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.

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"The Lesser Known" MOUNTAIN MAN

 

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Times of Celebrations

Today, we celebrate many holidays- some which we, who work for a living get off, other holidays for which we wonder why they are called that in the first place. But how about the mountain man? Did they ever stop on the trail and take a little time out?

Were there particular days which called for fun, feasting and frolicking? Here are just a few of the references to the days and times which our mountaineers held special.

"On new-years day, notwithstanding our horses were all nearly dead, and being fully satisfied that the few that were yet living must die soon, we concluded to have a feast in our best style; for purpose we made preparation by sending out four of our best hunters, to get a choice piece of meat for the occasion. These men killed ten buffalo, from which we selected one of the fattest humps they could find and brought in, and after roasting it handsomely before the fire, we all seated ourselves upon the ground, encircling, what we there called a splendid repast to dine upon. Feasting sumptuously, cracking a few jokes, taking a few rounds with our rifles, and wishing heartily for some liquor, having none at that place we spent the day.

The glorious eight arrived, the recollection of the achievements of which, are calculated to gladden the hearts of the American people, but was not so glorious to us. (General Jackson's victory at New Orleans- Jan 8, 1815.) (1)

"Dec. 25th It was agreed on by the party to prepare a Christmas dinner...The first dish that came on was a large tin pan 18 inches in diameter rounding full of stewed elk meat. The next dish was similar to the first heaped up with boiled deer meat. The third and fourth dishes were equal size to the first containing a boiled flour pudding made of the juices of sour berries and sugar. Then came the cakes followed by about six gallons of strong coffee already sweetened with tin cups and pans to drink out of, large chips or pieces of bark supplying the places of plates. On being ready the butcher knives were drawn and the eating commenced at the word given by the landlady as all dinners are accompanied with conversation this was not deficient in that respect....dinner being over the tobacco pipes were filled and lighted while the squaws and children cleared away the remains of the feast to one side of the lodge where they held a sociable tete a tete over the fragmen ts. After the pies were extinguished all agreed to have a frolic shooting at a mark which occupied the remainder of the day." (2)

"On this anniversary (Christmas) a great dinner is generally made, but that was never the case here, as it is always taken out in drinkables instead of eatables; and I, who did not drink, had to do without my dinner. At the height of the spree the tailor and one of the carpenters had a fight in the shop, while others took theirs outside." (3)

"During the night I was made the father of a fine son. In the morning the artillery was playing, and, in conqusence of this, something special must be done. All hands had a holiday, with the promise of a big ball at night. Scrubbing, washing and cooking went on all day, and at night the ball opened; it went off peaceably, which was rarely the case in this place." (4)

"In truth, the fires of patriotism burned ever brightly on the prairie and in the mountains, and no wandering band was so benighted as to forget to render honor to the institution of their country whenever the anniversary of its natal day over took them. Upon such occasions the entire resources of the party were called into requisition- artillery (when there was any), oratory, and games of skill- while the celebration was rounded off in the true prairie style with the most ample feast and frolic which buffalo meat and alcohol could produce." (5) So, we see that they made big doings of New Year's day, New Orleans' battle, the fourth of July, and Christmas. Other days which are not mentioned above are: founding of a new fort. (6) William Anderson says that a bottle of champagne was used to dedicate the founding of Fort William (later named for Laramie),

 

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toasts were given for the birthdays of the Presidents and dinners for guests given at forts were some times a big happening and even salutes were done by cannons at these forts when special visitors came there. Bent's fort's cannon gave a three round salute or the arrival of Stephen Kearny. (7) And we also know that a cannon was fired at the rendezvous of 1827 for Jed Smith's return from the west coast. (9)

"This day the anniversary of the battle of N. Orleans appears to be almost forgotten, no firing salutes the rising day no gay parties of pleasure... no military parade no rich dinners no splendid Feasts of Champagne no high sounding patriotic toasts no gay cotillion parties no Bacchanalian revelry- all still and quiet save only the common affairs of life.

How different to the days I have before seen...So hath passed many great days of Festivity now forgotten and given place to others like the retiring sound of some ancient forest oak which when first uptorn make a tremendous crash but as it passes the echo grows more dull more distant until it is lost in the surrounding forest."(8)

Rendezvous' weren't the only times that these fun loving men got to kick up their heels. The times of feasting, drinking and contests served not only to give a time of rest, but also provided a connection with the civilized world which I'm sure seemed very far away. During the winter camp, when the days seemed to drag on, with nothing to do- a special occasion (for whatever reason) was a real help till the warm days of spring came and the trappers got out and about.

So, why not choose a authentic date yourself and throw a party, it could be the date of the battle of Pierre's Hole or the one at Battle Mountain, the time when a favorite state was granted statehood, the birth (or death) of a president during the fur trade or even the purchasing of the Louisiana Purchase. See, there really isn't much difference between the mountain man of old and today- we both like to find a reason to have fun!

Oh, yea, there is one other day that any good mountain man who belongs to a company is dumb if he doesn't remember- the birthday of the BOOSHWAY!

(1) "Adventures of a Mountain Man" The Narratives of Zenas Leonard pgs. 20 & 21. Mountain Press Publishing.

(2) "Journal of a Trapper" Osbourne Russell pgs. 114-116. Bison Books.

(3)"Forty years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri" pg. 134. Bison Books.

(4) Charles Larpenteur- page 191 "Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri", Bison Books.

(5) "The American Fur Trade in the Far West", Hiram Martin Chittenden, Bison Books. pg.521, Bison Books.

(6) "The Rocky Mountain Journals of William Marshall Anderson, page 35, Bison Books.

(7)"Bent's Fort" David Lavender pg. 261. Bison Books.

(8) "Journal of a Mountain Man" James Clyman pg. 60 Mountain Press.

(9) "The Southwest Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith, His personal account of the journey to California, 1826-1827. pg. 197 Bison Books.

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See you down the trail

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

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