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The Mountain Men

Bill Tyler is an argumentative, curmudgeonly mountain man. Henry Frapp is Tyler's good friend and fellow trapper. Together, they trap beaver, fight Native Americans, and drink at a mountain man rendezvous while trying to sell their "plews", or beaver skins, to a cutthroat French trader named Fontenelle.

The Mountain Men

A mountain man is an explorer who lives in the wilderness and makes their living from hunting and trapping. Mountain men were most common in the North American Rocky Mountains from about 1810 through to the 1880s (with a peak population in the early 1840s). They were instrumental in opening up the various emigrant trails (widened into wagon roads) allowing Americans in the east to settle the new territories of the far west by organized wagon trains traveling over roads explored and in many cases, physically improved by the mountain men and the big fur companies originally to serve the mule train-based inland fur trade.

Mountain men were most common in the North American Rocky Mountains from about 1810 through to the 1880s (with a peak population in the 1830s). Approximately 3,000 mountain men ranged the mountains between 1820 and 1840, the peak beaver-harvesting period. While there were many free trappers, most mountain men were employed by major 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 French term bourgeois. He was the leader of the brigade and the head trader.

Donald Mackenzie, representing the North West Company, held a rendezvous in the Boise River Valley in 1819.[2] The rendezvous system was later implemented by William Henry Ashley of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, whose company representatives 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, like St. Louis, in the fall. Ashley sold his business to the outfit of Smith, Jackson, and Sublette. He continued to earn revenue by selling that firm their supplies. This system of rendezvous with trappers continued when other firms, particularly the American Fur Company owned by John Jacob Astor, entered the field.

This halted American expansion into the region. After 1825, few American trappers worked west of the Rocky Mountains, and those who did generally found it unprofitable. According to historian Richard Mackie, this policy of the HBC forced American trappers to remain in the Rocky Mountains, which gave rise to the term "mountain men".[4]

The life of a mountain man was rugged, and many did not last more than several years in the wilderness. They faced many hazards, especially when exploring unmapped areas: biting insects and other wildlife, bad weather, diseases of all kinds, injuries, and the opposition of Indigenous people, presented constant physical dangers. Grizzly bears were one of the mountain men's greatest enemies.[7] Winters could be brutal, with heavy snowstorms and low temperatures.

In order to stay alive, the men needed keen senses and knowledge of herbal remedies and first aid, among other skills. In summer, they could catch fish, build shelter, and hunt for food and skins. The mountain men dressed in suits made of deer skin that had stiffened after being left outdoors for a time, which gave them some protection against the weapons of particular enemies.[8] There were no doctors in the regions where mountain men worked, and they had to set their own broken bones, tend their wounds, and nurse themselves back to health.[9]

A fur trapper was a mountain man who, in today's terms, would be called a free agent. He was independent and traded his pelts to whoever would pay him the best price. That contrasts with a "company man", typically indebted to one fur company for the cost of his gear, who traded only with that company and was often under the direct command of company representatives. Some company men who paid off their debt could become free traders, using the gear they had earned. They might sell to the same company when the price was agreeable or convenient.

Historical reenactment of the dress and lifestyle of a mountain man, sometimes known as buckskinning, allows people to recreate aspects of this historical period. Today's Rocky Mountain Rendezvous and other reenacted events are both history-oriented and social occasions. Some modern men choose a lifestyle similar to that of historical mountain men. They may live and roam in the mountains of the West or in the swamps of the southern United States.

These mountain men provided the United States with a source of commerce as they connected the young republic to the lucrative international fur trade. The fur industry was almost as old as the first European exploration of the interior of North America, but most settlers had preferred farming to the rough-and-tumble life of the fur trader. As a result, the French and British (as well as a few Spaniards) and their Indian allies had dominated that field during the previous century. American fur trappers and traders did not venture deep into the trans-Mississippi West until the early nineteenth century, after the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Although the mountain men may have established friendly ties with Native Americans because of the fur trade, they also helped initiate a wave of migration that had significant effects on Native American cultures in the West. With their immense geographical knowledge, the mountain men carved paths into the wilderness, forging the way for merchants and settlers who followed in search of a living and personal autonomy. In popular and literary mythology, the figure of the mountain man became a symbol of the independence and power of the individual in the West.

