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National Rivers Hall of Fame Inductees

Hall of Fame inductees are the pioneers, explorers and artists in America's river history. They were movers and shakers from the days gone by and the recent past. These men and women made significant contributions related to America’s rivers, which is why we honor them.


The Pathfinders

Jedediah Strong Smith

Inducted in 2013

At a time when nearly all wilderness travel was on or along rivers, Jedediah Strong Smith, in a ten year burst of exploration, traveled more miles than Lewis and Clark, all without the government funding. Smith followed rivers from New York to Mexican California.  His place in the pantheon of great American explorers is unquestioned and he was the first American to cross the Sierra Nevada range.

Smith’s ancestors lived on the Massachusetts frontier since the1670s, operating businesses and trading up and down the Connecticut River.  They floated huge rafts of timber down the Susquehanna River to Baltimore where they sold the lumber and returned with merchandise for their store in Jericho, New York.

At 22, Smith crewed on a flat boat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans.  He then went likely by steamboat to Northern Illinois to trade with Indians on the upper Mississippi.  In 1822, he was a sub-leader of Ashley and Henry’s famous “100 young men” who ascended the Missouri River by keelboat to trap and explore the Rocky Mountains.  Over the next decade, he made his life on and along rivers, traveling on keelboats, rafts, canoes, and bullboats, charting the west. He made two remarkable journeys from Salt Lake to California and Oregon in the 1820s, the first overland explorer from the American frontier.  He explored the Sevier, Lost, Beaver, Virgin, Santa Clara, Colorado, Mojave, American, Stanislaus, and Jordan Rivers, experiencing extraordinary suffering and deprivation.

In an 1831 letter to Secretary of War John Eaton, Smith describes his qualifications to lead the planned government expedition to the Pacific Ocean: I have traveled from the mouth of the Missouri River nearly to the great falls at different times. The Big Platte and the Yellow Stone River I have more than once traced from their mouths to their sources and have made Journeys in many directions through the extensive country in which the Missouri has its numerous sources. From the waters of the Missouri I have traveled twice to California a part of which routes were along the Colorado of the West. From the valley of the Buenaventura which discharges its waters into the Bay of St. Francisco I have traveled across the Sand Plain to the Great Salt Lake. . . From the Bay of St. Francisco alternately on the sea coast and through the interior I traveled to the Columbia River discovering some considerable rivers south of the Columbia. The Multnomah River I have traced through its course. From the mouth of the Columbia I followed its course to the source of its principal branch and in the mountains on the heads of the several tributaries of the Columbia . . . acquiring knowledge of nearly all the passes between the waters of the Missouri and the Columbia and Colorado of the West.

Smith was killed in 1831 on a journey to Santé Fe, but his map of the western country became a landmark, its contents superimposed on Fremont’s map to become a valued historical document to this day.