Winter in the Rockies: Winter quarters of the Mountain MenOman, Kerry R
The Indians on one part and the hard winter on the other has been my sad ruin and [11 have lost not less than one thousand dollars," wrote defeated trapper Daniel T. Potts in fall 1828. Stranded in Willow Valley until May by the powerful storms that had begun the previous September, Potts and his party spent many tedious months in winter camp. Worse yet, when spring came, "The horses which the winter did not destroy[,] the early visits of the Black feet swept away [along] with from twelve to fifteen scalps of our hunters."1 After some deliberation, Potts returned to St. Louis, unwilling to face another winter in the Rocky Mountains.
As such experience demonstrates, winters often challenged trappers' resolve. Yet throughout the 1820s and 1830s, a number of American trappers made the mountains their year-round home. Near the end of November as storms rushed in, rivers froze, and game disappeared, mountain men congregated together in winter camps until they could again gather pelts. These winter quarters provided trappers with a season of rest essential to future productivity. Although fur trade historians have concentrated on the summer rendezvous, winter quarters were integral to the development of the western fur trade system.2
Concerted and sustained American involvement in the Rocky Mountain fur trade began when the Henry-Ashley Company, founded by enterprising St. Louis residents William H. Ashley and Andrew Henry, sent a brigade of men to the Rocky Mountains in 1822 to compete with the British-owned Hudson's Bay Company. Although this initial expedition was turned away by the Blackfeet, the next year Henry tried again, sending out small trapping parties. These parties returned in 1824 with large quantities of furs, many obtained by trading with Indians. So profitable was this enterprise that in 1825 Ashley hit upon the idea of holding a summer rendezvous that would successfully turn "trading parties into trapping parties."3 Each summer for the next fifteen years, caravans of pack animals brought goods from St. Louis to a rendezvous site conveniently located for both trappers and Indians. There the fur company employees and trappers sold the year's bounty and picked up new supplies. Because the annual rendezvous provided a way to supply the men and to collect accumulated pelts, it eliminated the need for trading posts, allowing trappers to stay in the mountains year-round.4
Due to their small numbers and need for protection, American trappers wintered together throughout the 18208. After spending the warm months operating out of temporary quarters, they generally arrived at the year's chosen winter sites in November, though sometimes as early as October or as late as December, and stayed until March. Abundant timber and game made the Great Salt Lake Valley and Willow Valley, today's Cache Valley in southeastern Idaho and northern Utah, the chief wintering grounds for the mountain men until 1841, despite Mexican claims to this territory. Although Mexican officials had learned of these trespassers by the late 182os, in reality little could be done to stop them.5
As more trappers entered the trade in the early i83os, competition and the depletion of beaver forced the mountain men into numerous smaller winter camps farther north, and many planned their fall hunts near locations where they could winter and still beat competitors to rich trapping grounds in the spring. Suitable sites, where the men had access to game, timber, and water, included the forks of the Snake River near today's Rexburg, Idaho; the Snake River near the mouth of the Portneuf and Blackfoot rivers; the Salmon River near present-day Salmon, Idaho; the east fork of the Salmon River in today's Lemhi Valley, Idaho; and the Little Salmon River Valley near presentday Pahsimeroi Valley, Idaho. Trappers also found conditions favorable near the confluence of the White and Green rivers; the Wind River Valley on the eastern side of the Wind River Mountains; and the Laramie River Valley. Brown's Hole, the small section of land where the Green River flows through today's northwestern Colorado, and the valleys of the Yellowstone River and its tributary, the Powder, were known as hospitable wintering locations as well.
