James Pierson Beckwourth (1798 -1866) was an African-American mountain man, fur trader and explorer. Beckwourth’s mother was an enslaved African-American and his father, Sir Jennings Beckwourth, was the slave owner who acknowledged the son they shared.
As a fur trapper, young Beckwourth lived with the Crow tribe for a number of years and is credited with the discovery of Beckwourth Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains between presentday Reno, Nevada and Portola, California during the California Gold Rush years. Thousands of settlers later followed this route to central California.
A book about Beckwourth’s life was published in 1856 as The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. Although originally considered little more than campfire lore, it has more recently been recognized as a valuable source of social history, especially for life among the Crow. However, not all of the biography’s details are reliable or accurate. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Beckwourth was celebrated as an early African-American pioneer.