What was the Bad Pass Trail?The Bad Pass Trail weaves its way along the rugged western edge of Bighorn Canyon, from the mouth of the Shoshone River to the mouth of Grapevine Creek. Before the mountain men arrived, native people walked the trail for 10,000 to 12,000 years.This trail was probably part of a much larger web of commerce and interaction between native people. When the mountain men gave the Bad Pass its name in the early 19th Century, it began a new role as a route for commerce in the world wide fur industry.

Even as Lewis & Clark explored the west, mountain men pushed into this region to start commercial ventures aimed at filling the demand for fur. The industry was driven westward because other areas to the east and northeast of the Mississippi River were becoming relatively depleted of beaver, and the west was known to be rich in beaver.

The First Mountain Man On the Trail?No one knows who was the first mountain man on the trail. Most mountain men didn't keep journals and many of them couldn't write. Since their income depended on beaver, they didn't talk much about routes until they were common knowledge. These factors make for few early references to the trail. However, the first recorded description of the mouth of the canyon was written on August 31, 1805 by Francois Antoine Larocque who worked for the Northwest Company.

Mountain Men on the Bad Pass TrailOne may guess from its name that the Bad Pass Trail was not a good road. As captain Bonneville related his travels of 1833 to Washington Irving, he talked of crossing the Bighorns by "a rugged and frightful route...called the 'Bad Pass'" It wasn't just terrain that caused them problems. Mountain men recorded at least one mauling by a grizzly, four mountain men were killed by Blackfoot Indians along the trail.

While many mountain men whose names we'll never know frequented the Bad Pass, a list of those who are known reads like a Who's Who of Mountain Men. Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, and Bill Sublette were just a few of the well-known men who traversed the Bad Pass trail.

These developments caused the fur industry to decline and the Bad Pass to fade in importance. By 1840, many mountain men gave up trapping and looked for a new line of work, which soon presented itself in the form of guide services.

Mountain Men's Place in HistoryThe most important result of the fur trade was that it produced the mountain men, who systematically explored the west. Through exploration they gained expert knowledge of the land and native people, which made them perfectly suited to guide military expeditions and civilian wagon trains headed for California and Oregon.More than any other group, mountain men were the technicians of the westward movement that enabled the United States to achieve its vision of Manifest Destiny.

Bad Pass Trail TodayAlthough the Bad Pass was used for over 10,000 years and played a small role in opening up the West, only rock cairns and broken traces of it remain. You may see parts of it along Bad Pass Road, where you may hike the historic trail. Like the mountain men did long ago, let the cairns be your guide.

Ever since the end of civilization, Gus Berry has spent his days waking up, getting drunk, and preparing for the inevitable zombie attack on his mountain fortress. Occasionally, he must take his life in his hands and venture into the undead world below in search of supplies. These days, Gus is accustomed to the mortal threats he encounters. He has steeled himself against the corpse-infested streets, human scavengers, and unending loneliness. But now something new and strange is happening: the zombies are disappearing.

Debby snapped the photo below. In August of 2020, Debby and I visited with Dr Anika Ward and Mountain Man Jake Herak at the sheep ranch of Anika's parents, Cal and Julie. On the show, Jake and his hounds can be seen chasing mountain lions and bears up into the hills and away from the ranches in the valley, where they may prey on livestock. Anika is a veterinarian who cares for all manner of livestock and pets ... and for Jake's very hard-working Walker-Bluetick hounds. Anika and Jake have since married, and Anika is frequently seen on the show. Jake and Anika are now building their own home on this same ranch we visited. Anika's parents, Julie and Cal, gave them a great piece of land for a wedding gift. I got a boost watching the show on TV and recognized the ranch before the narrator provided the info. Jake and Anika wore the wool in Season 10, but I don't know about Season 11. At least, not so far. Jake's been working with some big companies and we're happy he's getting noticed. 041b061a72

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