Tom Fitzpatrick is a name that often gets left out of the modern-day tales of the frontier. But this brave mountain man was a crucial part of America’s expansion west.
Born to an affluent family in 1799, Tom Fitzpatrick spent his childhood years in his native country of Ireland. Leaving home at the age of 17 to take on the open seas, Fitzpatrick found himself in the States, and in 1823 joined William Ashley’s legendary expedition. A natural as a fur trapper and in navigating the frontier, Fitzpatrick quickly gained the respect of his peers and the attention of his superiors.
Fitzpatrick led numerous expeditions, and although a team of fur traders called the Astorians were the first of European-descent to stumble across the South Pass, Fitzpatrick and his team’s rediscovery of the path through the Rocky Mountains in 1824 revolutionized emigration and Westward expansion.
Partnering with several others, including James Bridger in 1830, Fitzpatrick became a co-owner of the company that started his frontier career—the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Unfortunately, after a few prosperous years, the company’s demise came at the hands of the American Fur Company. To continue working as a trapper, Fitzpatrick had little to no choice but to work for the company that ended his.
Using the familiarity he acquired with the frontier throughout his years of trapping, Fitzpatrick began serving as a guide and led some of history’s most prolific ventures west. Fitzpatrick led the first party of settlers to the far west through the Overland Trail, served as an Indian agent, and was an army guide in the Mexican War.
After surviving endless dangers along the uncharted west, in 1854, the renowned frontiersman’s epic life came to an end when he died as a result of pneumonia during a trip to Washington, D.C.