Footsteps of our Forefathers



Mike Moore, a staff writer on the western fur trade for "On The Trail" magazine, has written for that magazine and others. It took over five years to do the research and compile the chapters. You may have seen an article by him in some of the following magazines:  "Backwoodsman", "Tomahawk and Long Rifle", "Muzzle Blasts", "Poke and Stroke" and "On The Trail".  Mikes new series of books "Heroes to Me", "Rocky Mountain Album", and "Life in the Early West" are enjoying great reviews, check them out.


"Descriptions of Mountain Men"

collected by Mike Moore

Spelling is used as it was in the references, so you get the full effect.

As we start on a very different kind of article, let me say that the reason of this one is not to express one point of view over another. But, to have in your hands, various descriptions of a group of people in which we see a wide range of equipment, styles and looks. Hopefully, these words, with the places they are found (some which are in the first person, the best and most accurate type of reference to use) will be a help for you to improve your own accoutrements or be a back up to what you might already have.

"The Shawnees of the party wore buckskin pants and hunting shirt, with fringes of buckskin strings along the seams of the legs and sleeves..... Most of the white trappers wore a dress similar to that of the Shawnees, an account of its great durability, as it would last from three to four years, not with standing the hard use it received." pg. 19 "Wild Life in the Far West" by James Hobbs (Rio Grande Press)

"I supped this minute at a tavern table, amidst village politicians, pedantic doctors, and wise looking lawyers- My dirty hunting shirt and greasy leather breeches seemed to offend their hypercritical eyes and too curious olfactories- God Help them!." "The Rocky Mountain Journals of William Marshall Anderson", pg. 54

"Here I am, a regular carter of Fort William, dressed in cowskin (buffulo) pants, cowskin coat, buckskin shirt, wolfskin cap, red flannel undershirt, and a blue check shirt over that..""Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri" (the personal narrative of Charles Larpentuer) pgs. 43-44.

"...Naturally, if some of this mixture (speaking of castorium) spilled on their hands, they wiped it on their buckskins; they didn't stop there, but wiped their greasy hands on their skins after eating, and wiped off the blood when skinning. The resulting color and flavor of the skin was not the clean gold of fresh-tanned hides, but, as Berry Dirty black, greasy black, shiny black, bloody black, stinky black. Black.""Journal of a Mountain Man" by James Clyman pg. 7

"His dress was the usual hunting-flock of buckskin, with long fringes down the seams, with pantaloons similarly ornamented, and moccasins of indian make." pg. 4 (Journal of a Trapper)

"..his personal dress is a flannel or cotton shirt (if he is fortunate enough to obtain one, if not antelope skin answers the purpose of over and under shirt) a pair of leather breeches with blanket or smoked buffulo skin, leggings, a coat made of blanket or buffulo robe, a hat or cap of wool, buffulo or otter skin his hose are pieces of blanket lapped round his feet which are covered with a pair of moccasins made of dressed deer elk or buffalo skins with this long hair falling loosely over his shoulders completes his uniform." pg. 82, "Journal of a Trapper" Osbourne Russell.

"The upper part of the body was clad in a light blue shirt of course cotton or other cloth, and in some cases breeches with long deerskin leggings were worn, leaving the thighs and hips bare. The cloth which was folded around the loins was held in place by the girdle, while a "hunting shirt with a large cape and loose sleeves reached nearly to the knees." pgs. 60 and 61 "The American Fur Trade of the Far West" by Hiram Martin Chittenden Volume one.

"The costume of the trapper is a hunting shirt of dressed deerskin, ornamented with long fringes, pantaloons of the same material, decorated with porcupine quills and long fringes on the outside of the leg. A flexible felt hat and moccasins clothe the extremities" pg. 228 "Ruxton of the Rockies" by George Ruxton.

"The cloth pants were gone too- ripped- and long since replaced with buckskin. Buckskin wore for ever, eventually getting black and hard with grease, and you didn't have to pay a price jacked way up because someone had brought your pants by horse back from St. Louis. The fringes came in handy, too for various repairs." pg. 44 "Give Your Heart to the Hawks" by Winfred Blevins.