Inexperienced trappers usually constructed timber fortifications, cabins, and stables to provide protection from the bitter elements. During Zenas Leonard's first winter west of St. Louis in 1831, Leonard's party chose a suitable camping site in a large grove of cottonwoods along the Laramie River Valley, where, according to Leonard, "Several weeks were spent in building houses, stables, &c. Necessary for ourselves and horses during the winter season."6
Novice trapper Captain Benjamin Bonneville, on leave from the army to try his luck in the business with the financial support of American Fur Company owner John Jacob Astor, soon learned the drawbacks of log buildings. As winter 1832 approached, Bonneville ventured into the Salmon River country and instructed a portion of his men there to build a winter fortification just north of today's Lemhi Valley. This "miserable establishment," as trapper Warren A. Ferris described it, "consisted entirely of several log cabins, low, badly constructed, and admirably situated for besiegers only, who would be sheltered on every side, by timber [and] brush." Bonneville passed the first months of winter there, but lack of game and feed in the immediate area forced him to abandon it. He sent fifty men south toward the Snake River, while the rest temporarily joined the camps of Nez Perce and Flathead Indians. Bonneville and his men finally settled in for the remainder of the winter in a secluded valley along the north fork of the Salmon River where Bonneville dispensed of the idea of log forts and adopted the Indians' mode of living in skin lodges.7
A number of other entrepreneurs established permanent trading forts in locations that were known to have mild winter climates. One of these was Fort Hall, established in 1833 by New Englander Nathaniel Wyeth at a site near the Snake River known as a good wintering ground, not far from today's Pocatello, Idaho. The Hudson's Bay Company bought the fort in 1837, and it eventually became an important stop for overland emigrants. To the south, Antoine Robidoux, a French-Canadian trader who operated out of New Mexico, built Fort Robidoux, also known as Fort Uintah or Fort Winty, at the junction of the present-day Whiterocks and Uinta rivers. Founded in 1832, it occasionally lodged some of the most notable mountain men during the 1830s. In 1837 William Craig, Phillip Thompson, and William Sinclair built a small one-story adobe and lumber building with three wings in Brown's Hole. Known as Fort Davy Crockett, this meager establishment served as the gathering point for many mountain men during the final winters of the rendezvous period.8
In contrast to those who built winter quarters from logs, experienced men typically spent their winters in buffalo-skin lodges that held six or seven men. These proved extremely comfortable and warm even in the worst winters. Fashioned after Indian lodges, the habitations were made out of thick, tanned skins stretched over a pole structure ten feet or so in diameter. Inside the lodges, trappers spread their blankets and robes over a layer of reeds, leaving a small opening in the center for a fire. The men's baggage placed around the outer edge of the lodge kept the cold from seeping in. Flaps attached to poles at the top of each lodge acted as both a chimney and a window that admitted "sufficient light, to read the smallest print without inconvenience."9 A smokeless aspen-wood fire kept the lodge warm and eliminated the need for candles.10 Because the mountain men did not trap during the winter, they had plenty of time to concentrate on mending clothes, preparing skins, repairing saddles, hunting, and taking care of horses.11
In any winter encampment, there were two types of jobs, those performed by the camp keeper and those of the trapper. According to Warren A. Ferris, camp keepers performed all the duties "required in camp, such as cooking, dressing beaver, making leather thongs, packing, unpacking, and guarding horses, etc., and remaining constantly in camp, are ever ready to defend it from the attacks of Indians."12 Although sizes of camps varied, camp keepers could constitute as much as one-third to one-half of a trapping party. Fur companies sometimes hired men exclusively as camp keepers while other times the older and more experienced trappers compelled the younger men to do their chores.13 Joe Meek, an employee of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and later a free trapper, remembered how men commonly awoke with ice hanging from the roofs of their lodges throughout the severe winter of 1832-1833. On these mornings the "trappers laid still, and called the camp-keepers to make a fire, and in our close lodges it was soon warm enough."14
Trappers had their own chores to perform. On some occasions the weather permitted the men to trap during the winter, though ordinarily the rivers and streams froze too solidly. According to Joe Meek, beaver could be captured during the winter by "sounding on the ice until an aperture [was] discovered." Trappers closed the opening then returned to the bank to search for the animals' "subterranean passage, tracing its connection with the lodge; and by patient watching succeed in catching the beaver on some of its journeys between the water and the land:' Winter trapping most often occurred during journeys to warmer climates or when warming episodes melted the ice on mountain streams. 15
Trappers also provided meat for camp and took care of the horses. "Nothing now is actually necessary for the support of men in the wilderness than a plentiful supply of good fresh meat," William H. Ashley explained to General Henry Atkinson in 1825. He elaborated that "they prefer the meat of the buffaloe to that of any other animal, and the circumstance of the uninterrupted health of these people who generally eat unreasonable quantities of meat at their meals, proves it to be the most wholesome and best adapted food to the constitution of man:"6 The animals principally used for subsistence included buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, and, at times, bear.
