Bring Back The Mountain Man – What was the typical Mountain Man like?

Bring Back The Mountain Man

What was a typical Mountain Man like? Today’s men or women probably wouldn’t be able to live a “true” mountain man’s existence, although there are some modern men who have chosen a similar type of life as the historical Mountain Man. They are known to roam in the mountains of the west or in the swamps of the southern United States. This is hard to fathom with the lifestyle of most of us!

But what exactly would an 1800’s Mountain Man look and be like. We can only go on what few records and pictures were preserved over the years, but there is enough information remaining that we know the life of a mountain man was rugged. It is said that they didn’t usually last more than several years in the wilderness. Either they gave up and returned to a more settled life or some tragedy occurred to stop their angel of death.adventurous ways. They faced many hazards, as can be imagined. They were exploring unmapped areas. It is hard to imagine that kind of life with today’s conveniences!

There were the biting insects, many and varied wildlife and often not so friendly Indian tribes. There was bad weather, diseases of all kinds, injuries, and above all was the threat of the mentioned hostile tribes. This presented constant physical dangers. The grizzly bear was one danger to be confronted with and one of the greatest enemies. But the winters could be brutal also, posing a danger. There would be heavy snows and very low temperatures. Our comforts now make it hard to imagine what it could be like. Even though they were hardy and knew how to handle most situations it remained a very difficult life as they scouted for hides and searched for their own food.

Snow covered cabin in Canada.

Snow covered cabin in Canada.

In order to maintain such a lifestyle these mountain men had to have keen senses and a knowledge of herbal remedies and the need to know first aid. These were just a few of the skills they had learned over the years that kept them alive. In the summer, it was not quite as difficult since they could catch fish, build shelters and hunt for food and skins. The Mountain Man usually dressed in deer skins which gave them some protection against the weapons of certain enemies. Just imagine, there were no doctors or nurses anywhere near; therefore, they had to set their own broken bones, tend their own wounds and handle any rashes or other medical needs.

Their diet was that of the native tribes in the areas where they were trapping. Coffee was the only exception to this rule. Usually fresh red meat, bison, fowl and fish were available. There were some plant foods, such as fruit and berries which were easy to find and eat. Often times the Mountain Man would trade with the friendly tribes for prepared foods. These foods could be processed roots, dried meat and pemmican.

A buffalo eats grass on the range.

A buffalo eats grass on the range.

Pemmican was a concentrated food used by the North American Indians and consisted of lean meat dried, pounded fine, and mixed with melted fat. Unfortunately, there were times when the weather and crisis forced the Mountain Man to slaughter and eat his horse or mule. Such things are beyond comprehension for many who have not had to “fend for themselves”.

Today, it is hard to really appreciate what a true Mountain Man was like. We find it difficult to imagine the hardship and trials they faced. But also, we know there were those who really liked that type of life and thrived on the adventure. Next, we will discuss some of the known Mountain Men who have left a historical record for us to understand personalities.





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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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