"I was still wearing my city clothes, and mountain men present asked Williams what he was going to do with that city lad in the mountains. This remark cut me deeply, and I hurried to the frontier store and traded all my fine clothes, shirts and dickies, which were worn in those days, for two suits of the finest buckskin, such as these merchants always kept on hand to fleece greenhorns like myself, making five hundred percent profit in the trade. The next morning I appeared dressed "a la prairie" and the old trappers noticed the change and said "Williams, that boy of yours will make a mountaineer if he catches on at this rate." pgs. 18,19 "My Sixty years on the Plains" by William Thomas Hamilton.

Much of this had to do with tailoring. We have seen that the mountain man preferred wool clothing when he could get it, but probably he had little that was still serviceable when winter came.If he had worn skin breeches, he had staged them at the knees and sewn on legs of blanketing which would not shrink intolerably when they dried......For moccasins and the leggings which both Indians and trappers wore, usually to the hip, the best material was last year's tipi." pg 163. Bernard De Voto- "Across the Wide Missouri".

Gerald Rawling, writer of "The Pathfinders": "The rest of his equipment he wore on his body. His clothes were of cotton or wool when he could get them, but store bought clothes seldom lasted the season though, and more often than not he had to make do with animal hides. He wore a fringed buckskin hunting shirt with a pair of leather breeches and leggings made of smoked buffulo hide. His feet were wrapped in strips of blanketing, and encased in moccasins of indian manufacture- the only possible footwear for getting about in rough country. Over all, he wore a capote (blanket coat) or a buffulo robe pulled in at the waist by a leather belt, into which were thrust a piratical collection of sidearms- pistols,scalping knifes and hatchets- while suspended from his shoulder was a powder horn and bullet pouch." pgs 52 and 53.

"Down to his shoulders hung the hunter's hair, covered with a felt hat or perhaps the hood of a capote. He liked wool clothing, for it would not shrink as it dried and wake him, when he dozed beside the fire, by agonizingly squeezing his limbs. But wool soon wore out and he then clad himself in leather, burdensomely heavy to wear, fringed on the seams with the familiar thongs which were partly to decorate but most utilitarian, to let rain drip off the garment rather than soak in, and to furnish material for mending. Further waterproofing was added by wiping butcher and eating knifes on the garments until they were black and shiny with grease. Upper garments might be pull-over type or cut like a coat, the buttonless edges folded over and clinched into place with a belt. No underclothes were worn, just breechclout. In extreme cold a Hudson's Bay blanket or a buffulo robe was draped Indian-wise over the entire costume." Bent's Fort By David Lavender pgs.73-74.

"..the old trappers and hunters wear their hair flowing on their shoulders, and their large grizzled beards would scarcely disgrace a Bedouin if the desert." Across the Rockies to the Columbia", By John Kirk Townsend.

"He (the free trapper) was ordinarily gaunt and spare, browned with exposure, his hair long and unkept, while his general makeup with the queer dress which he wore, made it often difficult to distinguish from an Indian."

"Partly form inclination and partly from necessarily the hunter in his dress adopted the customs of the indians. The clothes he brought from form the states quickly fell to pieces under the wear and tear of the life in which he engaged. The indian costume was the most convenient substitute. There was moreover a manifest pride on the part of the hunter in imitating the garb of his red brethren, and it is doubtful if the fondness of the latter for the incongruous combination of his own and white men's clothes was more marked than that of the wild attire of the savage." Volume one of "The American Fur Trade of the Far West"; Hiram Martin Chittenden pgs. 59-61

"The trappers wore a colorful combination of buckskin suits, woolen blanket capotes, fur caps and fur lined moccasins and legging, of the designs from which their individual fancy nd style of indian tribes with which they had been associated." "John Colter" (His Years in the Rockies) by Burton Harris. pgs. 49, 50.

"Before we reached the fort (fort Laramie) we encounter the first white "pale faces" we had seen since our departure from Missouri. They were french canadians, clad half indian fashion in leather, and scurrying along with their ponies, bedight with bells and gay ribbons, as if intent to storm the battery." Dr. Frederick A. Wislezenus' Journal in "Rocky Mountain Rendezvous" by Fred Gowens.

"To form an adequate conception of their appeal, you must see it. A suit of clothes is seldom washed or turned from the time it is first worn until it is laid aside. Caps and hats are made of beaver and otter skins, the skins of buffulo calves and c...You will perhaps recollect to have seen in the "far west" of our own United States, the buckskin hunting shirt and leggings gracefully hung with fringes along the arm and sides. But I am sure you have never seen the tasty fashion of the fringes carried to perfection. Here they are six or seven inches long and hung densely on every seam...."Rocky Mountain Rendezvous" (Philip Edwards's description) pgs. 116-117.


