Who Were the Mountain Men?


Quick Answer

Mountain men were trappers that lived and worked in the North American Rocky Mountains during the 1800s. They worked primarily trapping beaver for large fur trading companies. Mountain men lived in harsh climates with dangerous wild animals and sometimes violent Native American tribes. Many of them became legends in American folklore and played a large role in charting the trails that were used by pioneers and the subsequent wagon trains that settled the American West.

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Full Answer

The mountain man lifestyle is often thought of as one consisting mainly of solitary individuals. However, most mountain men were dispatched into the wilderness in brigades of 40 to 60 men. When they reached one of the major river systems, including the Missouri, Colorado, Snake and Columbia, the brigades would typically break into groups of four.

Two members of the group would be trappers, and two would be camp tenders. They would trap by season from the spring thaw until the winter freeze blocked the flow of water. Once the traps were set, they were tended daily, and the beaver that were caught would be skinned and the hides dried at camp.

Mountain men would take supplies with them but relied heavily on their ability to hunt available game and live off of the land. The peak population of mountain men is estimated to have been around 3,000 trappers between 1820 and 1840 when the fur trade was at its high point.

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