Malachite’s Big Hole
Louis Vasquez was born October3, 1798 in St. Louis, at a time when St. Louis and the Louisiana Country was included with Spanish possessions in the New World. Louis was the youngest of twelve children, born of Benito Vasquez, a Spaniard, and Julie Papin, a woman of French origin from Canada. Little is known of Louis' childhood or youth, however, it must have included a fair education, based on the fluency of the letters he wrote in later years.
By the time Louis reached his early 20's, he, like so many other young men of the times, was engaged in the fur trade. On September 24, 1823, he was granted a license to trade with the Pawnee Indians, but was back in St. Louis by June of 1824. His activities for the remainder of the 1820's are not recorded, but he probably continued to be active in the fur trade. Given his later close association and strong friendships with members of Ashley and Henry's outfit and it's successor companies, he quite likely was also employed by or worked with Ashley and Henry.
On December 10, 1832, Louis Vasquez wrote his brother, Benito, a letter making known his intentions to travel to the western mountains and assigning his property to Benito in the event of his death. In the spring of 1832 he was clerk to Robert Campbell, conducting a supply train to the 1832 Rendezvous held at Pierre's Hole that year. By now Vasquez was described as an "Old" (as in experienced) Mountain Man.
During the winter of 1833-1834 Vasquez successfully traded with the Crow Indians for furs and Buffalo Robes. In the spring of 1834 he brought 80 packs of Buffalo Robes and and one pack of beaver down to Fort William.
On June 14, Louis arrived at the 1834 Rendezvous were he was welcomed by everyone. Soon "Vasquez and Sublette [William] are shaking hands with the right, and smacking and pushing each other with the left. They both ask questions and neither answer" (Hafen, Vol 2, The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, see References). Obviously a reunion of two very close friends.
Louis Vasquez trapped and traded in the Upper South Platte area during the fall and winter of 1834-1835. It was probably during this time that he became partners with Andrew Sublette, one of William Sublette's brothers.
On July 29, 1835, Louis Vasquez and Andrew Sublette obtained a trading license from the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis (William Clark of Lewis & Clark). This license was renewed regularly for several years. In the fall of 1835 Vasquez and Andrew Sublette established an adobe trading post on the Upper South Platte River. This post, known as Fort Vasquez, carried on a brisk trade with the Indians primarily for Buffalo Robes, but including beaver and other furs as well. By 1837 Vasquez and Sublette had 22 men in their employ.
However, by the fall of 1837 there were four trading posts located within fifteen miles of each other along this reach of the Upper South Platte River, and competition for furs and robes was brutal. These posts were Fort Vasquez, Fort George (also known as Fort St. Vrain and owned by Bent & St. Vrain Co.), Fort Jackson (American Fur Company) and Fort Lancaster (Lancaster Lupton).
Some time in 1840 or 1841 Vasquez and Sublette sold the business and the fort to Lock & Randolph. The new owners soon went bankrupt through a combination of poor management and various misfortunes, leaving Vasquez and Sublette with a worthless note for $800.
The activities of Louis Vasquez immediately after the dissolution of his partnership with Andrew Sublette and the sale of the fort are not recorded. He probably remained in the mountains, and may have trapped with his old friend Jim Bridger. After the death of Jim Bridger's partner, Henry Fraeb, in August 1841, Vasquez entered into a partnership with Bridger. In August of 1842, Bridger & Vasquez, along with 30 or 40 other men, outfitted by the American Fur Company, set out to trap the Green River Country.
Fort Bridger was constructed by Jim Bridger and Louis Vasquez on Black's Fork in the summer of 1843. Vasquez was probably the primary manager for the fort because Jim Bridger continued to lead trapping brigades into the mountains. The location of the fort was chosen both for its trade with the Indians, and as a supply station serving the emigrant wagon trains heading to Oregon or California.
By 1846 most emigrant wagon trains were by-passing Fort Bridger by taking Sublette's Cutoff to the north. Loss of this trade was threatening the existence of the fort. In July of 1846, Hastings was at Fort Bridger, promoting his proposed "Hasting's Cutoff" a supposed shortcut skirting the south side of the Great Salt Lake. Hastings had never traveled the route and had no concept of the hardships involved. Other mountain men, including James Clyman, who had recently traveled along portions of Hastings Cutoff had very negative reports about the route for wagon traffic to California, which they shared with emigrant trains that they met heading west. These included the ill-fated Donner Party who, in ignoring the experience of Clyman, would take this route into history, leaving Fort Bridger on July 31st 1846 (see also Stewart). However, Bridger and Vasquez, who had an interest in driving wagon traffic past their fort, were firm proponents of Hastings Cutoff.
Louis Vasquez returned to St. Louis in the fall of 1846. There, at the age of 48, he would marry a Kentucky-born widow, Narcissa Land Ashcraft, who had two small children. In 1847, Vasquez would return to Fort Bridger with his new family.
Being an intelligent and ambitious businessman, Vasquez was always seeking new opportunities in addition to those offered by Fort Bridger. In 1849 he opened a store in Salt Lake City. For a period of time he also operated a flat-bottomed toll-boat for ferrying wagons across the Green River.
Louis Vasquez sold his share of Fort Bridger to the Mormon Church in 1855. He appears to have left the mountains at this time and returned to St. Louis. In 1859 Louis financed his nephew, Pike Vasquez, in a grocery store in the growing frontier town of Denver. At this time Louis resided in Westport, Missouri, where he had taken up farming with his family which would eventually number seven children, as well as the two step children. His old friend, Jim Beckwourth, visited him here, before going on to Denver and a brief period of employment at the Denver store.
Louis Vasquez died in September of 1868 at the age of 70. His widow would spend her later years with her family in Colorado, where she would die in Pueblo in 1899 at the age of 80.
To learn more about Louis Vasquez see the following reference:
The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. 2, edited by LeRoy R Hafen, published 1965 by the Arthur H Clark Company.