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Harris, Moses [aka Black Moses / "Black Squire"] (1800?-1849)

Moses (Black) Harris
Moses (Black) Harris on Left in Alfred Jacob Miller Painting
Image Ownership:  Public Domain
Information on Moses Harris’ birth and lineage is limited.  It is believed that he was born in either Union County, South Carolina or somewhere in Kentucky.  Harris was also known as Black Moses or the “Black Squire.”  During the 1820’s Harris moved west and began work as a fur trapper.  His work brought him as far west as the Yellowstone River valley, which is in Montana and northern Wyoming.  During his years as a trapper, Harris gained valuable information on wilderness, mountain and winter survival.  

Moses Harris’ reputation as both a mountain man and his knowledge of wilderness gave him employment as a wagon train guide.  While still fur trapping, he began working as a trail guide, leading trains of supplies to other fur traders.

As the fur trade declined in the 1840s, Harris began regularly working as a guide for missionaries and wagon trains heading west to Oregon.  In 1844 he led one of the largest immigrant wagon trains heading to Oregon.   Later that year, after successfully guiding the wagon train to the Willamette Valley, Harris helped rescue another wagon train lost in the desert of central Oregon.  This would not be the last time Harris would rescue lost and stranded immigrants; a few years later in 1846 he was called on again to help a wagon train stranded in the same desert.

Harris returned east to St. Joseph, Missouri, there he posted an ad in the local newspaper advertising his services as a guide for other immigrant wagon trains.  In 1849 he was hired to guide a wagon train heading to Oregon.  He would never make the journey.  Stricken with cholera, Moses Harris died in Independence, Missouri in 1849.

Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940. (Portland: Georgian Press Company, 1980); Jerome Peltier, Black Harris (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1996)


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