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Author Topic: Auguste Pike Vasquez Mountain Man  (Read 4526 times)
Mad Russian
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« on: 20 February 2009, 16:50:29 »
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Auguste Pike Vasquez was a small man, sparely built and short in stature, but he bore a towering name in the records of the fur trade. Son, grandson and nephew of fur traders, it was not surprising that he became a Mountain Man, or that he was confused by western historians with various other members of his family. And it was entirely appropriate that he ended his days in sight of the peak which had been named for Pike the explorer, just as he himself had been.

Pike was the grandson of Benito Vasquez, who had come to St. Louis from Spain in 1770, and son of Antoine Francois Vasquez dit Baronet, who had first seen the Rocky Mountains as Zebulon M. Pike's interpreter in 1806. Pike had four Vasquez uncles, each of whom was a fur trader, his career was probably chosen for him before he was born.

He was born in 1813, apparently not in St. Louis where he was raised, for the numerous births, marriages and deaths recorded for his family in the St. Louis Cathedral records do not show his name. His mother, Emilie Faustin Vasquez, was a devout Catholic and a conscientious parent; young Pike and his two sisters were brought up carefully and taught early to read and write. Pike's postscript on a letter of his father shows that at twelve he was writing far more accurate French than his father did. His father was zealous in teaching the boy the Indian trade. When Pike was only nine years old he wrote out receipts to Indians for furs they brought to the house in his father's absence. Another of Pike's youthful employments was delivering the Missouri Republican to the homes of its St. Louis subscribers when it was first published in 1822.

In 1826 when Pike was thirteen his family moved to the present site of Kansas City where his father served as agent for the Kansas Indians. His father's death in August 1828 caused the family to return to St. Louis in the spring of 1829.

By 1834, Pike had some sort of job in St. Louis. His uncle Louis Vasquez, writing from "Fort Convenience" in the Rocky Mountains on December 30, 1834, sent a message to Pike to "work with courage." Courage was needed, for hard times had struck the Vasquez family. Pike's uncle Benito had gone bankrupt, and his uncle Joseph ("pepe") had also incurred losses. Louis wrote Benito to "assure poor old Emilie and her poor orphans of the sincere attachment I have for them, and say that the time will come that they will carry the name they have with honor."
 
When he was twenty-two, Pike became a fur trader. In the summer of 1835, he left for the Rocky Mountains with Louis Vasquez and his new partner Andrew Sublette. On the South Platte River thirty miles north of present Denver , they built Fort Vasquez for trade with the Indians of the region. On October 9, 1836, Louis wrote Benito from "Platte River" assuring him that Pike was well.
 
For the next few years, Pike spent most of his time at Fort Vasquez  but not all. He returned to St. Louis at least once, for on July 27, 1839, he made out a power of attorney to W. L. Sublette, being "about to leave for the Upper Missouri," as did his uncle Louis on the same date.
 
After the sale of Fort Vasquez in 1840 or 1841, Pike joined the Upper Missouri Outfit of the American Fur Company, now owned by P. Chouteau Jr. & Co. of St. Louis. He worked for this company from 1842 until 1845 at a salary of $400 per annum. Other members of his family were also in the mountains at this time. His uncle Louis kept Fort Bridger on Black's Fork of the Green River in partnership with James Bridger. His cousin Auguste, son of Hypolite and Marie Lajeunesse Vasquez, was a voyageur with J. C. Fremont's second expedition to the mountains, and was sent home with others from Fort Hall in September 1843, as "not fitted for the laborious service and frequent privation" of the expedition. Auguste and his father Hypolite were together at Fort Clark on the Upper Missouri on July 3, 1844.
 
During the late 'forties and 'fifties, Pike seems to have spent most of his time in the mountains. In the spring of 1850, he and C. Dauphin came down to St. Louis in the steamboat "Haydee" from Medicine Creek, a trading post of the Union Fur Company forty miles below Fort Pierre. In 1852 he was thought to be at Fort John at Scott's Bluff, where a Mr. Sutton from St. Louis went looking for him. He was down again in the spring of 1854, staying at "Dychtburgh " near Westport, Missouri ( now Kansas City ) .From there he wrote his cousin Thomas Vasquez that uncle Louis was "furious that you would not consent to go to the mountains." At this time Louis Vasquez had settled on a farm six miles south of Westport, having been driven from Fort Bridger by the Mormons in 1853. But, as Pike wrote Thomas, their uncle Louis meant to go to the mountains again. Exclaimed Pike, "I am also going thank God I will leave this accursed place!" with the Mountain Man's typical loathing of civilized settlements.