Trappers' journals record how many winter hours were spent hunting the game that abounded in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains during the 1820s and 1830s. Some of the hunts were grand affairs, with hundreds of animals killed. To stock up on meat during early winter 1832, Andrew Dripps's American Fur Company party took advantage of the plentiful game at the forks of the Snake River. "Our hunters as usual leave camp about daylight, and generally return in time for breakfast, laden with supplies of meat of various kinds, so plentiful is game in this region," Warren A. Ferris related. Joe Meek late in life reflected upon the "hunter's paradise" he found in the Powder River Valley during the winter of 1829-1830. 17
The small party of AshleyHenry Company men wintering at the mouth of the Musselshell River during winter 1822-1823 found buffalo so numerous that they soon had problems keeping them out of camp. On one occasion the men dared Daniel T. Potts to charge a buffalo armed only with a tomahawk. To show his bravery, Potts approached the animal close enough to throw his weapon then quickly retreated to his cabin. Pressured by his companions to finish the battle, Potts rearmed himself with a spear, knife, and another tomahawk, and accompanied by five encouraging trappers, he found the wounded buffalo concealed in heavy timber and dispatched it after another brief encounter. Such escapades could only occur when an abundance of game kept the men healthy and in good spirits.18
Jim Bridger's camp along the Blackfoot River in today's southeastern Idaho experienced the opposite problem during the winter of 1835-1836. Upon arriving in November, they initially found the valley full of buffalo, but instead of organizing themselves on one large hunt, the men began to run the animals sporadically on horseback, driving them out of the valley just as snow made it impossible to follow. The few animals that remained were old bulls so poor that the men could hardly eat the meat. When Osborne Russell visited the camp, a dismal scene greeted him:
At any time in the day heaps of ashes might be seen with the fire burning on the summit and an independent looking individual who is termed a Camp Keeper. ... [P]oking over the ashes with his club he rolls out a ponderous mass of Bull beef... and draws his butcher knife calling to his comrades "Come Major, Judge, Squire, Dollar Pike, Cotton, and Gabe wont you take a lunch of Simon?" each of whom acts according to the dictates of his appetite in accepting or refusing the invitation.
In this fashion, the Bridger party spartanly but cheerfully sustained themselves. Many men remarked how "this was tough eating but that it was tougher where there was none," and they consoled themselves by promising to make the fat cows suffer before the end of the year.19
For hunting and for nearly every other aspect of life, including transporting pelts to the summer rendezvous, trappers used horses and mules. A well-trained buffalo-hunting horse purchased in the Rocky Mountains cost as much as $450 in 1827, often close to the amount earned during a season of trapping, and the price of an average steed ranged between $100 and $200.20 Thus, trappers took every precaution to ensure the safety and health of their animals and carefully chose wintering locations along rivers or streams. Naturally, they preferred to have their horses graze, but ordinarily the weather made this a luxury.
