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This month in history: Black Hills explorer Jedediah Smith dies

ELLSWORTH AFB, S.D. -- He was the quintessential mountain man one would find in any tale of explorers carving out the wild and untamed western portion of the United States. He was a trapper, hunter, businessman and diplomat. A grizzly bear literally tore off his scalp and he asked a fellow explorer, while in the middle of the wilderness, to stitch it back to his skull with a bone needle. 

Jedediah Smith, according to, is "one of the nation's most important trapper-explorers" but his contributions to American history were not realized until historians uncovered written documents and accounts of his journeys involving western exploration. 

Some of the many blank spots for the unexplored territories mapped out by Mr. Smith were right here in the Black Hills. In fact, Smith's near brush with death by a bear happened not far from here. The Black Hills Visitor Magazine, found at, said, "It was along the Cheyenne River [near Buffalo Gap and Beaver Creek in current-day southwestern South Dakota] where Smith was savagely attacked by a Grizzly bear, and where fellow explorer Jim Clyman stitched Smith's scalp back to his head." 

Mr. Clyman later said of the incident, "I put my needle sticking it through and through and over and over laying the lacerated parts together as nice as I could with my hands."
After recovering and resting for only ten days after the attack, Jedediah Smith was once again leading his exploratory expedition through the Black Hills.

According to, a Web site dedicated to the history of American western explorers, "Ole Jed", as he was sometimes called, was a gifted outdoorsman he "did not fit the stereotype of the typical mountain man." He reportedly never drank, didn't use tobacco, never boasted or told tall tales and did not have a marked sense of humor. 

In 1830, Smith decided he'd had enough of mountain life. He bought a farm and townhouse in St. Louis, Mo., but made one more trip to the wild and untamed American Southwest. Historians believe that in the Spring of May 1831, while searching for water on what is now known as the Santa Fe Trail, Jedediah Smith was killed by a Comanche war party. 

Markers dedicated to Jedediah Smith's legacy are still found in the U.S. Jedidiah Smith Redwoods park is located in the northern portion of California. 

A historical marker dedicated to the explorer can be found along Interstate 94 in Treasure County, Mont. Another historic marker noting Jedediah Smith's accomplishments is located near the Missouri River close to Mobridge, S.D. 

More information about this pioneer and his impacts on South Dakota can be explored at and