Bring Back The Mountain Man – History Of The Mountain Man

Bring Back The Mountain Man

History Of The Mountain Man – As the early settlers came to America so evolved the term “Mountain Man”, known as the explorers and trappers of the new settlement. They were most common in the North American Rocky Mountains from the early 1800’s through the 1880’s. Their hunting and travels helped to open various emigrant trails that later widened into wagon roads.  The wagon roads allowed these new Americans in the east to begin settling the west with planned wagon trains. adobestock_60296780_wm

The North American fur trade gave rise to lucrative earnings once the 1806-07 published accounts of the Lewis and Clark expeditions became known. Thus, arose the natural geographic and economic scene of fur trapping and also the Mountain Man became an invaluable asset to the market. It is believed that about 3,000 mountain men ranged the mountains between 1820 and 1840 which was the peak of the beaver-harvesting and other fur bearing animal period. There were two types of mountain men, free trappers and those employed by the major fur companies. Those with the fur companies found themselves to be much like being in the military. These men had mess groups, hunted and trapped in brigades and always reported to the head of the trapping party, the leader of the brigade and the head trader.

Over all, mountain men were ethnically, socially and religiously diverse, independent and obviously adventurous! They fit no stereotype. Even though they adhered to being independent they were really economically an arm of the big fur companies. The companies held annual fairs for the mountain men to sell their wares. These events were called trappers’ rendezvous and were held in the spring for the companies to adobestock_70996356_wmreturn with pelts to communities on Missouri and Mississippi rivers, like St. Louis. This system of rendezvous with trappers was used by various fur companies.

By the mid-1830’s such sites as the Upper Green River Rendezvous Site, near what is now present-day Pinedale, Wyoming could attract as many as 500 trappers who had been working the area for fur to later sell. They were usually all the American trappers and traders working the Rockies, but there were many Native Americans. Like any good businessman, the mountain man was motivated by profit, trapping for beaver and other skins to sell. But there was the adventurer who was interested in exploring the West and traded solely to support his passion. One might say a mountain man was often part trader, part explorer, part trapper and some settlers. There were some who were farmers or hired army scouts and survived by having good relations with one or more native tribes. Often the mountain man was multilingual out of necessity to remain in the area. It was not unusual for the mountain man to take a Native American wife.

Silhouette of a witch-hunter of arrows. Fantasy concept

There is a romanticized stereotypical mountain man that has come down over the years. He is depicted as being dressed in buckskin and coonskin hat. He has bushy facial hair and carries a Bowie knife, often called a “scalpin’ knife”. They were known as honorable men with their own code of living-loners who would help those in need, but who had found their home in the wild and there, was content.

More about the Mountain Man’s life to come!




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Author Ben Barr is a 30+ year SERE Specialist who has been a curriculum developer for the USAF Survival School, USAF Water Survival School, USAF Air Mobility Command, USMC and USN

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