" ...You cannot pay a free trapper a greater compliment than to persuade him you have mistaken him for a indian brave; and in truth, the counterfeit is complete. His hair, suffered to attain to a great length, is carefully combed out, and either left to fall carelessly over his shoulders, or plaited neatly and tied up in otter skins, or multi-colored ribbons. A hunting shirt of bright calico of bright dyes, or of ornamented leather, falls to his knee; below which, curiously fashioned leggings, ornamented with strings, fringes, and profusion of hawks' bells, reach to a costly pair of moccasins of the finest Indian fabric, richly embroidered with beads. A blanket of scarlet, or some other color, hangs from his shoulders, and is girt around his waist with a red sash, in which he bestows pistols, knife, and the stem of his Indian pipe; preparations for either peace or was. His gun is lavishly decorated with brass tacks and vermillion, and ornamented here and there with a feather." "Adventures of Captain Bonneville" Washington Irving pgs. 110-111.

"I think I was something of a fop in those days and sometimes have a good laugh to think how I must of looked in my fringed suit of buckskin with a ruffed skirt to match." "Journal of a Mountain Man" James Clyman pg. 8.

"The kit I selected from my baggage was merely half dozen colored shirts, an overcoat of white blanket with a hood, a leather belt, a broad brimmed un-napped white hat, my ammunition, and a rifle; a tooth-brush, and a mane-comb which I thought least likely to break, were in my pocket, a butcher knife was in my belt, and an awl was attached to my pouch, which with a large transparent horn of powder, and a wooden measure hanging to it, completed my equipment. This was full marching order; but a leather shirt over my cotton one, and my leather leggings, reaching halfway up the thigh and tied to a inner sash, was to be the costume of the steam-boat deck and periods of halt." "Edward Warren" William Drummond Stewart pg 51.

"The outfit of a trapper is generally a rifle, a pound of powder, and four pounds of lead, with a bullet mould, seven traps, an axe, a hatchet, a knife and awl, a camp kettle, two blankets and , where supplies are plenty, seven pounds of flour. He has, generally, two or three horses, to carry himself, and his baggage and peltries. Two trappers commonly go together, for the purposes of mutual assistance and support; a larger party could not easily escape the eyes of the Indians." pg. 336 "The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A. Washington Irving.

"On the lst day of our stay in this camp the trappers were ready for departure. When in the Black Hills they has caught seven beavers, and now left their skins in charge of Reynal, to be kept until they return. Their string, gaunt horses were equipped with rusty Spanish bits, and rude Mexican saddles, to which wooden stirrups were attached, while a buffulo-robe was rolled up behind, and bundle of beaver-traps slung at the pommel. These, together with their rifles, knives, powder horns and bullet pouches, flint and steel, and a tin cup composed their whole travelling equipment." "Oregon Trail", Francis Parkman

"I looked up and saw a man, not much more than five feet high, but of very square and strong proportions. In appearance he was particularly dingy; for his old buck-skin frock was black and polished with time and grease, and his belt, knife, pouch and powder horn appeared to have seen the roughest service. The first joint of each foot was entirely gone, having been frozen off several winters before, and his moccasins and equipment bespoke the "free trapper." He had a round, ruddy face, animate with a spirit of carelessness and gaiety not at all in accordance with the words he had just spoken." pg. 141 "Oregon Trail".

"My hair hung matted and uncombed. My head was surmounted with an old straw hat. My legs were fitted with leather leggings,and my body arrayed in a leather hunting shirt, and no want of dirt about any part of the whole. My companions did not shame me, in comparison, by being better clad." pg. 66 "The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie", Bison Books.

Leroy Hafen calls what the mountain men wore "as perhaps the only original American costume- the fringed buckskin suit". Journal of a Mountain Man by James Clyman pg. ix.

James Hobbs tells us what the mountain man did after a long time in mountains and just coming in town: "That evening, the men, having received their pay, threw away their old buckskin suits, got washed and properly barbered up, put on their new suits, appeared once more in the style on the streets." (afterwards they went to a masquade party- but decline to wear masks and would not check their guns at the door.) "Wild Life in the Far West, 1834-1870" James Hobbs, Rio Grande Press. pg. 167.

