Smoke Signals

Mar/Apr 2012

Staff Writer

 Blowin' Smoke

Blowin' Smoke


History records quite a number of men who, during the fur trade years, traveled to the Rockies yet never belonged to a fur brigade, were not considered free trappers, and never worked as trappers for the HBC or the AMC. From time to time they may have done some trapping, but if so it was only for lack of something else to do, was not done in employment for anyone but themselves, and lasted but for a short while.

Men such as Miles Goodyear, James Kipp, and Mathew Kinkead fit in this category. I’m betting that of the three you have only heard of Miles Goodyear, even though he died at the fairly young age 32 and the others lived long lives. Such are the vagaries of history and circumstance.

During his life Mathew Kinkead was later perhaps best known for, at his home in Taos, taking in the young Kit Carson shortly after Carson had taken leave of an abhorred apprenticeship back east. Perhaps because of Carson’s later reputation Kinkead, who had a life of broad experiences in the southwest, became generally known only for his hospitality. But he was much more than that.

James Kipp, on the other hand, never spent time in the southwest. He originally came from near Montreal. Beginning about 1808, when he was 20, he worked as a hunter and trapper in the Red River region but evidently on his own. By the time he was thirty he was on the upper Missouri working for the Columbia Fur Company as an agent. This was in 1822 and a year later, still as an agent, he went up the Missouri to the Mandan villages. Kipp was known as an educated man. Supposedly he was the only white man to learn the Mandan language and it was here near the Mandans that he earned the reputation as a builder of fur-trading posts—fort structures designed as much for protection as for trade. In 1826 a man named Tilton arrived and took charge of the post and Kipp went up to the mouth of the White Earth River and built another post.

While Kipp was maturing and then building posts, Mathew Kinkead was doing some growing of his own. Hauled along by his father, David, and in company with his step-mother and seven siblings, from Kentucky to the Femme Osage River in Missouri in 1803, and shortly after to the forks of the Charette to a land-grant from the governor. In 1809 the grant was rescinded for some unexplained reason, and David took the family to Boone’s Lick. When the War of 1812 broke out the Kinkead family got to live in close quarters in forts with many others, some who became quite famous in the history of the west: people like Josia Gregg, William Wolfskill, Kit Carson, James Cockerell, Stephen Cooper (who opened the trade with Santa Fe in 1821), and many others who later became Santa Fe traders. David Kinkead built a fort on the Missouri River and 29 men and boys survived the three years of war there, having many skirmishes with the Indians.
After the war, Mathew may have traveled to trade in Santa Fe in 1824, for sure in 1825. It must have been a successful venture because by 1826 he had moved to Taos, built a home, and gone into business with William Workman building a distillery; Mathew was 31 years old, successful and fairly widely known.

By 1828 the Columbia Fur Company had merged with the American Fur Company and Kipp was hired by the company to build Fort Floyd, later Fort Union. He stayed there until early 1831. During that time he built Fort Clark by the Mandan villages. The following winter he built Fort Piegan among the Blackfeet above the mouth of the Marias River.

But despite his post/fort building, Kipp’s major assignments, however, seemed to have been to take furs and skins gleaned from the Indian trade down the river to St. Louis each year from whence he turned around and went back to Indian country. Usually, when he arrived there, he was put in charge of one or more of the Company’s posts,

By December of 1830, Kinkead was a naturalized citizen of Mexico and still operating the whiskey mill. However, in late 1835, he received a land grant of two hundred varas of land in the Santa Gertrudes valley (present Mora, New Mexico). Here he settled for a time. During this period he began keeping house with a strikingly beautiful woman, Maria Teresa (Teresita) Suaso, With this strong willed and jealous mate he had two children. By 1841 had left Mora and moved to the present site of Pueblo, Colorado. In the spring of that year, Dick Wooten drove a flock of Kinkead’s sheep to what is now Kansas City (Westport at the time) and sold them. Things get a bit cloudy here, but perhaps the two used the profits to go into the buffalo business. Wooten caught up nearly 50 buffalo calves and turned them in with a corral full of cows. When the calves were three years old, Wooten drove them back to Westport and sold them. For a while there was a terrific market for what back east were interesting novelties.

