Mountain Man Chronology




During the colonial years, there was rarely a trapper or mountainman as we imagine them today.  The trapper who was not trapping just for himself and his family was usually an Indian Trader, someone who represents some aspect of British authority and was there only to exchange specific goods for pelts.   The beaver pelt at this time was the most prized of all animal pelts.  The major use of this product was to produce hats.


This form of commerce meant that the tradition of trapping was mostly a Native American experience.  The European method of securing their animal foods was primarily by hunting.  It is interesting to note that there is never such as thing as a steadfast rule in Colonial American history.  There is some evidence indicating that early backwoodsmen settlements were in fact developed by a number of social outliers, like the Huguenots and French colonists now occupying primarily British-owned lands.  Still the bulk of trapping during this time was mostly an Indian experience, supported significantly by incomes generated for both parties due to the well established marketing of the products from this trapping industry.    

The one document produced during this time that offers us the most insight into trapping in the mid-18th century is the diary of James Isham.  His observations at the time as a residence ot the wilderness setting near Hudson’s pay provides us with information that can be applied to the next phases in American Trapper medical history.  His notes provide us with some of out most important insights.  The reprint of this is entitled Observation on Hudson’s Bay, 1743, and notes and observations on a book entitled A Voyage to Hudson’s Bay in the Dobbs Galley, 1749. [Hudson’s Bay Records Series, Volume 12. 1949] .

 In this document we find that Isham’s notes are the closest thing to a trapper’s letter to members of the upper authority overseeing his activities.   The numerous misspellings and his details fit those of a trapper for the time, and his comments and observations document provide important insights into just deeply entrenched he was in the life of a wilderness man.  In the “Appendix A” notes for this writing, “A Journal of the most material Transactions and Copys of Letters between Mr. James Isham & Council at York Fort, and Capt. William Moore, Capt. Francis Smith and their Council during the Wintering in Haye’s River Commencing 26 August, 1746. Ending 24 June 1747,”  a number of plant names are spelled phonetically by Isham.   The second half of this volume includes many comments and related quotes and footnotes made by Isham; both Isham and the editor often uses as a reference for the footnotes provided Ellis’s A Voyage to Hudson’s-Bay, By the Dobbs Galley and California, in the Years 1746 and 1747, For Discovering a North West Passage… (London, 1748).  According to these footnotes added by the editor, Ellis served as a proprietor aboard these two ships involved with the Hudson Bay missions.  He was at York Fort throughout much of these early years in Hudson’s Bay trapping history, just before the company was formed, 1746-1747.   We notice several times that Isham felt a certain dissatisfaction with Ellis’s comments about Natives and French in his book.

Isham’s work forms the premise with which later Trapper events in history begin.  Throughout the Revolutionary War years, the American trapping industry was at a standstill in terms of the possibility of any development.   Once plans were in place following the war to re-initiate this important commercial industry on behalf of the United States, Isham’s level of understanding is pretty much where many of those to be involved with this business start off relative to their understanding of Indian life.  A number of early versions of Indian Reservations were set up by the Government (never called reservations however).  So additional insight comes in here and there from any documentation and communications related to these settings as well.  But for the most part, Isham’s is the first well documented writings on Indian style life given based on a first person perspective by someone we can very much consider to be a trapper.   [Warning: Due to the nature of my teaching notes, I often refer to Isham’s work as a 1790 piece due to years of using this reference as the starting point for work on Trappers starting during the US history years of ca. 1785 or 1790.]

Just to be complete in my coverage of this topic, I reviewed a number of early colonial documents on medical history as well.  The observations made with these do not pertain to American trapping per se, but are helpful at times regarding early impressions and such.  (Link to this)




The post-war recovery impacted the United States more than it impacted Great Britain and Canada.  For the United States this period in history was an opportunity for significant advancements to be made in the establishment of new businesses.  One of the more lucrative of these businesses related to fur trade industry.   

Just before the Revolutionary War, in Canada, attempts were made in Montreal from about 1770 to 1779 to develop what would later be called the North West Company.  This led to the formation of the North West Company in 1783, followed by a merger with a major competitor Gregory, McLeod & Company in 1787.  The most important member in the new North West Company was now Alexander Mackenzie, who in the upcoming years took a fairly responsible and aggressive position on the fairly young trade industry and so met regularly with the companies working for him in the fields in middle Canada close to Grand Portage, Lake Superior.  In 1789, in an attempt to search for more opportunities for this business, Mackenzie explored western Canada along what would later be known as the Mackenzie River.   Four years later in 1793, he went on a similar expedition over to Peace River.  Another four years later, in 1797, two of the  company’s members, David Thompson and Simon Fraser, headed southward through Canada and from there westward across the Rockies to the Pacific Coast. 

