The Mountain Men of the North American West – 19th century non-Indigenous fur trappers and explorers based in the Rocky Mountains – continue to generate interest in the age of GPS. Following the Lewis & Clark Expedition to map the West for the US government from 1804-06, mountain men were the central non-Indigenous figures in the West prior to the US Civil War in 1861.
The fashion of beaver felt halts in Europe and the eastern US from the late 18th century to the 1840s pushed many mountain men into the Rocky Mountain fur trade. The peak era for the mountain man would be the 1840s – fashion styles then changed and the beaver was over-trapped. However, the knowledge that the mountain men had of the western landscape would prove important for setters emigrating westward prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Following a career of trapping, some mountain men would become scouts, hunters and guides.
The aura of the mountain man lingered throughout the 19th century as evidenced by the following artwork created in 1872. Jim Bridger with Sir William Drummond Stewart was painted by William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922), an Easterner who grew up in New York and first travelled to the West in 1861. Jim Bridger (1804-1881) was one of the preeminent mountain men of his time and Scottish nobleman Sir William Drummond Stewart (1795-1871) travelled throughout the American West for much of the 1830s.
In the 21st century, many individuals take part in re-enactments of the famous “rendezvous” meetings that occurred during the mountain man era. Each year in late summer the mountain men would gather to socialize, purchase supplies and trade goods. Indigenous groups would also gather at the rendezvous to trade. The “Rocky Mountain Rendezvous”, held annually in the Rocky Mountain states, is an ongoing re-enactment of the original major meetings that ran from 1825 to 1840.
Mountain Men, which debuted in 2012 on the History Channel, is one of the more recent attempts to examine the mountain man lifestyle albeit in a contemporary context. In Season 1, viewers followed three individuals in Montana, Alaska and the Blue Ridge Mountains (respectively) as they lived and interacted with the natural world. Season 2 of Mountain Men debuted June 9th and has two episodes remaining in this season – Sunday, July 7th and Sunday, July 14th (9 EST/8 CST).
Four new mountain men and locations have been introduced in Season 2 – southwest Montana, the Grand Tetons of Idaho, northern Maine and the Arizona desert are the homes for the new men that viewers will join. The following is the preview clip for the second season:
Further information about the show – including TV schedules – can be found at this link - Mountain Men
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)