When pasturage was unavailable, trappers, like the Indians, fed their animals the sweet bark of the cottonwood trees. According to William H. Ashley, this bark proved "almost, if not quite, as nutritious as timothy hay," and animals could be wintered on it with little inconvenience. Describing how to prepare the bark, legendary trapper Jedediah Smith explained that "in feeding the horses the trees are cut down and the bark is shaved off and given to them in any quantity they can consume." As the horses grew accustomed to this type of fodder, they soon learned to eat the bark without the men removing it from the tree limbs. "Forced to eat this bark from necessity, horses soon became very fond of it and require little other assistance than the felling of the trees, and, strange as it may appear to those unacquainted with such things, they become fat and will keep so during the winter if not used." Smith noted, however, that this fat could be burned off quickly by a few days of hard riding.21
The practice of feeding horses cottonwood bark continued throughout the fur trade era with only a few notable failures. During the winter of 1831-1832, several trappers associated with the small Gantt and Blackwell Company situated themselves among a large grove of cottonwoods in the Laramie River Valley. The outlying grass there proved sufficient for the animals during the early part of the winter. By December, however, the grass had run out, and the men began to feed the abundant cottonwood bark to the animals. To their astonishment and horror, the animals would not eat it. Further investigation revealed that the tree was the bitter cottonwood, not the sweet. Winter had now set in and the men frantically searched the valley for a substitute. As the horses grew weaker and the snow mounted, the animals began to die. "It seldom happened during all our difficulties," Zenas Leonard recalled, "that my sympathies were more sensibly touched, than on viewing these starving creatures. I would willingly have divided my provisions with my horses, if they would have eaten it."22
When accustomed to mountain living, trappers often adopted the lifeways of local Indians, and in fact, many trappers passed the cold season with friendly bands of Crows, Shoshones, Bannocks, Flatheads, Nez Perces, or Utes, who knew the mildest wintering locations. Joining a camp offered trappers protection from raiding parties, and companionship as well. The life-style of his nomadic hosts fascinated Ashley-Henry trapper James Clyman during the winter of 1823-1824 that he spent with the Crows. To his amazement, they would "take a bath every morning even when the hoar frost was flying thick in the air and it was necessary to cut holes in the ice to get at the water."23
In these shared winter camps, mountain men often married or cohabited with Indian women, a relationship that brought prestige to the trapper's companion. "The free trapper combines, in the eye of an Indian girl, all that is dashing and heroic in a warrior of her own race, whose gait, and garb, and bravery he emulates, with all that is gallant and glorious," wrote Benjamin Bonneville. "The indulgence with which he treats her, the finery in which he decks her out, the state in which she moves, the sway she enjoys over both his purse and person," all attracted Indian women, particularly to free trappers who took pride in adorning their women with all manner of finery from St. Louis. While some of these marriages were for only a season or two, many became lifelong bonds.24
When trappers wintered with or near friendly Indians, interpreters sometimes assumed a position of power within the party, as did Edward Rose, a black man who lived with the Crows during the frigid months of 1824 in the Wind River Valley. Many members of Rose's party had never spent a winter in the mountains, and they struggled to communicate with the Crows. Trapper Zenas Leonard told of a similar situation he encountered when living with the Crows during the winter of 1832-1833. Leonard's party found a black man living in a Crow village near the mouth of the of Shoshone River who claimed to have been with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and who was well acquainted with the Crows' language and method of conducting business. Greatly valued by the Indians, the man enjoyed "perfect peace and satisfaction, and has everything that he desires at his own command."25 Although novice trappers depended on the services of interpreters, most mountain men soon learned several languages in order to communicate with the various western Indian tribes.
Winter camp proved an ideal time for trappers and Indians to share information. In February 1824, as winds battered the camp in the upper Wind River Valley near today's Dubois, Wyoming, the Crows informed the trappers with Jedediah Smith of a pass north of the Wind River Mountains that would take them to a river where the abundance of beaver made traps virtually unnecessary. This information so excited Smith that he foolishly tried to lead a group of men across Union Pass to the Green River in the middle of winter.26 After the deep snow and cold temperatures forced the party to return, James Clyman spread out a buffalo robe, covered it with sand, and asked the Crows to draw him a map. Using heaps of sand to symbolize the different mountains, they showed him a much easier way to get to the Green River-a pass at the extreme southern end of the Wind River range feasible even during the late months of winter. In March 1824 Smith and his small entourage successfully crossed over South Pass and pushed on to the Green River where they became the first group of Americans since the Astorians to make a concerted effort to trap west of the Continental Divide.27
Not all encounters with Native Americans ended well, however, and the fear of raiding parties kept mountain men on alert. In January 1833 when Kit Carson had taken up winter quarters around the headwaters of the Arkansas River near today's Pueblo, Colorado, a group of Crows stole nine horses that had been turned out to graze. The next day, after traveling nearly forty miles in pursuit, Carson and his party had decided to camp in a grove of timber when they noticed several hidden campfires. After working their way to within a hundred yards of the Crow's camp, they spotted their horses. Half of the men crept ahead, cut the horses loose, and threw snowballs to spook them toward the others. Once in possession of the horses, according to the story, Carson led his men into the camp, where the trappers "opened a deadly fire, each ball taking its victim," killing nearly every Crow.28
In a similar exchange near the confluence of the Clarks Fork and Yellowstone rivers in January 1837, seven trappers encamped with the large American Fur Company group under command of Jim Bridger were on a hunting trip when a war party of eighty Blackfeet attacked. The Blackfeet had long held enmity for American trappers and their forays into Blackfeet lands. It was the third such skirmish that winter. The brief exchange of fire wounded only one man, but it whetted the trappers' desire for revenge. A few days later, the trappers attacked a party of twenty Blackfeet they encountered nearby. Although the Indians found cover behind some logs, Osborne Russell recorded that after the battle "we found that the old forts were not bullet proof in any place our rifle balls had whisfled thro. them nearly every shot and blood and brains lay scattered about inside on the shattered fragments of rotton wood."29 Those Blackfeet who somehow escaped later returned with reinforcements, but the arrival of a massive smallpox epidemic later in the year would undermine the Blackfeets' ability to withstand American encroachment.
