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BT79 8DX

Robert Campbell (1804 - 1879) The American Mountain Man from Plumbridge

James MacCullaghIn America in the early 1800's the name of Robert Campbell, a native of Plumbridge, Co. Tyrone became as famous as Jim Badger, Jed Smith, William Sublette and other American Mountain Men.

Robert Campbell (1804 -1879) was the youngest of a family of twelve, seven girls and five boys. Robert's father died in 1810 and two of Robert's brothers died by their mid twenties, leaving the three remaining sons to share the family land. Under the terms of their father's will, elder brother Andrew would manage the family property until Hugh and Robert reached the age of twenty- four. Brother Hugh (1797- 1879) facing an uncertain future in Ireland, emigrated to America in 1818 (aged 21 years), keeping a diary of his twelve-week sea crossing.

In 1822, eighteen-year-old Robert, treated as an unpaid labourer by his brother Andrew and enthused by Hugh's letters from America, joined his brother Hugh in America. Settling initially in North Carolina, Robert later moved to St Louis and Council Bluff as a store assistant in John O' Fallon's frontier store which equipped and supplied trappers and westward travellers.

In 1825, twenty one year old Robert Campbell signed a three-year contract with Gen Ashley and joined an elite band of one hundred young men that history later viewed as the cream of the American Mountain Men. Having served and equipped many of them while working for O' Fallan, Robert knew Jim Bridger, the Sublette brothers, Job Smith, Tom Fitzpatrick, Joe Meek, James Keyte and many others who became responsible for opening up the American West.

Between 1825 and 1835, working with William Sublette and others, Robert Campbell made his name. In 1826, trusted and literate, Robert became the clerk to Sublette, Fitzpatrick and Jeb Smith, who took over Gen Ashley's company. In 1831, Robert Campbell and William Sublette became partners. In 1832, Robert saved Sublette's life during the Indian Battle of Pierre Hole and Robert's five 'Rocky Mountain letters' written to his brother Hugh between 1832 and 1838were to become American National Treasures after being printed in the Illustrated News.

Between 1835 and 1842, the partnership of Sublette and Campbell prospered; delivering supplies to trappers and Indians in exchange for furs and hides. Robert built the original Fort Laramie, which was later sold to the American Fur Company and in 1841, he married Virginia Jane Kyle, a cousin of his brother Hugh's wife Mary. The couple had thirteen children but sadly only three children reached maturity.

The Sublette/Campbell partnership ended amicably in 1842 but Robert continued trading. Both Sublette and Campbell were elected to the board of the Missouri Bank Committee and later Robert became Bank President. Robert was present when William Sublette died in 1845, and he outlived two other prosperous partnerships, which supplied and equipped wagon trains, settlers, forts and army units in the West.

In 1846, Robert Campbell was appointed Inspector General and Honorary Militia Colonel after recruiting a four hundred strong unit known as the Laclede Rangers, which fought in the 1846- 1848 American War against Mexico. As a government elected Indian commissioner, Robert Campbell participated in both the 1851 and 1870 American Indian Peace Councils, but eventually resigned, citing corruption and treaty violations by white settlers and the army. Despite his riverboats being sabotaged by boat burners, Robert Campbell's company continued transporting supplies via St Louis to the West throughout the American Civil War years of 1861- 1865.

Brothers Hugh and Robert Campbell died in 1879 and are both buried in St Louis. Robert Campbell's $10 million fortune, which included a gold mine, an hotel, cattle ranching, as well as government and railway stocks and shares, was left in trust to his wife and three remaining sons. The last unmarried son, Hazlett died intestate in 1938. After over five years of legal wrangling in St Louis courts, Hazlett Campbell's part of his father's fortune was eventually released, to be divided amongst the surviving Campbell relatives scattered worldwide.

Mr. Frank Collins, Omagh has researched the Campbell family extensively. He warmly welcomes correspondence from those who are interested in finding out more about the Campbell family. Similarly, Frank would be pleased to hear of anyone who can add content to his research. Email

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