Mountain Men

A mountain man is a male trapper and explorer who lives in the wilderness.

Rocky Mountains and Beyond

Mountain men were most common in the North American Rocky Mountains from about 1810 through 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.

Jim Bridger

Mountain man Jim Bridger makes his first expedition into the Rockies in March, 1821. Jim Bridger was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States during the decades of 1820-1850, as well as mediating between native tribes and encroaching whites. He was of English ancestry, and his family had been in North America since the early colonial period.

Jim Bridger had a strong constitution that allowed him to survive the extreme conditions he encountered walking the Rocky Mountains from what would become southern Colorado to the Canadian border. He had conversational knowledge of French, Spanish and several native languages. He would come to know many of the major figures of the early west, including Kit Carson, George Armstrong Custer, John Fremont, Joseph Meek, and John Sutter.

The Last Rendezvous

Rocky Mountain Rendezvous (in trapper jargon) was an annual gathering (1825–1840) at various locations held by a fur trading company. Trappers and mountain men sold their furs and hides and replenished their supplies. The large fur companies put together teamster driven mule trains which packed whiskey and supplies into a pre-announced location each spring-summer and set up a trading fair—the rendezvous. At season’s end, the British Companies packed furs out to Fort Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest. American overland fur trading companies delivered their furs to one of the northern Missouri River ports such as St. Joseph, Missouri.

Rendezvous were known to be lively, joyous places, where all were allowed- free trappers, Indians, native trapper wives and children, travelers and later on, even tourists who would venture from even as far as Europe to observe the festivities. James Beckwourth describes: “Mirth, songs, dancing, shouting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent.”

Kit Carson

John Fremont and Kit Carson lead an expedition into California in 1843. Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson was an American trailblazer, mountain man, Indian fighter, guide, Indian agent, and American Army officer. He was a widely respected celebrity during his early years as a mountain man, and was made famous through his deeds of selfless heroism and gallantry described in newspapers, dime novels, and other published materials.