In spite of the danger of encountering unfriendly Indians, accounts are full of men venturing out of winter quarters in search of adventure, exercise, meat, or simply to pay social calls. Those who wintered in the milder southern valleys could travel longer distances. During the winter of 1826-1827, Daniel T Potts journeyed around Utah Lake, and Osborne Russell made a similar trip from the Great Salt Lake to Utah Lake in winter 1840-1841. Both Potts's and Russell's accounts are some of the earliest and best descriptions of this territory prior to settlement.30
Many times, though, those who ventured far from camp encountered terrible hardships. While crossing over the mountains into the Wind River Valley during the early winter months of 1823-1824, Daniel T. Potts became separated from his companions and froze his feet, making it impossible for him to travel. "Here," he later wrote his brother, "I am obliged to remark on the humanity of the natives (the Indians) towards me, who conducted me to their village, into the lodge of their Chief, who regularly twice a day divested himself of all his clothing except his breech clout, and dressed my wounds, until I left them."31 It is impossible to know how many other men benefited from such timely friendships.
Some of the most spectacular winter journeys occurred during January when the supplies for the upcoming year had to be ordered in St. Louis. When William H. Ashley sold out his interest in the fur trade, part of the contract stipulated that merchandise for the next year's rendezvous must be ordered from him by March 1, a provision that necessitated an arduous trek to St. Louis on foot. The memorable journey of 1827 began on New Year's Day when William Sublette and Moses Harris left the Great Salt Lake Valley on snowshoes with an old dog carrying a fifty-pound pack. They traveled east over much of what is today known as the eastern arm of the Oregon Trail, a route historian Fred Gowans termed the "Great Fur Trade Road."32 Pushing through present-day southwestern Wyoming, they reached the Platte River, where their fuel supply began to run out and the coldness of the nights forced them to continue walking to keep from freezing. Soon after, the dog's pack that held the extra meat, sugar, and coffee wore out, and its contents were lost. Forced to rely upon what little game they could kill, they soon grew sick and hungry to the point that Harris killed the dog. On top of this, as they neared St. Louis, Harris badly sprained his ankle, forcing Sublette to trade his pistol for a horse. Although the two trappers arrived in St. Louis after the established deadline, Ashley overlooked that part of the contract and soon organized a return party.33
When the necessities of survival did not occupy the mountain men's time, Rocky Mountain winters offered opportunities for relaxation with fellow trappers. The men spent many nights huddled around campfires listening to seasoned trappers' tales of far-away places and days gone by, particularly upon the return of old companions. Osborne Russell remembered numerous nights when "jovial tales" and loud laughter echoed through the camp. "Every tale," Russell said, "puts an auditor in mind of something similar to it but under different circumstances which being told the `laughing part' gives rise to increasing merriment and furnishes more subjects for good jokes and witty sayings:' The evenings passed along until nearly midnight when one by one all gradually fell asleep around the campfire, until the "snoring of the drowsy audience" drowned out the last tale.34
Although the majority of mountain men were illiterate, some came to the mountains fairly well educated, and many trappers passed long winter nights in great debates, creating an atmosphere dubbed "The Rocky Mountain College." Joe Meek recalled that around the campfire the men who knew and loved books retold their favorite stories and recited "passages once treasured, and now growing unfamiliar." Meek was one who benefited from such companionship. During the winter of 1829-i83o,
