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GREGG, JOSIAH (1806-1850)

Josiah Gregg

Trader, explorer, and writer Josiah Gregg was born in Overton County, Tennessee, on July 19, 1806. He lived briefly as a child in Illinois and then Missouri, where he grew up and was educated in Howard County. Highly intelligent, he studied mathematics and surveying and read many books. At eighteen he tried teaching, then medicine, then law but gave up all three because of poor health. Following in the footsteps of his two older brothers, in 1831 he joined a trading caravan bound for Santa Fe. He learned Spanish and became a bookkeeper for merchant Jesse Sutton before becoming a trader.

During the 1830s Gregg engaged in trading between Missouri and Santa Fe, during which time he traveled into Mexico. In the spring of 1839 he blazed a new trail from Van Buren, Arkansas, across Indian Territory to Chihuahua in hopes of capturing trade for Arkansas. This route, which followed the Canadian River, would later become popular with gold-seekers heading for California and with Capt. Randolph B. Marcy in 1849 as he marked a trail to guide the prospectors westward.

In 1841 Gregg toured Indian Territory before settling in Van Buren, where he wrote his two-volume work Commerce of the Prairies, a classic account of the Santa Fe trade from its beginnings into the 1840s. Published in 1844 in New York, the book was the first work written about the Santa Fe Trail. In 1845 he again studied medicine and obtained a degree. His plans to return to Santa Fe in 1846 were interrupted by the Mexican War. He then became a newspaper correspondent and served as a guide and interpreter first for Brig. Gen. John Wool, and then for Col. Alexander Doniphan.

Subsequently, Gregg went to New York and then to Missouri. He later returned to Mexico, established a medical practice, and studied botany. From Mexico he went to San Francisco and visited the gold fields. Late in 1849 he led a small expedition over the coastal mountains and discovered Humboldt Bay on the northwest coast of California. Gregg died on February 25, 1850, from injuries received after falling from his horse. The location of his grave is not known.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: David Dary, The Santa Fe Trail (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, ed. Max I. Moorhead (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954). Josiah Gregg, Diary and Letters of Josiah Gregg, 2 vols. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941, 1944).

David Dary

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