Jim Beckwourth was an African American who played a major role in the early exploration and settlement of the American West. Although there were people of many races and nationalities on the frontier, Beckwourth was the only African American who recorded his life story, and his adventures took him from the everglades of Florida to the Pacific Ocean and from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
Beckwourth’s role in American history was often dismissed by historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many were quite blatant in their prejudices, refusing to give any credence to a “mongrel of mixed blood.” And many of his acquaintances considered the book something of a joke.
But Beckwourth was a man of his times, and for the early fur trappers of the Rockies, the ability to “spin a good yarn” was a skill valued almost as highly as marksmanship or woodsmanship. And while Beckwourth certainly had a tendency to exaggerate numbers or to occasionally make himself the hero of events that happened to other people, later historians have discovered that much of what Beckwourth related in his autobiography actually occurred.
James Beckwourth discovered what is now known as Beckwourth Pass in the spring of 1850, and immediately set about establishing a trail to Marysville. He worked on the trail in the summer and fall of 1850 and the spring of 1851, and in the late summer of that year led the first wagon train of settlers along the trail into Marysville.
The Beckwourth Trail was used heavily until about 1855, when the railroad supplanted the wagon train as the preferred method of travelling to California.
The trail left the California Trail from the Truckee River about where Reno, Nevada is now situated. The trail went north and west from there (roughtly along the route now followed by Highway 395), then turned west through the Beckwourth Pass.
In the valley west of the pass, Beckwourth established his ranch and trading post. The trail then went north and west along Grizzly Creek. From there it went west to American Valley (now Quincy), turned southwest past Buck’s Lake and Mountain House, and on to Bidwell’s Bar at the confluence of the three forks of the Feather River. Bidwell’s Bar now lies under Lake Oroville. The trail then proceeded southward to Marysville.
The Beckwourth Trail did not follow the Feather River canyon, which is far more rugged terrain. The Oroville-Quincy Highway (which is gravel road for a stretch) follows the routh of the Beckwourth Trail fairly closely.
James Pierson Beckwourth, http://www.beckwourth.org
Other links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Beckwourth