Meek learned to read. He found a teacher in a fellow trapper named Green and after some time "acquired sufficient knowledge to enjoy an old copy of Shakespeare, which, with a Bible, was carried about with the property of the camp:' Books were generally obtained from fur trade posts, a tradition started by Dr. John McLoughlin of the Hudson's Bay Company who circulated books throughout his posts. Osborne Russell "had some few Books to read such as Byrons Shakespeares and Scotts works on the bible and Clarks Commentary on it and other small works on Geology Chemistry and Philosophy" during the winter of 1839-1840 he spent near Fort Hall.35
Another of the mountain men's winter entertainments was the celebration of holidays, especially Christmas. Although some celebrations were mere acknowledgements of the day, others turned into impressive events. Christmas festivities always incorporated a special meal, one often shared with Indians encamped nearby.36 Depending on the camp's situation, the meal included stewed elk, boiled deer meat, buffalo tongues, dried buffalo meat, buffalo hump, fresh venison, mountain mutton, buffalo marrow (as a substitute for butter), wheat flour cakes, boiled flour pudding prepared with dried fruit, bitterroot, cake, sugar, coffee, and rum.37 Sporting contests and debates followed dinner, with target shooting a recurring favorite. Wrestling, foot races, horse races, hunting, fishing, singing, dancing, storytelling, joking, card playing, drinking, and sports of strength and agility engaged the men throughout the winter but particularly on Christmas. 38 At the close of the day, all retired to their quarters having celebrated a "merry Christmas in the heart of the wilderness."39
While the winter months could be full of peril and hardship, in lore they have come to be remembered as a time when the hazards of the trapping season were forgotten. Washington Irving wrote that winter was a time when "the hunt, the game, the song, the story, the rough though good-humored joke, made time pass joyously away, and plenty and security reigned throughout the camp." In a moment of nostalgia, Joe Meek explained that during the winter "the mountain-men `lived fat' and enjoyed life: a season of plenty, of relaxation, of amusement, of acquaintanceship with all the company, of gayety, and of `busy idleness?" Whether they spent the winter months relaxing around a campfire or fighting harsh conditions, winter quarters served as a key part of a seasonal cycle and a vital component of the Rocky Mountain trapping system.40
1. Daniel T Potts to Robert Potts, October 13, 1828, in Gerald C. Bagley, "Daniel T. Potts, Chronicler of the Fur Trade, 1822-1828, and the Earliest Confirmed Explorer of Yellowstone Park" (master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1964),138-39.
2. Within the literature on the Rocky Mountain fir trade, the topic of winter quarters has received little attention. Key works addressing winter quarters include Fred Gowans, Rocky Mountain Rendezvous (Layton, Utah, 1985); David J. Wishart, The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807-1840 (Lincoln, 1979); Leroy R. Hafen, ed., Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, 10 vols. (Glendale, Calif, 1965-1972), vol. 1; Hiram M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, 2 vols. (1902; reprint, New York, 1935); Paul C. Phillips and J. W. Smurr, The Fur Trade, vol. 2 (Norman, 1961); Don Berry, A Majority of Scoundrels (New York, 1961); and Robert M. Utley, A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific (New York, 1997).
3. Nathaniel Wyeth to Henry Hall, Mess Tucker, and Williams, November 8, 1833, in "The Correspondence and Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 1831-61" ed. F. G. Young, in Sources of the History of Oregon (Eugene, Oreg., 1899), pt. 3-6:73-74. The Henry-Ashley Company changed ownership several times during the 1820s. It was the Ashley Company from 1824 to 1825; the Ashley-Smith Company from 1825 to 1826; and the Smith, Jackson, and Sublette Company from 1826 to 1830.
