1. Daniel Boone (1734–1820):

"Boone's First View of Kentucky" by William Tylee Ranney, 1849
“Boone’s First View of Kentucky” by William Tylee Ranney, 1849, William Tylee Ranney, via Wikimedia Commons

A talented woodsman and hunter, Daniel Boone got his first taste of exploration as a wagoner in the French and Indian War. He led his own expedition in 1767 and later discovered a trail through the Cumberland Gap, the route by which others would access the West. Boone then claimed land in Kentucky, renaming it Boonesborough.

2. Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838):

painting of Lewis and Clark Reach Shoshone Camp Led by Sacajawea
“Lewis and Clark Reach Shoshone Camp Led by Sacajawea” by Charles Marion Russell, via Wikimedia Commons

As co-leaders of the “Corps of Discovery,” Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are widely known as the forefathers of Western exploration. Good relationships with Indians and interpreters, notably French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea, were critical to their survival and success. After a year of perilous overland travel, Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805.

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3. Zebulon Pike (1779–1813):

portrait of frontiersman Zebulon Pike Charles Willson Peale
Portrait of Zebulon Pike by Charles Willson Peale, via Wikimedia Commons

After joining the Army at age 15, Zebulon Pike and a group of soldiers set out in hopes of finding the source of the Arkansas River. Along the way, he noticed “a small blue cloud” in the distance. Eager to explore what he saw, he traveled until he reached the base of a mountain that would be called Pikes Peak. After Pike’s death and the discovery of gold in Colorado, “Pike’s Peak or Bust” became the slogan of all those headed West in hopes of fame and fortune.

4. Jim Bridger (1804–1881):

photograph of frontiersman Jim Bridger

Hired in 1822, Jim Bridger joined the Ashley-Henry fur trading company and began to explore the Yellowstone region. Bridger helped build the first fur trading post on the Yellowstone River and is known as the first Anglo to see the Great Salt Lake. In 1843, Bridger founded Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming, a trading post and emigrant supply stop along the Oregon Trail.

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5. Kit Carson (1809–1868):

photograph of Kit Carson in military uniform, circa 1860
Unknown photographer, 19th century, via Wikimedia Commons

Famed trapper and soldier Christopher “Kit” Carson began working at age 14 as a saddlemaker. He set out for New Mexico in 1826 on the Santa Fe Trail, where he started trapping expeditions throughout the West. In the early 1840s, he worked as a hunter at Bent’s Fort and later served as a guide for John C. Fremont on treks to Oregon and California.

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