The mountain men and the Rocky Mountain fur trade left an indelible imprint on western American history. One of the fur businesses that left their mark included the partnership of Smith, Jackson & Sublette. Jedediah Smith and William Sublette are more publicly known of this trio. While David E. Jackson’s life remains mysterious, he played a vital role in the partnership’s success by offering leadership, a woodsman craft, and diplomacy skills.
Full of wanderlust, Jackson left his wife Juliet and four children and accepted a job as clerk for William H. Ashley and Andrew Henry. Combining his mountain knowledge, his natural leadership abilities, and an uncanny knack for understanding and working within Indian politics, Jackson proved a natural leader and a primary factor for the success of the SJ&S partnership. Their fur business maintained a prominent place in the Rocky Mountain region from 1826 to 1830, and among mountain men his talents gained him the title of king of the Tetons.
The partners dissolved their business in 1830, selling their interests to the new partners of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Though they left the Rocky Mountains behind, the three men’s lives remained entwined as they entered into the cargo business along the Santa Fe Trail. Jackson also invested in mining and metal business. Ironically, the man who had conquered the mountain wilderness could not readjust to civilization and he quickly squandered his fur profit. On a trip to Paris, Tennessee, with the intent to collect debts, Jackson contracted typhus. The sickness weakened him and he died eight months later on Christmas Eve of 1837, alone, in debt, in an unfamiliar tavern.
A lonely ending, fitting for a man whose name remains mostly silent throughout the history books. He had given in to his wanderlust, abandoned his family, and lost his fortune. While he was a major component to the success of Smith, Jackson & Sublette, little is known of his life. Yet his name remains, remembered in the Rocky Mountain fur trade, and in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.