Zenas Leonard

Zenas Leonard was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, on 19th March, 1809. When he was 21 years old he moved to Pittsburgh where he worked for his uncle before settling in St. Louis. For a while Leonard worked as a clerk for the fur company, Gannt and Blackwell.

In 1831 Leonard became a mountain men and took part in the Battle of Pierre's Hole in July 1832. The following year he worked in the Rocky Mountains and in 1833 was recruited by Joseph Walker. Leonard was with Walker when he crossed the states of Utah and Nevada and surmounted the Sierra Nevada mountains.

In 1834 Leonard trapped beavers in Crow country in the Yellowstone. The following year he established a store and trading post at Fort Osage.

Leonard's book, Adventures of Zenas Leonard Fur Trader, was written in about 1838.

Zenas Leonard died on 14th July, 1857.

Primary Sources

(1) Zenas Leonard, Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard: Fur Trader (c. 1838)

We continued to travel in a western direction - found game plenty - met with no difficulty in getting along; and on the 27th of August we arrived at the junction of the Laramies river with the river Platte - about 12 or 1300 miles from the United States, and two or three hundred from the top of the Rocky Mountains. Here we stopped for the purpose of reconnoitering. Several scouting parties were sent out in search of beaver signs, who returned in a few days and reported that they had found beaver signs and Captain Gant then gave orders to make preparations for trapping. Accordingly the company was divided into parties of from 15 to 20 men in each party, with their respective captains placed over them - and directed by Captain Gant in what direction to go. Captain Washburn ascended the Timber Fork; Captain Stephens the Laramies; Captain Gant the Sweet Water - all of which empty into the river Platte near the same place. Each of these companies were directed to ascend these rivers until they found beaver sufficiently plenty for trapping, or till the snow and cold weather compelled them to stop; at which event they were to return to the mouth of the Laramies river, to pass the winter together. While at this place, engaged in secreting our merchandize, which we did by digging a hole in the ground, sufficiently large to contain them, and covering them over so that the Indians might not discover them. Four men (three whites and one Indian) came to our tent. This astonished us not a little, for a white man was the last of living beings that we expected to visit us in this vast wilderness - where nothing was heard from dark to day light but the fierce and terrifying growls of wild beasts, and the more shrill cries of the merciless savages. The principal of these men was a Mr. Fitzpatrick, who had been engaged in trapping along the Columbia river, on the west side of the Rocky mountains, & was then on his way to St. Louis. He was an old hand at the business and we expected to obtain some useful information from him, but we were disappointed. The selfishness of man is often disgraceful to human nature; and I never saw more striking evidence of this fact, than was presented in the conduct of this man Fitzpatrick. Notwithstanding we had treated him with great friendship and hospitality, merely because we were to engage in the same business with him, which he knew we never could exhaust or even impair - he refused to give us any information whatever, and appeared disposed to treat us as intruders. On the 3d of September, Captain Blackwell, with two others, joined Fitzpatrick, and started back to the state of Missouri, for an additional supply of merchandise, and were to return in the summer of 1832.

(2) Zenas Leonard, Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard: Fur Trader (c. 1838)

Our horses were nearly all dead, as being fully satisfied that the few that were yet living must die soon, we concluded to have a feast in our best style; for which purpose we made preparation by sending out four of our best hunters, to get a choice piece of meat for the occasion. These men killed ten buffalo, from which they selected one of the fattest humps they could find and brought in, and after roasting it handsomely before the fire, we all seated ourselves upon the ground, encircling, what we there called a splendid repast to dine upon. Feasting sumptuously, cracking a few jokes, taking a few rounds with our rifles, and wishing heartily for some liquor, having none at that place we spent the day.

Here we were in this valley, surrounded on either side by insurmountable barriers of snow, with all our merchandize and nothing to pack it upon, but two mules - all the rest of our horses being dead. For ourselves we had plenty to eat, and were growing fat and uneasy; - but how we were to extricate ourselves from this perilous situation, was a question of deep and absorbing interest to each individual.

(3) Zenas Leonard, Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard: Fur Trader (c. 1838)

The channel of the river where it passes through these mountains is quite narrow in places and the banks very steep. In such places the beaver build their dams from bank to bank; and when they become old the beaver leave them, and they break and overflow the ground, which then produces a kind of flag grass. In the fall of the year, the Buffalo collect in such places to eat this grass, and when the snow falls too deep they retreat to the plains; and it was in these trails that we ascended the mountain.