by Jim Stull

JimBakerIf you have read about Erie, you’ve learned that Jim Baker is believed to have been the first white man to visit the area, living along Coal Creek, mining coal from the east bank, and hauling it to Denver for fuel for businesses.

Jim is also renowned for his service as a scout and Captain in the U. S. Cavalry, a guide for General John Fremont who was assigned to find a route through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, and a liaison between the U. S. government and inhabitants of territories not yet achieving statehood.  Prior to these distinguished achievements, Jim was a fur trapper and mountain man.

In 1823, frontiersman Hugh Glass was a member of a group of fur trappers who collected beaver pelts in the South Dakota area and sold them to coat and hat makers in the United States.  One day, Glass disturbed some bear cubs, causing the mother bear to attack him.  When he was finally able to reach his companions, they believed he would not be able to travel with them.  They assigned two of their party, John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, to stay back with him until he was able to travel.  Fitzgerald did not want to wait, so he buried Glass alive and was certain Glass would be dead shortly.  As the movie, The Revenant, portrays, Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) made his way back to Ft. Kiowa, some 200 miles away, dispelling any rumors that he was dead.  Fitzgerald was punished, but Glass did not press charges against Bridger.

In 1838, Jim Baker joined the fur trapping trade, only to be mentored by Jim Bridger.  A few years later, the rivers were pretty well mined of beavers and the trappers had to find other work.  Had Baker been a bit older, he likely would have been a member of Glass’s party.  Nevertheless, the distant connection makes the Jim Baker story a little more interesting regarding the development of Erie.