During these ten years of success for Mackenzie, Benjamin Frobisher, one of the original North West Company owners, opened the door for a takeover of North West Company by Simon McTavish, leading to the finding of the McTavish, Frobisher and Company.  This partial takeover took place in November 1787 and was the first transition to involve some of the first Americans in this fur trade company–Peter Pond and Alexander Henry.  By the end of 1787, the new company consisted of 23 business partnerships, whose workforce including  agents, factors, clerks, guides, and interpreters total around 2000 members known as voyageurs .  This term voyageur (traveller) was derived from the much older Coureurs du bois or ‘runners of the woods’ concept from a century before.  These voyageurs became so know due to their skills with crossing the woods using birchbark canoes.

In 1792, this potential for improved relationships between the French Canadian voyageurs and two of the main owners of the company, Simon McTavish and Joseph Frobisher (Benjamin’s brother), married French Canadian women.  This opened the way for French Canadians to play a more important role in this industry.  About the same time, two other members, Simon McTavish and John Fraser, formed the London house in order to supply trade goods and develop a market for the furs; this became known as McTavish, Fraser and Company.  The two Anglo-Canadian marriages ultimately made it easier for trade relationships to be set up with a variety of locations throughout the country, resulting in new trading posts to be built where none were previously standing.   In 1796, as this progress in the industry continued, the company set up operations with companies near Great Bear Lake, the Rocky Mountains and ultimately Northwest Territory. 

By now, the North West Company was able to open an office in New York City for a short while in September 1803.  This was the first step taken to take hold of a market heavily controlled by Hudson’s Bay Fur Company.  Members of the North West Company branch in New York City met up with John Jacob Astor, whose services and shipping business enabled them to begin to market their wares and goods with China.   Although the cargo ships were owned by the North West Company, they were allowed to make sail into China ports due to Astor’s American flag ships accompanying them. 

 The income Astor generated from this venture enabled him to form the Pacific Fur Company on June 23, 1810.  Half of the stocks generated for this company were in possession of the Midwest-Rocky Mountain fur trade company–American Fur Company.   To accomplish this Astor sent an expedition to the Columbia River by land, headed by Wilson Price Hunt and the Hunt Party.  The second expedition sent by sea was commanded by Captain Jonathan Thorn of the ship Tonquin.  Thorn’s crew took a little more than 7 months to reach Astoria (September 8, 1810-April 12, 1811).  Hunt’s party did not reach this site until February of 1812.

The goal of Astor’s company was to establish a fur company which would explore and establish fur trade relationships with inhabitants of the Columbia-Willamette river basins in Pacific Northwest territory (later known as Oregon and Washington). 

By 1811, Fort Astoria was opened, but due to the War of 1812, was subsequently surrendered to the British.  In 1813, this land was in turn sold by the British to North West Company, and it was abandoned by United States staff and residents in March of 1814.   Simon McTavish and Alexander Henry making one of their last routes along the Columbia River before boarding this ship to return to New York.

After a number of setbacks, the Pacific Fur Company failed when the supply ship Beaver was late to arrive at Fort Astoria. In addition, the loss of the Tonquin left the post vulnerable. At risk of being captured by the British during the War of 1812, Fort Astoria and all other Pacific Fur Company assets in the Oregon Country were sold to the Montreal-based North West Company in October 1813.

who in turn lost possession of it due to a mismanagement of  agreements made in the Treaty of Ghent.   This led to the ultimate surrender of this land in Oregon and Washington back to the United States in 1817, by way of a legal case involving seized assets.  Soon after, Fort Astoria was replaced by Fort Vancouver, which was built much further inland and  next to the merging of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.  Ultimately, the North West Company’s and former Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort George was closed down.  This turned the Pacific Northwest into a region primarily for use by trappers employed by United States companies.

The final blow to the Hudson’s Bay Company near-monopoly on pelts came just a few years before the Fort’s surrender in 1809.  This is when the Non-Intercourse Act was passed preventing American-British Trade relationships from going on.  At the time, the British depended upon a number of United States companies for its large man-of-war ship masts.  This congressional decision left Britain totally dependent on Canada for its timber, and so made use of the large number of great white pines still growing on Canada’s virgin forest lands.  In very short time the results in the cessation of fur trade relationships between Britain and Canada so that much-needed timber and wood products could be supplied.  Although the fur trade business remained profitable for Canada for years to come, the values of the bales of fur never reached the value of a similar shipments made of pine masts.  From this point on, Northwest fur trade businesses remained a readily available alternate financial source for Canada, but never returned to the glory of its olden days as Canada’s primary source for wealth based on its natural products. 