4. Competition among American companies became a major factor in the fur trade in 1830 when John Jacob Astor sent his American Fur Company into the Rocky Mountains and the competing firm, Smith, Jackson, and Sublette Company, sold out to five veteran trappers who started the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. When this new company collapsed in 1834, its employees generally joined the American Fur Company or became free trappers. For a more thorough description of these companies, see Hafen, ed., Mountain Men and the Fur Trade,
1:21-176. For a discussion on the demography of the mountain men, see Harvey Lewis Carter and Marcia Carpenter Spencer, "Stereotypes of the Mountain Man," Western Historical Quarterly, 6 (January 1975),17-32; William Swagerty; "Marriage and Settlement Patterns of Rocky Mountain Trappers and Traders," Western Historical Quarterly, 11 (April 1980), 159-80; William Goetzmann, "The Mountain Men," American West, 15 (July/August 1978),4-17; William Goetzmann, "The Mountain Man as Jacksonian Man," American Quarterly, 15 (Fall 1963), 402-15; and the multitude of biographical sketches available in Leroy R. Hafen, ed., Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West.
5. The best source on the fur trade in the Southwest while the area was under Spanish and Mexican rule is David J. Weber, The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540-1846 (Norman, 1971). See also David J. Weber, "Mexico and the Mountain Men, 1821-1828," Journal of the West, 8 (July 1969),369-78.
6. Zenas Leonard, Adventures of Zenas Leonard, Fur Trader, ed. John C. Ewers (Norman, 1959), 13.
7. Warren A. Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains, ed. LeRoy R. Hafen (Denver, 1983), 247, 249, 255. Bonneville also had a small party of men in Willow Valley and another in Crow country; he became known for the permanent fortifications he ordered built on the Green River near today's Daniel Wyoming, and on the Salmon River, near today's Salmon, Idaho. Washington Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville (1837; reprint, New York, 1868), 150, 223-24; Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains, 258-59.
8. See Richard G. Beidleman, "Nathaniel Wyeth's Fort Hall," Oregon Historical Quarterly, 58 (September 1957), 196-250; John D. Barton "Fort Uintah and the Reed Trading Post," Montana The Magazine of Western History, 43 (Winter 1993), 50-57; LeRoy R. Hafen, "Fort Davy Crockett, Its Fur Men and Visitors," Colorado Magazine, 29 (January 1952), 17-33. The rendezvous era lasted only until 1840,when the rising demand for silk caused the price of beaver to plummet.
9. Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains, 355.
10. Osborne Russell, Osborne Russell's Journal of a Trapper, ed. Aubrey L. Haines (Portland, Oreg., 1955), 51; Ferris, Life in the Rocky
Mountains, 354-55; Francis Fuller Victor, The River of the West: The Adventures of Joe Meek, 2 vols. (1870; reprint, Missoula, Mont., 1983), 1:54.
11. Rufus Sage encountered several old trappers who continued to live in the mountains after the rendezvous years; his account is an excellent description of a hunter's life in the mountains. See Rufus Sage, Rufus B. Sage: His Letters and Papers, 1836-1847, ed. LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, 2 vols. (Glendale, Calif, 1956),1:284-85.
12. According to information Bonneville gave Washington Irving, one-third of the men in a typical trapping party were camp keepers.
Washington Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West, ed. Edgerley Todd (Norman, 1961), 145. On one hunt, Osborne Russell recorded ten trappers and seven camp keepers, including himself, and during fall 1836, Kit Carson joined a trapping party that consisted of fifty trappers and fifty camp keepers. Russell, Yournal of a Trapper, 9; Milo Milton Quaife, ed., Kit Carson's Autobiography (Lincoln, 1966), 47-48.
13. Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains, 360-61.
14. Victor, River of the West, 137.
15. Russell, Journal of a Trapper, 93-95; Quaife, ed., Kit Carson's Autobiography, 45-46.
16. William H. Ashley to General Henry Atkinson, December 1,1825, in The Explorations of William H. Ashley and redediah Smith, 1822-1829, ed. Harrison Clifford Dale (1941; reprint, Lincoln, 1991), 135.
17. Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains, 261; Victor, River of the West, 79-83.
