Though he was an accomplished outdoorsman, Smith did not
stereotype of the typical mountain man. He never drank, never used
tobacco, never boasted and was rarely humorous. Another rare quality
was his strident faith. Smith was very religious and often prayed and
meditated. When fellow trapper John Gardner died, Smith gave the
eulogy, as recorded by expedition member Hugh Glass:
"Mr. Smith, a young man of our
made a powerful prayer
which moved us all greatly and I am persuaded John
Smith proved himself a leader quickly on the trail. On
second expedition, he was attacked by a grizzly bear. The bear
came out of the thicket and mauled Smith violently, throwing
him to the ground, smashing his ribs and literally ripping off his
scalp. When the attack was over, the scalp was hanging on to his head
an ear. Smith instructed Jim Clyman to sew it back on. Clyman did the
best he could, but thought nothing could be done for the severed ear.
Smith insisted that he try. According to Clyman,
"I put my needle sticking it through
through and over and
over laying the lacerated parts together as nice as
After two weeks of rest, Smith resumed his duty as
of the party.
In 1830, Smith, rattled over the death of his mother
his neglect of
family duty, decided he had had enough of mountain life. He purchased
a farm and townhouse, complete with servants, in St. Louis. However, he
would have to make one more fated trip into the wilds of the Southwest.
When Smith sold his shares in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company the year
before, he had agreed to help procure supplies for the subsequent
owners. He left in the spring of 1831 and while looking for water on
Santa Fe Trail, he was killed by Comanche warriors.
Most of Smith's knowledge died with him. His plans to
his journals and have a master map constructed were never realized.
Nevertheless, Smith was satisfied with his wilderness career.
"I started into the mountains, with
becoming a first-rate hunter, of making myself
acquainted with the character and habits of the
tracing out the sources of the Columbia River and
its mouth; and of making the whole profitable to me,