1790-1802 – PRE-LEWIS & CLARK

These were troubled years in American history.  The yellow fever came in around 1793.  It had been in the colonies before, but never quite so regularly and wide-spread as it was about to become.  This was due to the ending of the Revolutionary War post-wat depression.  The only good thing about the establishment of major rural settings whilst the large cities were developing were the various agricultural and livestock products the rural farming settings had to provide to cities during their times of highest need due to these epidemics.  These epidemics were in fact one of the major instigators of the development of suburban settlements.  As the epidemics began to recur in the urban settings, some of the people flocked to non-urban places.  In just a few years, the association of urbanization, large cities, and the related increases in visible poverty level families ,the obvious differences between rich and poor homesteads, became so much of a common clue to this socioeconomic imbalance that the churches did everything they could to tide the unrest that poverty and disease were causing.

Many of the erudite families blamed these diseases on the poor, and even linked epidemic diseases like yellow fever to particular cultural groups and their related living styles.  The misfortunes of being poor during this time meant that you typically came to reside in the least sanitary and least desired homesteading places.  The lower values lands located next to marshes, swamps, and other mosquito-ridden places made the poor the first to become infected with any epidemics prevailing or native to such natural conditions.  Being mosquito-born, yellow fever was one such example.  But there were also the other epidemic diseases that the poor got blamed for as well, like the dengue fever brought in by ships but harbored by other mosquitoes in other types of swamplands.  And there was the cholera, not yet a fully blown problem for this region but likely to be a recurring but infrequent epidemic to strike the New York during its Yellow Fever years.

These socioeconomic and environmental factors about disease patterns became quite a popular topic in the medical writings.  This even led Noel Webster to write an entire 3-volume book on the behavior of yellow fever and other epidemics, trying to use topography, climate and water to explain their interesting cycles and recurrences (this would come out in 1804).  Until then, the people were uncertain as to the causes for epidemics like yellow fever, and believed all sorts of claims about their causes and possible role as a punishment to the local urbanites for their mistreatment of the poor.

To the trapper, this type of thinking occupied little of his personal mindset for the time.  The rural-bound trapper never really experienced much of these epidemic problems that the cities had, and when he did never saw any epidemic kind of activity that the city folks learned to watch out for.  The trapper was pretty much dependent upon his  local territory.  he usually selected regions that were not disease prone, but due to the nature of the work had to accept a little bit of extra mosquito bites per day to meet any quota he had regarding  pelts. 

So just who were the trappers during this time in American medical history?

Trapping was obviously a part of life in the most rural settings of the former colonies.  This meant that the European-Indian political boundaries established for New England, New France and New Spain were the most likely places for these pre-mountainmen characters to survive.  The famous scenes in Coopers Last of the Mohegans present this scene to us quite well.  These families residing in the hinterlands had numerous social groups, governmentally-directed trouble makes, and Native Americans to deal with, making certain epidemic disease patterns the least of their worries.  This meant that to the trapper in this part of the unclaimed or unofficial United States, the most likely medical problems he would have to contend with related to his lifestyle, whether or not he was part of a family, and his some of the more traumatic side effects on occasion related to his occupation. 

In such settings, it is less likely a trapper would contemplate too much about the various philosophies out there about the causes for disease.  A trapper and his family was aware of the problems related to the occasional visitors who passed through.  They might ask–will this next group infect my kids again with the measles or even worse small pox?  The trapper’s family also had such normal events to contend with as childbirthing.  This trapper had more injuries and weather related problems to contend with than the occasional malady possible linked to unsanitary living practices.  Cattle and hog-born maladies would on occasion arise in an area, as would certain forms of rabies and the like generated by local wildlife, but for the most part, these were not so much a factor as the regular influenza and cold problems that were more climatic and weather related than people related.

There are two trappers which we can provide some details for related to this period of time on trapper history.