18. Daniel T. Potts to Robert Potts,July 16, 1826, in Bagley, "Daniel T. Potts," 131-33.
19. Russell,_ournal ofa Trapper, 38-40.
20. Daniel T. Potts to Robert Potts, July 8, 1827, in Bagley, "Daniel T. Potts," 136-38.
21. Dale, Explorations of William H. Ashley and jedediah Smith, 135-36; Maurice S. Sullivan, ed., The Travels of fedediah Smith (1934; reprint, Lincoln, 1992), 10. This is the plains cottonwood, Populus
deltoids, often called the western or sweet cottonwood, whose range extended from Texas to Canada. Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees (Boston, 1953), 334-37.
22. Leonard,Adventures ofZenas Leonard, 13-14.
23. Charles L. Camp, ed., James Clyman, American Frontiersman, 1792-1881 (Cleveland, 1928), 29.
24. Todd, ed., The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, 357. The best source on Indian-trapper marriages is William R. Swagerty, "Marriage and Settlement Patterns."
25. Leonard,Adventures of Zenas Leonard, 49-53, 139.
26. Camp, ed.james Clyman, 29-32.
27. Although Smith's party was not the first group of white men to cross over South Pass, their discovery was the event that changed the course of history, for the public soon learned that wagon travel over the pass was feasible. Dale Morgan has called this the "effective discovery:" Dale Morgan,Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West (Indianapolis, Ind., 1967),92.
28. Quaife, ed., Kit Carson's Autobiography, 27. George Bird Grinnell tells a somewhat different story in "Bent's Old Fort and Its Builders," Kansas Historical Collections, vol. 15 (Topeka, Kans., 1922), 33-36; Quaife, ed., Kit Carson's Autobiography, 28; Harvey Lewis Carter, Dear Old Kit, the Historical Christopher Carson (Norman, 1968), 55; M. Morgan Estergreen, Kit Carson, A Portrait in Courage (Norman, 1962), 53.
29. Russell, Journal ofa Trapper, 50-55.
30. Daniel T. Potts to Dr. Lukens, July 8, 1827; Russell, journal of a Trapper, 120-22.
31. Potts to Potts,July 16, 1826.
32. See Fred R. Gowans, The Great Fur Trade Road: Discovery and Exploration of the Great Fur Trade Road, 1739-1843 (Orem, Utah, 1994).
33. Dale Morgan, The West of William H. Ashley (Denver, 1964), 163. 34. Leonard, Adventures of Zenas Leonard, 156; Victor, River of the West, 84,196; Russell,Yournal ofa Trapper, 51,45-46.
35. Russell,7ournal ofa Trapper, 51, 109; Victor, River of the West, 84. 36. James Beckwourth, The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, ed. Delmont R. Oswald (Lincoln, 1972), 162. Osborne Russell talked of meeting in a spacious Indian lodge, one that measured about thirty-six feet in circumference at the base, and eating Christmas dinner amidst the company of dozens of Shoshones and Nez Perces. Russell, journal ofa Trapper, 114-15.
37. Ferris, Life in the Rocky Mountains, 309; Russell, journal of a Trapper, 114-15; Irving, Adventures of Captain Bonneville, 174; Victor, River of the West, 259.
38. These activities were conducted throughout the winter as well. For mention of these activities, see Russell,Journal ofa Trapper, 54-55, 116; Dewitt C. Peters, ed., Kit Carson's Life and Adventures (Hartford, Conn., 1874), 133; Leonard, Adventures of Zenas Leonard, 52; Irving, Adventures of Captain Bonneville, 169; Victor, River of the West, 83-84, 196,225-27; Morgan, The West of William H. Ashley, 39.
39. Irving, Adventures of Captain Bonneville, 174. Although not nearly as important as Christmas, New Year's Day was also an event worthy of mention.
40. Ibid., 169; Victor, River of the West, 83.
KERRY R. OMAN is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Southern Methodist University. His dissertation examines how the environmental perceptions of western travelers influenced American attitudes toward wilderness and the West during the nineteenth century. This article received the Merrill G. Burlingame-K. Ross Toole Award for best student manuscript submitted to Montana The Magazine of Western History in 2001.
Copyright Montana Historical Society Spring 2002
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