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|Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville|
|Birthday/Birthplace||(1796-04-14)April 14, 1796
near Paris, France
|Deceased||June 12, 1878(1878-06-12)
Fort Smith, Arkansas, United States
|Place of burial||Bellefontaine Cemetery,
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
||United States Army
|Years of service||1815–1861|
Brevet Brigadier General
|Commands held||3rd U.S. Infantry
Department of New Mexico
Benjamin Louis Eulalie of Bonneville (near Paris, April 14, 1796 – Fort Smith, Arkansas, June 12, 1878), born French, was an officer of the United States Army , trapper and explorer of the Western United States, known for his expeditions to the territory of Oregon and the Great Basin, and in particular for his brilliant contributions to establish the route of Oregon.
During his life, Bonneville became famous thanks to The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, the book published in 1837 by Washington Irving based on his reconnaissance campaigns in the West.
Benjamin Bonneville’s Biography
Benjamin Bonneville was born in, or near, Paris, the son of civil engineer and editor Nicolas Bonneville and his wife Marguerite. In 1803 his family moved to the United States. His passages were paid for by Thomas Paine, who had met the Bonneville in Paris. In his will, Paine left most of his estate to Marguerite, including 100 acres (40.5 ha) of his farm in order to support and educate Benjamin and his brother Thomas. In 1813 Benjamin received an appointment at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated after only two years, receiving a commission as second Lieutenant Brevet of light artillery. At the beginning of his career he served in positions in New England, Mississippi and Fort Smith, in the Arkansas Territory. In 1824, he was transferred to Fort Gibson, in the Indian territory and was promoted to captain. Meanwhile, he traveled to France, where he was a guest of the Marquis de La Fayette. After returning from France, he was transferred in 1828 to the barracks of Jefferson, in Missouri.
While in Missouri, Bonneville, attracted by the writings of Hall J. Kelley as well as the publishers of “St. Louis Enquirer »(edited by Thomas Hart Benton), joined the exploration of the Western United States. Bonneville met with Kelley, whom he impressed and who appointed him to lead one of the expeditions to the territory of Oregon that was to leave early in 1832. The lack of volunteers for the expedition forced the delay and finally the cancellation of the expedition, leaving Bonneville unsatisfied.
In order to achieve his desire to explore the West, Bonneville asked General Alexander Macomb for a leave of absence from the army, arguing in his petition that he would be able to carry out valuable reconnaissance among Native Americans in the territory of Oregon. , which at that time was jointly occupied by the USA. and Great Britain and that was largely controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the main British company in the New World that was engaged in the fur trade. Macomb agreed to his request and instructed him to collect all the information that could be useful for the Government.
Bonneville Expedition (1832-35)
The expedition, which would become the most famous achievement of his life, began in May 1832, when he left Missouri with 110 men, including Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth and Joseph Walker. The trip was funded by John Jacob Astor, owner of the American Fur Company, the rival American furrier company of the Hudson Bay Company. The expedition advanced through the Platte River and through the current state of Wyoming. They arrived at the Green River in August and built a winter fort, which they called Fort Bonneville.
In the spring of 1833 they explored along the Snake River in present-day Idaho. Bonneville sent a party of men led by Joseph Walker to explore the Great Salt Lake region and find a route overland to California. Walker discovered a route along the Humboldt River, through present-day Nevada, as well as the Walker Pass through the Sierra Nevada, a path that later came to be known as the California route, the main route for immigrants to the gold fields during the Gold Rush of California. There has been much speculation about why Bonneville sent Walker to California. In particular, some historians argue that Bonneville was trying to lay the groundwork for a final invasion of California, then part of Mexico, by the United States Army.
John McLoughlin, the director of operations at Columbia of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who was in charge of Fort Vancouver, a trading post established at the mouth of the Columbia River, heard about the Bonneville mission and banned his merchants do business with Bonneville and his men. Bonneville reported that many of the Native Americans he encountered on the Snake River were also reluctant to displease the Hudson Bay Company by trading with Americans.
In the summer of 1833 Bonneville made some incursions into the Wind River range, in the present state of Wyoming, to trade with the Shoshone Indians. At that time he realized that he would not be able to fulfill his obligation to return to the East in the month of October. He wrote a long letter to General Macomb summarizing some of his conclusions and asking for more time, specifically for the recognition of Columbia and parts of the Southwest before his return.
Trying to get to Oregon
After spending the beginning of winter at Fort Bonneville, they set out west again in January 1834, with the aim of reaching the Willamette Valley. Bonneville and his men traveled to the Snake River, through the Hells Canyon, and into the Wallowa Mountains, where they found a hospitable welcome from the Nez Perce Indians settled along the Imnaha River.
On March 4, 1834, they arrived at Fort Nez Perces, a trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company located at the confluence of the Walla Walla River and the Columbia River. Pierre C. Pambrun, the commander of the fort received it, but refused to do business with him. With empty hands, Bonneville and his men retreated to southeast Idaho and made camp in the Portneuf River.
In July he made a second trip to the west, determined to trade with the Hudson Bay Company. He followed an easier route through the Blue Mountains, where he once again met with Nathaniel Wyeth and camped along the Grande Ronde River. At that time he and his men were in a desperate situation, without food or supplies. In Fort Nez Perce, they found the same rejection of Pabrun. Instead of returning immediately to the east, Bonneville and his men decided to travel downstream from the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver. Along the river, they tried to trade with the Sahaptin Indians but without success. He thought they would probably get the same rejection from McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver and decided to back down and return east.
The winter of 1834-35 passed with the Shoshone who were established on the upper course of the Bear River and in April 1835 the journey back to Missouri began. He reached Independence in August and discovered that, although his letter requesting an extension had arrived, it had not been delivered to General Macomb. In the meantime, his commission had been revoked.
The meeting with Washington Irving
Bonneville traveled east hoping to get his commission back. On the way to Washington, DC, he stopped in New York City where he was greeted by his employer John Jacob Astor. During his stay with Astor, Bonneville met with Washington Irving. Bonneville entertained Irving by telling him about his adventures, which Bonneville planned to collect in a book he was working on.
A month or two later, Irving visited Bonneville again, in Washington, DC, at the barracks where he was staying. Bonneville was having difficulty writing his adventures. They both agreed that for a sum of $ 1000, Bonneville would give him his maps and notes so that Irving could use them as a basis for his third book on the West. The result was The Adventures of Captain Bonneville [The Adventures of Captain Bonneville], published in 1837.
Last services in the Army
In Washington, Bonneville tirelessly requested Secretary of War Lewis Cass that his commission be renewed. Early in 1836 he succeeded, and in the following years he was assigned tasks on the western border, at Fort Kearny, in the territory of Nebraska, and at Fort Fillmore, in the Territory of New Mexico where he became commander of the third regiment. of infantry on February 3, 1855, after the death of Colonel Thomas Staniford. He also intervened in the Mexican-American War, participating in the Veracruz campaign of Winfield Scott. He also served in the occupation of Mexico City, during which he was tried by a court martial for “misconduct before the enemy” (“misbehavior before the enemy”). Ironically, one of the tasks he performed later, in the 1850s, was in the Oregon Territory as a colonel in the Columbia Barracks, next to Fort Vancouver, converted into a military post of the US Army. . in 1849.
He retired from the army in 1861, but was soon called during the American Civil War, reaching the rank of Brigadier General Brevet. He retired a second time in 1866 and moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he died in 1878, at 82 years of age. He is buried in the Bellefontaine cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.
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