"His dress and appearance are equally singular. His skin, from constant exposure, assumes a hue almost as dark as that of the Aborigine, and his features and phyiscial structure attain a rough and hardy cast. His hair, through inattention, becomes long, coarse and bushy, and loosely dangles upon his shoulders. His head is surmounted by a low crowned wool-hat, or a rude substitute of his own manufacture. His clothes are of buckskin, gaily fringed at the seams with strings of the same material, cut and made in a fashion peculiar to himself and associates. The deer and buffulo furnish him the required covering for his feet, which he fabricates at the impulse of want. His waist is incircled with a belt of leather, holding encased his butcher- knife and pistols- while from his neck is suspended a bullet pouch securely fastened to the belt in front, and beneath the right arm hangs a powder horn transversely from his shoulder, beneath which, upon the strap attached to it, are affixed his bullet-mould, ball screw, wiper, awl & c. With a gun stick made of some hard wood, and a good rifle placed in his hands, carrying from thirty to thirty five balls to the pound, the reader will have before him a correct likeness of a genuine mountaineer, when fully equipped. The costume prevails not only in the mountains proper, but also in the less settled portions of Oregon and California. The mountaineer is his own manufacturer, tailor. shoemaker and butcher; and fully accoutred and supplied with ammunition in a good game country, he can always feed and clothe himself, and enjoy all the comfort the situation affords. No wonder, then, his proud spirit, expanding with the intuitive knowledge of noble independence, becomes devotedly attached to those regions and habits that permit him to stalk forth, a sovereign amid nature's loveliest works." "Rocky Mountain Life" Rufus Sage, Pages 38 and 39.

"The bed of a mountaineer is an article of neither complex in its nature nor difficult in its adjustment. A single buffulo robe folded double and spread upon the ground, with a rock or knoll or some substitute for a pillow, furnishes the sole base- work upon which the sleeper reclines, and enveloped in am additional blanket or robe, contently enjoys his rest." Rufus Sage, Rocky Mountain Life"

"Fifteen men were detailed on the north side facing the scattered pines, with every preparation made for a hand-to hand conflict. Each man had his tooth-pick or large knife in his belt, besides a trapping hatchet. The latter contained two pounds of steel, s sharp and dangerous weopon in the hands of determined men who were contending for thier lives." "My Sixty Years on the Plains", Willaim Hamilton page 151.

"The outfit of each man was a rifle, together with as much powder and lead as it was supposed would last for two years. Each one took six traps, which were packed upon an extra horse with each man was furnished. Pistols, awls, axes, knives, camp kettles, blankets and various other essential little articles, also made a part of the equipage. Captain Williams provided himself with an assortment of light portable little notions, intended as presents for the indians. To the expedition belonged also four dogs, (great favorites of thier masters,) one of which was a very superior grey-hound, that was taken along by his owner to catch deeer on the plains." "The Lost Trappers" David Coyner, page 7. (see also page 165)

He (Henry Chatillon) wore a white blanket coat, a broad hat of felt, moccasins and trousers of deerskin, oramented along the seams with rows of long fringes. His knife was stuck in his belt; his bullet pouch and powderhorn hung at his side, and his rifle lay before him, resting against the high pommel of his saddle, which, like all his equipments, had seen hard sevice, and much the worse for wear....His outfit (Shaw's), which resembled mine, had been provided with a view to use rather than ornament. It consisted of a plain black Spanish saddle, with holsteres of heavy pistols, a blanket rolled up behind, and the trail rope attached to his horse's neck hanging coiled in front. He carried a double barreled smooth bore, while I had a rifle of some fifteen pounds' weight. At that time our attire, though far from elegant, bore some marks of civilization, and offered a very favorable contrast to the inimitable shabbiness of our appearance on the return journey. A red flannel shirt, belte d around the waist like a frock, then constituted our upper garment; moccasins had surplanted our failing boots; and the remaining essential portion of our attire consisted of an extraordinary article, manufactured by a squaw out of smoked bucksin. "Oregon Trail" pages 9, 10 Francis Parkman.

"...and Reynal thought it proper to lay aside his trapper's dress of bucksin and assume the very scanty costume of an indian. Thus elegantly attired he streched himself in his lodge on a buffulo robe, alternately cursing the heat and puffing at the pipe which he and passed between us. page 237, Oregon Trail.


See you down the trail


documented facts & stories pertaining to those than went before us.

Page 4

Copyright 2005-07 "North American Frontiersmen". All Rights Reserved.