Naming of Sublette County

Clint Gilchrist, Executive Director at Museum of the Mountain Man
Posted 2/25/21

The latest installment in a series celebrating a century of Sublette County.

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Naming of Sublette County


In March of 1824, a group of 11 young men crossed South Pass entering the Green River Valley. Here they found a fortune in beaver and friendly natives (primarily Shoshone Indians). After spring trapping they sent word to their boss, William Ashley, in St. Louis to send supplies. For the next 16 years, young men would stay in the mountains trapping and trading.

William Sublette, the oldest brother, was one of the most famous and successful mountain men. At the age of 25 (born in 1798) he was one of the original 11 men that entered the Green River Valley in 1824 starting the Rendezvous era. Within two years he would become an owner of the company then named Smith, Jackson and Sublette Company. In 1830, the partners sold the company to five other trappers, including his younger brother Milton, who changed the name to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. William would continue to supply rendezvous until 1835. During that time he accompanied or led the supply caravan almost every year. He likely made the trip between St. Louis and the mountains more than any other person. In 1834, William and his partner Robert Campbell built Fort William, later to become Fort Laramie. Because he did not return to the mountains after 1835, he actually never attended a rendezvous in the area that now bears his name. But he would have been through the area many times during his decade in the mountains. He had enough affection for the country that in 1843, he and William Drummond Stewart took the 3-month trip to the mountains one more time just to vacation for two weeks on the banks of Stewart’s Lake (now called Fremont Lake). Through his fur trade business and Missouri real estate deals he became a wealthy man. Sublette married Francis Hereford in 1844, but just over a year later died of tuberculosis in 1845. He never had any children.

Milton Sublette was a charismatic figure nicknamed the “Thunderbolt of the Rockies.” Two years younger than his brother William, Milton (born in about 1801) spent several years trapping in the southwest based out of Santa Fe in his early twenties. By 1829, he joined brother William headed for rendezvous. After just one year in the Rocky Mountains, he and four fellow trappers (Jim Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Henry Fraeb and Jean Gervais) purchased the Smith, Jackson and Sublette Company, renaming it the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Milton spent four years in the mountains, most of the time leading trapping brigades all over the west. After attending the first rendezvous on the Green River at Horse Creek, Milton returned east in the fall of 1833. An infected leg from an old arrow wound, received in 1826, caused him to stay in St. Louis and his leg was eventually amputated in 1835. While he was away, the struggling Rocky Mountain Fur Company was dissolved. Milton returned to the mountains attending the 1835 rendezvous on the Green River. But, by 1836, his infection had become worse and he was forced to stop at Fort Laramie where he was put in charge. A year later he died and was buried at the fort. Milton had no known children. He may have had an Indian wife and children, but this has not been confirmed.

Andrew Sublette (born about 1810) was 12 years younger than William. He first ventured to the mountains in 1830 employed by William. He would spend the next five years trapping all over the Rocky Mountains including attending the 1835 rendezvous on the Green River. In 1836, he formed a partnership with Louis Vasquez. The company built and operated Fort Vasquez on the South Platte River in what is now northeastern Colorado until 1840. Over the following eight years he would bounce around various jobs in St. Louis, Taos and even a stint in the Mexican War where he was elected captain of Sublette’s Rangers, a volunteer battalion that never saw combat. He was one of the early gold rushers to California in 1848 where he spent the rest of his life but never found his fortune. He was a renowned hunter, especially for grizzly bear. He survived one attack, but in 1853 was killed by a grizzly bear while hunting in Malibu Canyon outside of Los Angeles. He had no wife or children.

Solomon Sublette (born about 1814) struggled in the shadow of his older brother. He tried various businesses, some with backing from William, including several years trapping in the Colorado and New Mexico Rockies, but had little success. In 1845, he traveled to California, probably crossing what is now called the Sublette Cutoff, which crosses the southeast corner of what is now Sublette County. By the time he returned in 1846, his brother William had died and willed his possessions, including significant land holdings, to wife Francis and only surviving brothers Andrew and Solomon. Solomon courted and married Francis in 1848. For years they struggled on the farm, land rich and cash poor. Both were in perpetual poor health. Francis likely died due to pregnancy complications. They had two boys and a girl. The boys both passed away as infants. Solomon died in 1857 just four weeks before Francis. Seven-year-old orphan Ester was now the sole heir to William Sublette’s land fortune. She was taken in by her mother’s family but passed away just four years later in 1861. The fight over William’s land would plague the Sublette and Hereford families for the next 60 years, even reaching the Missouri Supreme Court and involving hundreds of later landowners including the manufacturing plants of Anheuser-Busch. The Sublette Cutoff from South Pass to Hams Fork was named for Solomon Sublette in 1849 by Ware’s Guide to California.

Pinckney Sublette was born in about 1812 and was a sickly youth. In 1827, older brother William took Pinckney to the mountains for his health, attending the Bear Lake Rendezvous. In the fall, William returned to St. Louis for supplies and Pinckney joined a trapping brigade led by Samuel Tullock. Unfortunately his was killed by a Blackfeet war party in the spring of 1828 on the Portneuf River in what is now Idaho. However, as part of legal fights over William’s land estate, cousins of the Sublette family produced a witness that placed Pinckney in the Green River Valley operating a ferry along the Sublette Cutoff in the 1850s and 1860s, then dying and being buried on Fontenelle Creek in 1862. The bones of the grave were exhumed in 1895 and taken to St. Louis as evidence. The Sublette side eventually lost the challenges to the estate. In 1935, Perry W. Jenkins, the father of Sublette County, petitioned the court for possession of the bones and that summer they were buried in Sublette County on the bluffs overlooking the original rendezvous grounds. That same year Jenkins helped form the Sublette County Historical Society.