1790s – Peter Pond, late 1790s Canadian Trapper


1802-1806 LEWIS & CLARK

The years leading up to the Lewis and Clark expedition did not really contribute anything new to trapper or medicine.  But this did become the defining period for who and what opportunities would be out there to help define what the new version of the trapper’s life could be.  Thomas Jefferson had turned to an ecologist and botanist to learn about the far west.  This was really too much responsibility to assign to a scientist like the French scientist that was recruited. . .

There were still some issues with the French and a little bit of history of New France and Quebec still making its way through the minds of a government hoping to have a second stab at claiming that piece of land along the Mississippi.  During these four or five years, it was up to Jefferson and then Lewis and Clark to determine what kind of mission they were on.  Was this going to be a hostile venture at any point in time?  Would they have to face the British and tax their relationship with Hudson’s Bay Company at some point?

Over the next few years, Lewis would have to learn about medicine and Clark about the natural sciences.  Benjamin Rush would be the one to sign their fate should any bad medical events happen; it was up to Rush to designed their medical supplies and needs and to produce for them the bilious fever drug they might have a need for on occasion.  The botanists of the science world down in Philadelphia, John and William Bartram and Benjamin Smith Barton, would have to teach Clark how to identify plants.  This was more for their ability to take specimens and bring them home than to make that much use of the 3-volume botany set they were provided by Barton. 

During the very short time that was spent preparing for these tasks, relatively speaking, it was up to Lewis and Clark to become adjusted to some of the people being recruited for their expedition.  One of these members they recruited would later become the first mountain man/trapper figure in this part of American history–John Colter.


Coureurs du bois (runners of the woods); Descent of Fraser River 1808 [Wikipedia]


There is a kind of industrialization that occurred during this time that we often never think about.  The Revolutionary War ended more than 20 years ago.  The War of 1812 is still a few years away for the first half of this period.  Many of the families that managed to set up claims to the lands located further up the rivers and deep into the valleys and woods have by now established their family businesses.  There are mills running to cut lumber, or to grind wheat and corn.  The wool industry is being established.   The old colonial mansions are maintaining both their looks and whatever productivity they are related to.  The state governments are now more stabilized and medical associations are at least informally set up in most regions. 

There is also the old timers still engaged in some traditional businesses out there in what is now the edge of the wilderness.  The Dutch for example had set up a number of fishing businesses along the five major estuary rivers in New jersey, Pennsylvania and New York where shad runs still occurred on an annual basis.  The most common way to capture large runs of these fish was to set up gill nets in the river and the take in your haul two or three times a day.     Other people further upstream had their own plans for these same rivers, the primary examples of which were to dam up the rivers in order to provide a reservoir of water either for use by the locals, or even worse, funneling down to the city settings just for the use of urbanites. 

These latter changes were another blow to the American spirit felt by the old timers who felt they deserved their life and trade opportunities in these previously unclaimed, unsettled territories.  The only problem is that now, the government has defined its mission to move westward, meaning those who felt they were in the heart of the wilderness would soon have some neighbors located further to the west.  In just a few decades this could mean that their life in the rural setting would no longer be what they had envisioned it to be for future generations.

This could have been quite a blow to the dreams of the trappers residing along the East Coast states along their more inland boundaries.  A decade before, east coast states like Connecticut had dreams of extending as far west and the map would allow.  Such a plan was stopped however by the establishment of such states as Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois.  Further south the states of Virginia and the Carolinas developed their western neighbors.  To the far south, it was the Spaniards who defined how far west we could travel, and to the future mountainman, set our next set of traps.

There is the impact that residing deep within the hills of the Catskills,  Adirondacks and Appalachia had on the persona of people devoted to trapping.  Trapping deep in a woodlands setting was very different that trapping across the flatlands of future farming regions.  Although productive, these territories did not have as much glamour and hidden surprises as the montane trapper settings did.  A trapper could essentially cross Indiana and then Illinois, and then go in any direction once he hit the Mississippi and not see that much different from the past few days or weeks of travel.  But once a trapper took a much longer trip westward, northwestward, or even southwestward, the natural settings he would come upon outshined anything he had seen previously working the Great Plains and even eastern Appalachians.  This is where the thinking of the next generations came from.

1806 to 1815 sets the stage for the next era in trapping history in the United States.  The only thing the expansion of US territory offered the trapper was the opportunity to head further west, and maybe even at times result in the avoidance of any military services needed or rendered for the cause during the war of 1812 to 1815.  Trappers were not really that isolated from the United States yet, enough to totally avoid hearing about or learning about our second war with the British and to a smaller extent, the French.  But this did set the stage for the total isolation from society the life of a trapper during the next two decades, 1816 to 1835, would ultimately produce.  This makes the years 1806 to 1815 kind of like the adolescent years of the life of the trapping profession.  By  the time trapper life hit 15 (or perhaps 18), this young profession would be mature enough to start its much longer and harder journeys into the wilderness of the Far West.  

