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The Story of James P. Beckwourth, a Legend of the American West

One historic figure that was at Rancho Nipomo was Jim P. Beckwourth, former slave turned mountain man and Crow Indian chief. The Dana family, or as Jim called “Captain Denny”, knew him as one of the first military mail couriers who rode the dangerous trails between Monterey and Nipomo to deliver mail. Few men could handle this perilous job, but Jim was most suited.

James P. Beckwourth was a trapper, explorer, Indian war-chief, Army scout, barkeep, trader, horse-thief, gold miner, mounted courier, gambler, trailblazer and a husband to many wives, — mountain man James Pierson Beckwourth’s resume spans early California frontier history from its dawn to its conclusion.

Jim was “a cross between a voyageur and a Crow Indian and was in my estimation, one of the best chroniclers of the Plains I have ever encountered … although his reputation for absolute veracity was not unchallenged,” as described by Juan Francisco Dana in the book, the Blond Ranchero.

Not many on the Central Coast know about Jim. Although he is well known and celebrated in the gold country of Plumas County, not many recognize him as a significant historical figure in our County’s history. There is one terrible incident that occurred at San Miguel Mission that etched Jim’s name into our County’s local history. The incident made big headlines in the two California newspapers at the time.

Jim’s reputation as a reliable guide, mountain man, courier rider, trader, and Crow chief followed him wherever he went. His memoirs, which Thomas B. Bonner recorded, tell of his harrowing escapes from hostile Indians in the Rockies, Taos, and in the Florida Everglades. They also weave the tale of his long connection with the Crow nation.

Come to the DANA Adobe Cultural Center on February 25th at 1:00 PM to hear Helen Daurio tell the story of Jim P. Beckwourth, a life filled with adventure, drama, loss, love and regret, a momentous historical figure.

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