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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Applied Bushcraft; The Mountain Men

I have just finished reading a very good book titled; Give Your Heart to the Hawks by Win Blevins. It was all about the Mountain Men of the American frontier and gave me a great deal to think about regarding the skills that these men used.

If you are interested in other books about bushcraft skills, the people who use bushcraft skills, traditional crafts and skills etc.. I have just added a new page to this website called 'bushcraft books' which may be of interest to you.

Their Bushcraft skills were second to none, although we might look at them now in hindsight and say that they exploited the wildlife of the then pristine Rocky Mountain area and were partly responsible for the demise of iconic species such as beaver and buffalo,their methods were certainly not sustainable and lacked the environmental friendliness that we need to try and live by in the woods and wildernesses now. 

A statue of Jim Bridger one of the most famous of the Mountain Men, 
Picture available via Wikimedia Commons

That aside though the mountain men are an important example of people who applied the skills we now call bushcraft to their every day lives. They lived for many months at a time away from any semblance of civilisation with little if nothing more than their 'possibles', rifle, traps and knife. They lived off what they shot, trapped or dug from the ground. They often faced hostilities from competing fur traders and Native American tribes. Although as often, if not more so, they relied on the tribes of the area for trade, assistance and ultimate the mountain men learned and used many of the skills of the native peoples out of pure necessity. In fact not many years after the hay day of thhe mountain man it was many of the mountain men who fought for the rights of the Native American tribes against the onslaught of the expansion of the United States and colonisation of the Western parts of North America. 

Not only did the Mountain Men trap, hunt and fight their way through the Rocky Mountains and surrounding area in search of their beaver 'plews' (skins) but they also made maps and established navigable routes across the North American continental decide. 

A map made by Jedediah Smith, one of the foremost mountain men of his day, 
Picture available via Wikimedia commons

The mountain men were true frontiersmen and pioneers of their day, they didn't just play at bushcraft they lived it, their bushcraft skills were vital not only for their jobs as guides, trappers, hunters, traders and pathfinders but to keep them alive in the harsh environment that they chose to work in. 

A depiction of a pair of mountain men working on their trap line
Picture available via Wikimedia commons

Beaver were what first brought the mountain men to the Rocky Mountains, in the first decades of the 19th Century beaver skins or 'plews' as they were known fetched a great price and were in great demand as the chosen material for hat making. The mountain men and the fur companies who employed many of them headed to beaver rich streams and rivers to make their fortunes and many of them never returned, either dead, or so in love with life in the mountains that they felt no need to return to the growing towns and cities which they had left behind. 

Now I truly can understand how someone who had become so used to living in the wild would find it hard to return to towns and cities; retreating to the woods and hills to work with nothing but the sounds of nature around me, especially as I often have the chance to take my children with me, feels far more like home than any where else and having to return to 'civilisation' with offices, emails, traffic, bosses and mobile phone signal is not enjoyable at all. I don't even miss flushing toilets.... much

If you want to know more about the mountain men I would highly recommend Give your heart to the hawks and also some of Lisa Fentons articles in recent issues of the Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine. 


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