Year
1831
Month Day
May 27

Comanche kill mountain man Jedediah Smith

Jedediah Smith, one of the nation’s most important trapper-explorers, is killed by Comanche tribesman on the Santa Fe Trail.

Smith’s role in exploring the Far West was not fully realized until modern scholars examined the records of his far-ranging journeys. As with all of the mountain men, Smith ventured west as a practical businessman working for eastern fur companies. His goal was to find new territories to trap beaver and otter and make trading contacts with Native Americans.

READ MORE: 6 Legendary Mountain Men of the American Frontier 

Nonetheless, beginning in 1822 when he made his first expedition with the fur trader William Ashley, Smith’s travels provided information on western geography and potential trails that were invaluable to later pioneers. Smith’s most important accomplishment was his rediscovery in 1824 of the South Pass, an easy route across the Rocky Mountains in modern-day western Wyoming. The first Anglo-Americans to cross the pass were fur traders returning east from a Pacific Coast trading post in 1812, yet the news of their discovery was never publicized. Smith, by contrast, established the South Pass as a well-known and heavily traveled route for fur trappers. A few decades later, it became a part of the Oregon Trail and greatly reduced the obstacles faced by wagon trains heading to Oregon and California.

Despite having opened many new territories for future pioneers, Smith had little to show for his years of dangerous efforts. In 1830, he returned to St. Louis, determined to go into the mercantile business and draft detailed maps of the country he had explored. Before he could get started, however, an associate convinced him to take a supply of goods to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

With a party of 83 men, Smith left St. Louis in early 1831 and headed south along the Cimarron River, a region known to be nearly devoid of potable water. Despite his years of wilderness experience, Smith was apparently overconfident in his ability to find water and did not take adequate supplies from St. Louis. By mid-May, the party’s water supplies were almost exhausted, and the men started separating each day to search for waterholes.

On May 27, 1831, Smith was riding alone when a hunting party of Comanche Native Americans attacked and killed him.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Chinese gold miners are slaughtered in the Hells Canyon Massacre

The Hells Canyon Massacre begins on May 27, 1887, in Lewiston, Washington Territory, in what is now Idaho. The mass slaughter of Chinese gold miners by a gang of white horse thieves was one of many hate crimes perpetrated against Asian immigrants in the American West during this ...read more

British navy sinks the German battleship Bismarck

On May 27, 1941, the British navy sinks the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic near France. The German death toll was more than 2,000. On February 14, 1939, the 823-foot Bismarck was launched at Hamburg. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler hoped that the state-of-the-art ...read more

tdih-GettyImages-515219636

Ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees, fleeing Nazi Germany, is turned away in Cuba

A boat carrying 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution is turned away from Havana, Cuba, on May 27, 1939. Only 28 immigrants are admitted into the country. After appeals to the United States and Canada for entry are denied, the rest are forced to sail back to Europe, where ...read more

U.S. Olympian Louis Zamperini’s plane goes down in the Pacific

On May 27, 1943, a B-24 carrying U.S. airman and former Olympic runner Louis Zamperini crashes into the Pacific Ocean. After surviving the crash, Zamperini floated on a raft in shark-infested waters for more than a month before being picked up by the Japanese and spending the ...read more

The Battle of Tsushima Strait

During the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Baltic Fleet is nearly destroyed at the Battle of Tsushima Strait. The decisive defeat, in which only 10 of 45 Russian warships escaped to safety, convinced Russian leaders that further resistance against Japan’s imperial designs for ...read more

St. Petersburg founded by Peter the Great

After winning access to the Baltic Sea through his victories in the Great Northern War, Czar Peter I founds the city of St. Petersburg as the new Russian capital. The reign of Peter, who became sole czar in 1696, was characterized by a series of sweeping military, political, ...read more

Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returns to Russia after exile

Two decades after being expelled from the USSR, Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returns to Russia in an emotional homecoming. In 1945, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years of hard labor for criticizing Stalin in a letter to a friend. His prison experiences formed the ...read more

Golden Gate Bridge opens

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a stunning technological and artistic achievement, opens to the public after five years of construction. On opening day–“Pedestrian Day”–some 200,000 bridge walkers marveled at the 4,200-foot-long suspension bridge, which spans the Golden Gate ...read more

Sweden announces support to Viet Cong

In Sweden, Foreign Minister Torsten Nilsson reveals that Sweden has been providing assistance to the Viet Cong, including some $550,000 worth of medical supplies. Similar Swedish aid was to go to Cambodian and Laotian civilians affected by the Indochinese fighting. This support ...read more

FDR proclaims an unlimited national emergency in response to Nazi threats

President Franklin D. Roosevelt announces a state of unlimited national emergency in response to Nazi Germany’s threats of world domination on May 27, 1941. In a speech on this day, he repeated his famous remark from a speech he made in 1933 during the Great Depression: the only ...read more

Dylan’s breakthrough album, "The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan," is released

On May 27, 1963, Bob Dylan releases his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which goes on to transform him from a popular local act to a global phenomenon. “Of all the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renascence of that self-assertive ...read more

Murder suspect spends third day perched on crane

May 27, 2005, was the third day that Carl Edward Roland, 41, wanted by police in connection with the murder of his ex-girlfriend Jennifer Gonzalez, spent perched on a crane 18 stories above Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Police in Pinellas County, Florida, discovered the badly ...read more

President Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus is challenged

On May 27, 1861, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland issues Ex parte Merryman, challenging the authority of President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. military to suspend the writ of habeas corpus (the legal procedure that prevents the government from holding an individual ...read more

SALT agreements signed

Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and U.S. President Richard Nixon, meeting in Moscow, sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements. At the time, these agreements were the most far-reaching attempts to control nuclear weapons ever. Nixon and Brezhnev seemed unlikely ...read more

Thomas Jefferson writes to John Adams

On May 27, 1813, former President Thomas Jefferson writes former President John Adams to let him know that their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, has died. Rush’s passing caused Jefferson to meditate upon the departure of the Revolutionary generation. He wrote, We too must go; ...read more

British evacuation of Dunkirk turns savage as Germans commit atrocity

On May 27, 1940, units from Germany’s SS Death’s Head division battle British troops just 50 miles from the port at Dunkirk, in northern France, as Britain’s Expeditionary Force continues to fight to evacuate France. After holding off an SS company until their ammo was spent, 99 ...read more