For more than 40 years Kipp plied the Missouri River, known widely as a wise and good man. In 1832 George Catlin made his acquaintance at Fort Clark. Kipp made such a good impression that Catlin had him assist him in traveling to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara villages. Kipp even helped him with his sketches by pointing out unique things about the tribes and their customs.
In the winter of 1833 - 1834, Prince Maximilian and Charles Bodmer shared a room at the house where Kipp lived with his Indian wife and half-breed children. They accompanied Kipp on his trading routes to the Indian villages in the vicinity of Fort Clark. His advice and expertise, knowledge of the region and acceptance by the natives did a lot to get the two Germans accepted.

By 1841, Kipp was stationed at Fort Union where he was met by Father deSmet. The priest noted that Kipp was the principal administrator there and was favorably impressed by him. John Audubon and Ed Harris met him and described him as one of the partners of the Upper Missouri Outfit. This was in 1843. Kipp provided Audubon with lots of specimens and information about the area. He left them to travel up the Yellowstone to take charge of Fort Alexander but by 1846 he was back in charge of Fort Union. He met there Charles Larpenteur who was then out of work.

In late 1843, Mathew Kinkead left Pueblo to found a cattle ranch at the Hardscrabble canyon which is a tributary of the Arkansas River about 30 miles west of Pueblo. He soon had hired hands and built accommodations for them, forming quite a little settlement. Because Kinkead was a Mexican citizen, and his ranch was just over the line in Spanish territory, Andrew Dripps, in his capacity of U.S. agent sent out to prevent whiskey from getting in the hands of Indians, was pretty much stymied.
Sometime in 1844, Teresita left to go live with Alexander Barclay in another Hardscrable settlement about six miles down the canyon. Evidently she was impetuous and cranky as ever for, judging by his diary, she caused the poor man a lot of grief. She left behind her son, Andreas, who lived with his father until his death. During the mid to late forties Mathew was considered to be an old man, recorded as such in several journals. He was actually only 53 in 1848.

In the spring of 1849 Kinkead, in company with John Brown, Jim Waters, and others, moved to Sacramento where he became quite wealthy. He owned ships, land and haciendas. Just when he died is not noted, but in 1878 his son Andres (now Andrew) went back to New Mexico to sell his father’s Mora Grant land, some lots in Taos, and some property in Salt Lake City. While in New Mexico he visited his 91 year old mother. She died the next year. Probably still cranky.

In 1847, a one Palliser visited Kipp at his farm near Independence, Missosuri, where he was with his white wife and children. Then Palliser accompanied Kipp up river to Fort Union—an annual trip for whom the visitor left a description of “a hardy old veteran. . . .upwards of sixty years old.”In 1850 the scientist Thaddeus Culbertson met Kipp and noted he was in charge of Fort Berthold. A year later the post was visited by the artist Rudolph Friederich Kurz. Kurz described Kipp as “approaching old age. . . .unhappy, dissatisfied with himself and morose, having lost a good fortune on account of his addiction to strong drink.” Nevertheless, Kipp and his Mandan wife, being the only two there who could speak both English and Mandan, helped Kurz develop a Mandan dictionary, in order, Kipp said, “to be answerable under his own name, to scholars.”
Kipp stayed in the fur trade for another ten years. When Boller visited Fort Union in 1858 on his first trip up river, he found that Kipp was the “Bourgeois in Charge” who gave him “true mountain hospitality.”

Kipp left the fur trade about 1865 and moved to his farm in Missouri. In July, 1880 he died and was buried at Parkville.

So there you have two men, widely separated geographically, working during the same general time period, who in large part plied the same businesses, never met, were known by many of the mountain men of the time, Lived and worked in the mountains, but never became what we think of as mountain men. Kind of fun to think about, isn’t it?


Bill Cunningham

NAF #006

Page 09  

This website may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the written permission of the North American Frontiersmen. All Rights Reserved, Copyrighted 2005-2012.