole, [Yellowstone Park] and Jackson Hole Wyoming and west of the Tetons in Idaho. He was fluent in both the Shoshone and Bannock Indian languages and often served as interpreter and mediator between the whites and the tribes. His knowledge of the Teton country was unmatched by any man White or Indian, what he didn't know his wife Jenny and her people did.
Beaver Dick wasn't an educated man but he was an avid reader and could write letters with the best of them. He kept journals of his travels, making short entries each day he was on the trail. Beaver Dick was first and foremost a trapper. He frequently augmented his trapping vocation as a guide for various Government survey parties that came to the region. Beaver Dick's wife Jenny was a respected as her husband, Jenny's Lake Wyoming was named for her by the Survey Party [and approved by congress] that mapped out Yellowstone Park.
The good years for Jenny and Beaver Dick ended in tragedy, a white woman brought the smallpox to the Beaver Dick lodge killing Jenny and their six children. Beaver Dick survived but it added years to his life recuperating. It took some grieving for Beaver Dick to get over his loss. He finally made a journey to Fort Hall for supplies and some much needed company.
He became reacquainted with Pam and Tadpole a Bannock Indian family he'd befriended on a trip to Utah many years ago. On their first encounter Pam was in labor with little Susan and Beaver Dick acted as midwife for the delivery. For his services Tadpole had committed little Susan to Beaver Dick for a wife when she grew of age. Beaver Dick dismissed it at the time thinking it was just one of those Indian legendary rituals that never seemed to come true. Beaver Dick was Susan Tadpoles senior by 35 years.
Susan had grown up thinking she would one day marry Beaver Dick so it wasn't strange to her when it happened. Beaver Dick and Susan married and moved back to the Tetons and began a second family.
In a short time Susan became as respected and as much a part of the small community of the Teton Basin as Jenny had been before her. Jenny was Shoshone and Susan was Bannock. Susan was able to get along in both tribes and with the few whites in the area. There's no doubt Susan was a keeper.
Beaver Dick had become well known in the American Geological Community, his guidance and advice were sought after in establishing Americas first National Park, Yellowstone. He corresponded frequently with several members of the Society. He once had the pleasure of guiding Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip. In appreciation, Roosevelt presented Emma Leigh Beaver Dick’s oldest daughter - from his second marriage - with a rifle, a cherished possesion until years later when it was stolen.
Beaver Dick spent the better part of a lifetime in the Tetons, his contributions are monumental. Beaver Dick passed away in March 1899. His failing health made him a physical shadow of his former self. The legend of Beaver Dick can be found in the Smithsonian in Washington DC as well as University Libraries through out the mountain states. The State of Idaho has dedicated a park in his name at St. Anthony in North Eastern Idaho.
Beaver Dick may never become the all American hero he so richly deserves to be. But. for those of us who grew up in his shadow, he rates alongside any of America's frontiersman of legend.
As a child I had the privilege of knowing Beaver Dick’s daughters, Emma and Rose. I was very young but to me they were both memorable figures, their exploits were equally spectacular, especially for Indian women of their time.
Much of the contents of this article are from a book by Bill Thompson and his wife Edith Beaver Dicks Great Grand Children "Beaver Dick, The Honor and the Heartbreak. Other parts are from my personal memories that Emma Leigh Thompson related to me when I was a child. As a child listening to the tales of days gone by I often dreamed of life on the frontier before the invasion of the White Settlers. I'm sure Beaver Dick's Indian decendants still have those dreams.
Footnote: A representation of Beaver Dick's Indian family recently held a Pow-wow at Beaver Dick Park, I haven't intruded by asking questions but I'm sure it was something they all enjoyed immensely.
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