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Mountain Men

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Mountain men were trappers and explorers who roamed the North American Rocky Mountains from about 1810 to the early 1840s. Although primarily of Canadian or American origin, mountain men were of many ethnic, social and religious backgrounds. These men were primarily motivated by profit, trapping beaver and selling the skins, although many were more interested in exploring the West.

History

An approximate 3,000 men ranged the mountains in the window between 1820 and 1840, the peak beaver harvesting period. While there were many free trappers, most mountain men were employed by fur companies. The life of a company man was almost militarized. The men had mess groups, hunted and trapped in brigades and always reported to the head of the trapping party. This man was called a "boosway", a bastardization of the term bourgeois. He was the leader of the brigade, the head trader and overall CEO.

In 1824, the rendezvous system began. Companies would haul supplies to specific mountain locations in the spring, engage in trading with trappers, and bring pelts back to communities on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the fall. Major William Henry Ashley started this system through the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He sold this business to the outfit of Smith, Jackson and Sublette, while still making a profit by selling that firm their supplies. This system continued when other firms, particularly the American Fur Company, entered the field.

A second trading and supply center grew up in Taos, in what is today New Mexico. This trade attracted, besides Anglo Americans, a large number of French Americans from Louisiana and some French Canadian trappers. Some New Mexicans also pursued the beaver trade, as Mexican citizens initially had some legal advantages. Trappers and traders in the Southwest covered territory that was generally inaccessible to the large fur companies, including New Mexico, Nevada, California and central and southern Utah.

Beaver pelts had been needed to make the beaver hats, initially popular in England. Fashions changed in the early 1840s, making beaver less valuable at the same time they became harder to find due to over trapping. The opening of the Oregon Trail and the use of the Mormon Trail provided trappers who wished to stay in the West opportunities for employment as guides and hunters.

Mode of living

The stereotypical mountain man has been depicted as dressed in buckskin and a coonskin cap, sporting bushy facial hair and carrying a Hawken rifle and Bowie knife, commonly referred to as a "scalpin' knife." They have also been romanticized as honorable men with their own chivalrous code, loners who would help their brethren but who had found their home in the wild. Although there was some truth to this romantic image, some mountain men were gruff, while others were well-mannered, some remained in the wilderness for life while others retired as businessmen in eastern communities or established themselves as farmers in the west.

Most trappers traveled and worked in companies and their dress combined woolen hats and cloaks with serviceable Indian style leather breeches and shirts. Mountain men often wore moccasins, but generally carried a pair of heavy boots. Each mountain man also carried basic gear, which could include arms, powder horns and a shot pouch, knives and hatchets, canteens, cooking utensils, and supplies of tobacco, coffee, salt and pemmican. Horses or mules were essential, a riding horse for each man and at least one for carrying supplies and furs.

With the exception of coffee, food supplies duplicated the diet of native tribes in various locations. Fresh red meat, fowl, and fish were generally available. Some plant foods, such as fruit and berries, were easy for the men to harvest. But foods which required time for preparation, such as roots, dried meat and pemmican, were generally obtained from tribes through trading. However, in times of crisis and bad weather, mountain men were known to slaughter and eat their horses and mules.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Mountain Man ".
 
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