James Bridger was one of the greatest frontiersmen of Utah and American history. During his lifetime he was a hunter, trapper, trader, Indian fighter, and guide, and one of only a few trappers to remain in the Rockies after the demise of the fur trade. In 1822 young Bridger heeded William Ashley's call for one hundred "enterprising young men" and ascended the route of the Missouri River under Major Andrew Henry's command.
Bridger spent his first year with the company on the upper Missouri until Blackfoot Indian hostilities forced the expedition back downriver in the spring of 1823. Bridger then accompanied Henry's brigade to the Yellowstone River, where, en route, Hugh Glass was attacked by a grizzly. Evidence would indicate that Bridger volunteered as one of Glass's caretakers, but that he abandoned Glass believing he would not live. Glass miraculously survived and apparently exonerated Bridger's desertion due to his youth.
Bridger spent the fall of 1823 and the following winter and spring of 1824 trapping and wintering in the Bighorn region as part of John Weber's brigade. By summer's end, he had pushed west across South Pass to trap the Bear River. The brigade assembled in "Willow Valley" (Cache Valley) to winter on Cub Creek near present Cove, Utah. Allegedly during that winter of 1824-25 a dispute arose concerning the Bear River's course south of Cache Valley. Bridger was selected to explore the river to resolve the question. His journey took him to the Great Salt Lake, which he believed was an arm of the Pacific Ocean due to its saltiness. For years, Bridger was recognized as the first documented discoverer of the great "Inland Sea"; however, more recent evidence seems to indicate that this honor should be given to Etienne Provost.