I defy the annals of chivalry to furnish the record of a life more wild and perilous than that of a Rocky Mountain trapper.” – Francis Parkman
Have you ever wished you were born in another time? I have on more than one occasion. If I could have chose when I was going to start my journey on Mother Earth, it would have been during the era of the Mountain Men.
Mountain men were most common in the Rocky Mountains from around 1810 to 1880. They were male trappers and explorers who lived in the wilderness and were instrumental in opening various Emigrant Trails. Most mountain men worked for a major fur company however a large amount of them chose to be free trappers.
Fur trading companies implemented a system for the mountain men to sell their furs. It was called the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, founded by William Henry Ashley, and was around from 1825 to 1840. James Beckwourth once described the Rendezvous as “Mirth, songs, dancing, shouting, trading, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent.” The Rendezvous is still celebrated yearly throughout the United States in honor of the mountain man. There are black powder rifle shooting contests, knife throwing, tomahawk throwing and primitive archery contests. Folks dress the part of the era and participate in primitive camping and cooking.
“A mountain man tries to live with the country instead of against it.” Louis L’Amour
The life of a mountain man wasn’t easy. It was hard and many didn’t last very long. They had to be knowledgeable about medicinal plants and be able to treat themselves when they got sick or hurt. They had to contend with bear, wolves and mountain lions to name a few. They also had clashes with the Native Americans in the area. They had to know how to trap, hunt, fish, tan hides, make their own clothes, and build sound shelter. They had to be survivors.
A few notable mountain men were:
Jim Beckwourth – (1798-1866) African American who lived with the Crow and attained the position, “war chief”.
Jim Bridger – (1804-1881) Was among the first non-natives to see geysers and the wonders of the Yellowstone Region.
John Colter – (1774-1812) One of the first mountain men and was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
A few others were, George Drouillard, Sylvan “Buckskin Bill” Hart, John “Liver-Eating” Johnson, Joseph Lafyette “Joe” Meek, Jedediah Smith and William Lewis Sublette.
“The mountains have rules, they are harsh rules, but they are there, and if you keep to them you are safe. A mountain is not like men. A mountain is sincere. The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul.” – Walter Bonatti
There have been times that I was floating down the river and would imagine myself as a mountain man and try to imagine what it was like to look upon sites that no white man had ever saw. They had to be blown away by some of the breath taking scenes they saw. How they must have felt when they came face to face with a blizzard and endured a Rocky Mountain winter. They had to feel great accomplishment and jump with joy when spring fell upon the mountains and melted the winter snows. Pardon my “French” but they had to have “gonads” the size of Texas. They had no idea what they would face. No doctors to run to when they got hurt or sick and if something happened to your supply of coffee your were out for a long time and it was a long way to a store to get more.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir
It would have been a tough life and quite a challenge but I would have loved to try it. Failure during that time usually meant a loss of life. Definitely the “ultimate challenge” that would separate men from the boys or should I say real men from the men?
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