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mountain men,fur trappers and traders in the Rocky Mts. during the 1820s and 30s. Their activities opened that region of the United States to general knowledge. Since the days of French domination there had been expeditions to the upper Missouri River, and in the early 19th cent. there were several expeditions to and through the mountain country, notably the Lewis and Clark expeditionLewis and Clark expedition,
1803–6, U.S. expedition that explored the territory of the Louisiana Purchase and the country beyond as far as the Pacific Ocean. Purpose
..... Click the link for more information. , the land voyage to Astoria and the return voyage under Robert StuartStuart, Robert,
1785–1843, American explorer, b. Scotland. He emigrated (1807) to Canada and became a fur trader. He joined in John Jacob Astor's Astoria venture, and in 1812 he led the overland party east.
..... Click the link for more information. , and the ventures of the Missouri Fur Company. The mountain region was still virgin fur-gathering country, however, when William Henry AshleyAshley, William Henry,
c.1778–1838, American fur trader and politician, b. Virginia. In 1820 he was elected lieutenant governor of Missouri. He sent fur-trading expeditions up the Missouri River to the Yellowstone in 1822 and 1823; the parties included Jedediah Smith and
..... Click the link for more information. led his trading expedition up the Missouri in 1822. Of the men who accompanied him, many were to spend most of the next few decades living in the mountains, sharing the hardships of Native American life, learning the paths, the rivers, and the peaks, and gathering furs.
Unlike the Hudson's Bay CompanyHudson's Bay Company,
corporation chartered (1670) by Charles II of England for the purpose of trade and settlement in the Hudson Bay region of North America and for exploration toward the discovery of the Northwest Passage to Asia.
..... Click the link for more information. , which maintained permanent forts in the wilderness and bartered with the native people for their furs, Ashley's group had no traders, no permanent forts, no Native American trappers. The mountain men more often than not gathered the furs themselves and brought their harvest to an annual rendezvous at some previously appointed spot in the fur country. There they received their year's wages and obtained new supplies for the fall hunt. Because they spent many years together in the mountains they were known then and thereafter as the mountain men. They were a tough and self-reliant crew, able to deal with and fight the Native Americans and to survive in the wilderness alone.
The mountain men were members of loose companies; after Ashley retired, the company of Smith, Jackson, and Sublette was formed, to be succeeded by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The annual rendezvous was an occasion of rough celebration—for many of the mountain men the nearest approach to civilization that they had for several years at a stretch. Prominent among the mountain men were Thomas FitzpatrickFitzpatrick, Thomas,
c.1799–1854, American trapper, fur trader, and guide, one of the greatest of the mountain men, b. Co. Cavan, Ireland. He emigrated early to the United States, and by 1823 he was engaged in St.
..... Click the link for more information. , James BridgerBridger, James,
1804–81, American fur trader, one of the most celebrated of the mountain men, b. Virginia. He was working as a blacksmith in St. Louis when he joined the Missouri River expedition of William H. Ashley in 1822.
..... Click the link for more information. , Jedediah S. SmithSmith, Jedediah Strong,
1799–1831, American explorer, one of the greatest of the mountain men, b. near Binghamton, N.Y. Early in 1824, Smith took a party through South Pass, beginning the regular use of that route.
..... Click the link for more information. , Kit CarsonCarson, Kit
(Christopher Houston Carson), 1809–68, American frontiersman and guide, b. Madison co., Ky. In 1811 he moved with his family to the Missouri frontier. After his father's death, he was apprenticed to a saddler in Old Franklin, an outfitting point on the Santa Fe
..... Click the link for more information. , John ColterColter, John
, c.1775–1813, American trapper and guide, b. Virginia. In 1803 he enlisted in the Lewis and Clark expedition and in 1806, on the return trip, was granted a discharge to join a party of trappers. The following year, on his way to St.
..... Click the link for more information. , William Sublette, Hugh Glass, W. S. (Old Bill) WilliamsWilliams, William Sherley,
1787–1849, American trader and trapper, known as Old Bill Williams, b. Rutherford co., N.C. Much of his early life was spent in Missouri, where he was a traveling preacher. Becoming (c.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Ceran St. Vrain. The country of the Southwest where Carson, the Bent brothers, Ewing Young, and others traded among the "civilized" Native Americans is also often considered part of the territory of the mountain men.
The Hudson's Bay Company from the Columbia River country also sent men into the mountains and the Great BasinGreat Basin,
semiarid, N section of the Basin and Range province, the intermontane plateau region of W United States and N Mexico. Lying mostly in Nevada and extending into California, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah, it is bordered by the Sierra Nevada on the west, the Columbia Plateau
..... Click the link for more information. , notably Alexander Ross and Peter Skene Ogden. In 1832 the American Fur CompanyAmerican Fur Company,
chartered by John Jacob Astor (1763–1848) in 1808 to compete with the great fur-trading companies in Canada—the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. Astor's most ambitious venture, establishment of a post at Astoria, Oreg.
..... Click the link for more information. began to send traders and trappers into the territory of the mountain men; some of their agents were outsmarted by their rivals and killed by the Native Americans, but the company persisted with its activities and ultimately employed many of the old mountain men.
With the expeditions of John C. FrémontFrémont, John Charles,
1813–90, American explorer, soldier, and political leader, b. Savannah, Ga. He taught mathematics to U.S. naval cadets, then became an assistant on a surveying expedition (1838–39) between the upper Mississippi River and the Missouri.
..... Click the link for more information. (who was guided by mountain men) and the beginning of the wagon trains of settlers to Oregon (also guided by mountain men), the old life began to change. Its end was hastened by a change in fashions, which undermined the fur trade. In the late 1830s the beaver hat went out of style with the result that the price of beaver pelts declined to such a low point that it was no longer profitable for the mountain men to pursue their intense struggle with the wilderness. By the early 1840s their trapping activities had ceased.
See also fur tradefur trade,
in American history. Trade in animal skins and pelts had gone on since antiquity, but reached its height in the wilderness of North America from the 17th to the early 19th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. .
See H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West (3 vol., 1902; repr. 1974); S. Vestal, The Mountain Men (1937); B. De Voto, Across the Wide Missouri (1947, repr. 1964); I. Stone, Men to Match My Mountains (1956); D. Berry, A Majority of Scoundrels (1961, repr. 1971); P. C. Phillips, The Fur Trade (1961); R. M. Utley, A Life Wild and Perilous (1997).