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Volume Article Contents Abstract. Belk , Russell W. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Janeen Arnold Costa. Revision received:. Cite Cite Russell W. Select Format Select format. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract Modern mountain men form temporary consumption enclaves focused on reenacting the fur-trade rendezvous held in the Rocky Mountain American West. Issue Section:.
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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. 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.
Another popular site in the same general area was Pierre's Hole. By the mids, it attracted — men annually, essentially all the American trappers and traders working in the Rockies, as well as numerous Native Americans. Beginning in , it visited the American rendezvous to buy furs at low prices. The HBC was able to offer manufactured trade goods at prices far below that with which American fur companies could compete.
Combined with a decline in demand for and supply of beaver, by the HBC had effectively put all American fur traders out of business. The last rendezvous was held in During the same years, fashion in Europe shifted away from the formerly popular beaver hats; at the same time, the animal had become over-hunted.
After achieving an American monopoly by , Astor got out of the fur business before its decline. By , only some 50 American trappers still worked in the Snake River country, compared to — in Soon after the strategic victory by the HBC, the Snake River route was used by emigrants as the Oregon Trail, which brought a new form of competition. Former trappers earned money as guides or hunters for the emigrant parties.
A second fur trading and supply center grew up in Taos in what is today New Mexico. Some New Mexican residents 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.
After the decline in beaver and the fur trade, with some emigrants to the West using the Mormon Trail , former trappers found work as guides and hunters for the traveling parties. Both companies undertook numerous measures to prevent American fur traders from competing with them west of the Rocky Mountains, especially in the upper Snake River country. After the HBC took over operations in the Pacific Northwest in , American fur traders in the Snake River country quickly went out business and moved on.
This halted American expansion into the region. After , 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".
Mountain men 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.
By the time two new international treaties in early and early  officially settled new western coastal territories on the United States and spurred a large upsurge in migration, the days of mountain men making a good living by fur trapping had largely ended.
The fur industry was failing because of over-trapping. Fortuitously, America's ongoing western migration by wagon trains with the goal of claiming cheap lands in the west was building rapidly from a trickle of settlers from 's opening of the Oregon Trail to a flood of emigrants headed west by —49 and thereafter well into the later s. By the time the fur trade began to collapse in the s, motivating them to change jobs, the trails they had explored and turned into reliable mule trails and improved gradually into wagon-capable freight roads combined to allow them to work as guides and scouts.
As the fur trade declined, mountain man Robert Newell told Jim Bridger : "[W]e are done with this life in the mountains—done with wading in beaver dams, and freezing or starving alternately—done with Indian trading and Indian fighting. The fur trade is dead in the Rocky Mountains, and it is no place for us now if ever it was.
The migration would explode in 's " The Forty-Niners " in response to the discovery of gold in California in 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. 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.
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.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Men living remotely in the Rocky Mountains of North America. For other uses, see Mountain Man disambiguation. Jim Bridger , one of the most famous mountain men. Further information: Fur trade in Montana. Main article: List of mountain men.
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