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William Lewis Sublette, also spelled Sublett (September 21, 1798 - July 23, 1845), was an American frontiersman, trapper, fur trader, explorer, and mountain man. With his four brothers, after 1823 he became an agent of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Later he became one of the company's co-owners, exploiting the riches of the Oregon Country. He helped settle and improve the best routes for migrants along the Oregon Trail.

William Sublette
The Enlistment, from Eleven Years in the Rocky Mountains.png
Drawing depicts Sublette interviewing the young Joseph Meek. Image from Eleven Years in the Rocky Mountains... by Frances Fuller Victor.
William Lewis Sublette

(1798-09-21)September 21, 1798
DiedJuly 23, 1845(1845-07-23) (aged 46)
Resting placeBellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri
Other namesWilliam Sublett, Bill Sublette, Cutface
Occupationfrontiersman, trapper, fur trader, explorer
EmployerRocky Mountain Fur Company
Known forBeing a co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, with Andrew Henry, after buying out the company shares, of William Henry Ashley
RelativesMilton Sublette (brother), Andrew Sublette (brother), Pinkney Sublette (brother), Solomon Sublette (brother) Laurel Seberg (grandchild)

Early lifeEdit

William Sublette was born near Stanford, Lincoln County, Kentucky. He was one of five Sublette brothers, who all became prominent in the western fur trade: William, Milton, Andrew, Pinkney, and Solomon.[1] They had ties to traders in St. Louis, Missouri which had built its early wealth in the fur trade. It had several families with prominent connections, ranging from to tribes on the Upper Missouri River and into the Rocky Mountains, to Spanish towns in the Southwest along the Santa Fe Trail.

Fur tradingEdit

Sublette was among the mountain men who journeyed into the Rocky Mountains and other Unorganized territories, which were often economically controlled by the joint British-Canadian fur companies of Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company. Both companies competed against the activities of the American Fur Company, founded by John Jacob Astor, who created a monopoly in the American West before 1830. Sublette and his brothers were based in St. Louis, which had built its early wealth from fur trading.

Sublette retired from trapping after being wounded at the Rendezvous of 1832 in the Battle of Pierre's Hole. Some accounts said that he had caused the conflict. After recuperating for over a year back in St. Louis, Sublette returned to the uplands and founded Fort William, in the foothills east of the South Pass. The fort commanded the last eastern stream crossing at the foot of the last ascent to the floor of South Pass. That was the only route readily navigable by wagons over the continental divide.

In 1823, William was recruited in St. Louis by William Henry Ashley, as part of a fur trapping contingent, later referred to as Ashley's Hundred. That was the beginning of a new strategy for conducting the fur trade in response to a change in United States law in 1822. Liquor had been one of the principal currencies traded to Amerindians; such trafficking had been made illegal. The new scheme set up a trapper's rendezvous, a teamster-drover team operating the freight bringing in supplies and returning with furs, and a corp of trappers making their circuit through the year to traps they had set as team members.

By 1826, Sublette acquired Ashley's fur business, along with Jedediah Smith and David Edward Jackson. His brother Milton, in the mid-1830s, was one of five men who bought the Rocky Mountain Fur Company from William and his partners.[2]

In 1832, Sublette was wounded in the Battle of Pierre's Hole at a rendezvous in Idaho. After further fur business ventures, he sold Fort William to the American Fur Company, who renamed it Fort John. After the US Army took it over, they renamed it again as Fort Laramie.

Sublette retired to St. Louis, where he died in 1845. He was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in northern St. Louis.

Legacy and honorsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sabin, Edwin Legrand; Howard Simon; Marc Simmons (1995). Kit Carson Days, 1809-1868. University of Nebraska Press. p. 922. ISBN 978-0-8032-9238-3.
  2. ^ Carter, Harvey L. "Robert Campbell" and Doyce B. Nunis, Jr. "Milton G. Sublette", featured in Trappers of the Far West, Leroy R. Hafen, editor. 1972, Arthur H. Clark Company, reprint University of Nebraska Press, October 1983. ISBN 0-8032-7218-9
  3. ^ "About Sublette County". Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  4. ^ Kansas Place-Names, John Rydjord, University of Oklahoma Press, 1972, p. 121 ISBN 0-8061-0994-7
  5. ^ "Southeast Idaho Ranges". Summitpost. Retrieved 2012-05-10.
  6. ^