The Wind River Mountains of Wyoming are a premier destination site for backpackers. A number of years ago I took six months off to backpack various locations in the western United States and added the area to my itinerary.
Mountain men were there first.
Place names such as Sublette County, Fremont Lake and the Bridger Wilderness recall these larger than life characters who were kept busy between the 1820s and 60s pursuing beavers, exploring the west, keeping their scalps, serving as guides, working as frontier entrepreneurs, and, in the case of John C. Fremont, running for President.
Many were also great storytellers and participated enthusiastically in the creation of their own legends.
One of the most popular locations for weaving tall tales was the Annual Fur Rendezvous that brought the various trappers together with suppliers out of St. Louis.
Six of the Rendezvous were held near the small town of Daniel, which is located on the Upper Green River 11 miles from Pineville. I stopped by and tried to imagine what the river valley would be like filled with over 1000 trappers, Indians, suppliers, missionaries, and wayward journalists.
The Mountain Men pursued their dangerous and often lonely profession during the winter when the fur pelts were at their best. The two to three-week Rendezvous in the summer was an opportunity to sell their furs, catch up with friends, gossip and resupply for another winter. It was also an excuse to party.
‘Whiskey,’ pure alcohol watered down and then flavored with tobacco, was passed around in a cooking kettle. Horse racing and shooting contests soon deteriorated to drunken debauchery. Old journals report the results.
One new guy was baptized by having a kettle of the alcohol poured over his head and lit on fire. A rabid wolf wandered through the camp and bit people at will. Several trappers were witnessed playing poker on a dead man’s body
A contract between William Ashley, the creator of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, and the trading firm of Jedediah Smith, David Jackson and William Sublette listed some 50 different items to be delivered to the Mountain Men.
Many of these items such as gunpowder, lead, beaver traps, and butcher knives related to their work. There were also cooking kettles, flour, sugar, allspice, dried fruit, coffee, grey cloth, and washing soap for every day living. Some items such as beads, ribbons, rings, bracelets and calico were probably trade goods for the Indians
As one might expect, ‘fourth proof rum’ (80 % pure), regular tobacco and the more high quality Smith River Tobacco were included for long, lonely nights. Slaves were producing the Smith River Tobacco in Virginia at the time.
Reviewing what the Mountain Men carried with them into the mountains led me to look at my own backpacking list. It appears life is more complicated today. My list contains over 60 items and I rarely travel for more than seven to ten days without checking back into civilization!
But then again, the Mountain Men apparently didn’t worry about such niceties as toilet paper and toothpaste, not to mention maps and reading material. They also shot much of what they ate.
Wednesday’s Blog: “There’s a Beaver Standing on My Tent.” I have my own mountain man experience.