18 – Relic From The Last True Mountain Man

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

Born in Illinois in 1818, Jim Baker is remembered as the last mountain man of the West. His westward adventures began in 1839 when, at the age of 21, he joined Jim Bridger as a hunter/trapper with the American Fur Company. He trapped extensively throughout Wyoming, Utah and Colorado and participated in several significant forays in American history.
During the summer of 1841, Bridger sent Baker to check on fellow frontiersman Henry Fraeb after receiving word of an Indian war party in the area. Fraeb was hunting buffalo near the border of present-day Wyoming and Colorado (near Savery, WY). Baker arrived just in time for perhaps the fiercest battle that ever took place between native peoples and the mountain men of the Rockies.
The ensuing battle of 500 (Baker’s estimate) Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe, against 25 mountain men and a few Shoshone warriors, lasted for 2 days. Roughly 100 natives and 4 mountain men were killed – including Fraeb. Baker later said of Fraeb, “He was the ugliest dead man I ever saw, and I have seen a good many. His face was all covered with blood, and he had rotten front teeth and a terrible grin. When he was killed he never fell, but sat braced against a stump, a sight to behold”.
Among countless other adventures, Jim Baker went on to become a scout at Fort Laramie, a ferry boat operator, owned one of the first coal mines in Colorado and was among the earliest residents of Denver during the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859.
In 1873 he homesteaded in the Little Snake River Valley near the very battle site where he’d fought 32 years earlier. Here he spent his remaining days as a rancher until his death in 1898. Nearby Baker’s Peak is named in his honor.
Pictured here is Jim Baker’s hand-forged .40 caliber bullet mold used to form lead into round ball projectiles. It was donated in the 1940s by one of his Little Snake Valley neighbors, Vin & Lilly Robidoux.
*Jim Baker Photo Courtesy of Frank Meyers Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.