Pike's mountain destination was not the same as that of his uncle Louis. His obituary states that in the summer of 1854 he met Sir George Gore at St. Louis and was hired by that extravagant Irish nobleman to join his hunting expedition. It was the most elaborate pleasure party the West had ever seen, consisting of forty servants, six wagons, twenty- one carts, and one hundred twelve horses. After ascending the Missouri and Platte rivers, the expedition spent the winter at Fort Laramie, where Sir George and James Bridger met, to their mutual delight and entertainment. In the spring the party moved on to northern Wyoming and spent the summer hunting. They wintered on the Tongue River where they slaughtered thousands of buffalo and other animals. At Fort Union in the spring of 1856, Sir George arranged with the bourgeois, Alexander Culbertson, to ship his trophies down the Missouri, but when Culbertson told him how much it would cost to ship the carts and wagons, his lordship had a tantrum and burned everyone, throwing the hot iron pieces in the river. Sir George and his now-decimated party spent another winter at Fort Berthold, but by this time Pike Vasquez had left, his principal service to the nobleman being the purchase of horses from Indians when Sir George had lost his own.
 
On leaving Sir George Gore at Fort Union in July 1856, Pike went down the river to the Arikara village above Fort Pierre. The Indians there were suffering, many of them mortally, from varioloid, a mild form of smallpox contracted when (against orders) they had boarded a boat on which one of the passengers was afflicted with the disease. Furious at the white man for bringing sickness, the Indians talked of massacring Vasquez and his party , and were dissuaded only by great tact and management. On the first of October, Major Culbertson passed the Arikara village in his keelboat and brought Pike on to Fort Pierre and then to St. Joseph.
 
In the spring of 1858, gold was discovered in the sands of Cherry Creek, near present Denver, and Pike Vasquez became an early merchant of the settlement. In the summer of 1859, Pike formed a partnership with his uncle Louis, Pike to manage the business and Louis to put up two-thirds of the capital. Six wagon-loads of hardware, groceries and dry goods were brought out from Kansas City in the fall of 1859, along with James P. Beckwourth who had been hired at Westport by Louis Vasquez to work in the Denver store. The store was located on Ferry Street in Auraria, and the firm was known as A. P. Vasquez & Coo In March 1860, Pike left Denver by stagecoach for Westport to buy more goods, leaving Eeckwourth in charge of the store. When he returned, he established a hotel known as "Vasquez House," located between Larimer and Walnut streets on Eleventh, next to Samuel Hawken's gunshop, in a building still in use as late as 1935.
 
There were far fewer emigrants to Denver than expected in the summer of 1860, and many Denver businesses failed, among them A. P. Vasquez & Co. In September 1860, James Eeckwourth and his wife were managing the A. P. Vasquez & Co. farm in the Platte bottom a few miles above Denver, where William Eyers, editor of the Rocky
Mountain News was treated to some watermelo Soon the failure of the Vasquez interests around Denver was complete, and on October 31, 1860, Louis Vasquez in Jackson County, Missouri, appointed James P. Beckwourth as his attorney to dissolve his partnership with A. P. Vasquez in Denver.
 
Pike, who had lost all his money , went back to Westport for a year or so, then returned to Colorado and lived at Charles Autobees' settlement on the Huerfano, broke and jobless. Later, through the agency of Hiram Vasquez, Louis' stepson, Pike got a job on Henry Daigre's ranch (now La Veta, Colorado), working with Hiram. There he died on January 19, 1869, aged 53, four months after his uncle Louis' death at Westport. Pike was buried on a point of land above Cucharas Creek about a quarter of a mile southwest of the La Veta railroad station.


PRIMARY SOURCES:

"Fur Traders, Trappers, and Mountain Men of the Upper Missouri" by LeRoy R. Hafen and Scott Eckberg

"Mountain Men and Fur Traders of the Far West: Eighteen Biographical Sketches" by LeRoy R. Hafen and Harvey L. Carter

"Mountain Men" by Rick Steber
 
"Mountain Men of the American West" by James A. Crutchfield
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