A preacher and a teacher, it appears, curiously enough were the two first white leaders to enter what is now Tulare county. Each bore the name of Smith. Jedediah S. Smith, the preacher, arrived in 1825 or '26, accompanied by about fifteen trappers, he being the first white man to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains. Entry to the valley was made via the Tejon pass. Thousands of naked Indians were seen. Tulare lake was observed and successful trapping for beaver was conducted along the upper reaches of the Kings, San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. In 1827 Smith made a return trip, entering through Walker's pass.
It should be understood that Jed was not an ordained minister, but being a strong and aggressive Christian, he endeavored to convert to that faith the reckless and lawless men who joined his band. Bible readings, prayers, exhortations mingled with reproofs were features of each day, no matter how wearisome had been the march. It is said, however, that his efforts at reform were not entirely successful.
"Pegleg" Smith, the teacher, visited our vicinity in 1830, and was eminently successful. "Pegleg" did not hold a degree nor even a certificate. He was a horse-thief by profession and he took up quarters among the Indians, establishing friendly relations with them and thus obtained a place of refuge and a rendezvous for the round-up of stolen stock when ready to proceed on the return journey to the Santa Fe country. In return for the hospitality extended him, Mr. Smith allowed some of the Indians to accompany him on raids to the ranchos of the coast and taught them all the elements of appropriation. Due, no doubt, to Mr. Smith's ability as an educator, these lessons were not forgotten and the practices inculcated by him, were so persistently followed that in the course of time the Indians gained the merited title of "the horse-thieves of the Tulare."
One of Pegleg's party met a tragic fate. Missed from camp on Kern river, near the site of the present Keyesville, he was found dead alongside the carcass of a huge grizzly, his body mutilated and his head crushed. There had evidently been a deadly fight in which both contestants had succumbed. The rude wooden cross which marked his lonely grave still stood in 1856, when the Kern river gold rush took place.
Closely following Jedediah Smith came Ewing Young and party, who started trapping in the San Joaquin valley in 1831, finding beaver, plentiful. Young hunted in the vicinity of Tulare lake for a short time and then took his way northward. During the next decade several other groups of trappers passed through the San Joaquin valley. Between the Tulare valley and the Calaveras river there was at that time an estimated Indian population of 20,000.