There are a number of trappers active during this time.  But the most important trappers to note, those who really define this generation or period of trapping follow.  A number of these are individuals mimicking the progress made by the Lewis and Clark expeditions.  Some are loners going out there into the wilderness on their own.  Others are part of the economic spirit Thomas Jefferson and now Andrew Jackson were pushing this country forward towards.  This period is when the first changes are made in the Far West for future generations to be able to prosper from.  

1806 – John Colter, discharged from Lewis and Clark Expedition


1807 – Bighorn River Trading Post called Fort Raymond, built by Manuel Lisa

1811 –  Upper Snake River, Alexander Carson, Louis St. Michel, Pierre Detaye, and Pierre Delaunay [Astorians]

Robert Stuart and six Astorians pioneered Overland Route from Cauldron Linn in Idaho, over South Pass

Astorians established trading posts on the Columbia, Willamette, Okanogan, Spokane, and Snake rivers over the next two years

1812 – first trappers to mention the Great Salt Lake, Edward Robinson, John Hoback,  Jacob Rezner, and Joseph Miller. Whether they actually saw Great Salt Lake is open to conjecture

1813 – 140 packs of fur returned, mostly from Okanogan posts and one year at Spokane Post (Franchère is covered)

Etienne Provost

Missouri Gazette, June 1813, journey of Robert Stuart; account of Wilson Price Hunt’s journey from an interview with Ramsey Crooks. Robert Stuart did not meet with Astor until the 23rd of July 1813

1814 – The Treaty of Ghent.



Trappers were exposed to many different philosphies about personal health, hygiene and medicine in the years prior to 1815.  Now, a number of these philosophies were about to take off in terms of public acceptance, criticism and ridicule.  Indian doctoring was once such fantasy that a trapper watched people take on as some new form of traditional healing.  Trappers also were witness to the birth fo Thomsonianism, a philosophy that seemed to cater very much to the religious groups, a kind of belief system of its own some trappers may have speculated, and something a little to far Eastward for a trapper to pay much heed to.

Whenever new groups, cults, of belief systems emerge, there are those traditionalists who want to revert to the past, but only by making it better.  This is one way to look at trapper philosophy from about 1815 onward.  Along the heavily populated east coast settings, regular doctors were popularizing the meteorological theories for disease.  To stay healthy they claimed, you needed to invest in good shirts, pants, socks and a hat, most of these made using wool and leather.  A trapper-mountainman’s interpretation of this might be something very naturalist or natural philosophical in nature–there is weather and climate out there, which when taken in the context of the local terrain, animals, and plants, could be something beneficial, or disease provoking in each and every person.  This meant to the trapper that here were other places where one could live that would be much healthier for the body. 

This philosophy led some trappers to look westward for healthier climates where consumption was no longer their problem.  Others saw the healthy woods and mountains as place that could be treacherous and testing of the spirit and body, but certainly be healthy for some people both emotionally and in the mind.  There were also trappers who idealized these far west settings and opportunities for a new life, a place where they could explore their wants and needs, along with exploring the ample amounts of provisions out here provided to them by nature. 

 This escape from the East and even Midwestern Bible belt did not mean the trapper was no longer religious.  This may in fact have given the trapper the opportunity to be even more spiritual and the like than he had been in the past.  There are those trappers whose philosophy converted to Great Spirit to make it through this sort of change in life struggle.  But there are also those trappers who brought the bible with them, either physically or in some symbolic shape and form.  In the Far West, even though there is mostly wilderness, there are still a number of missionary settings out there, usually adjacent to forts.  So the trapper did not have that far to go in order to speak with a Christian leader. More than likely these settings were more attractive to trappers than the less rustic urban church, due mostly to the local church members; who were usually Indians whose lifestyles and philosophy were very much in parallel with that of the trapper-mountainman.   This also meant that on Sunday, once or twice per years, a trapper-mouintainman could make it to church, that is to say a regular church.

1818, October 8th. Fort George returned to Astor

1818 to 1846, Oregon Country under joint occupancy by British and Americans

1818 – 1821, Northwest Company fur trade brigade led by Donald McKenzie in 1818 to 1821 are considered to be the first trappers into the Yellowstone Park Area and in the Green River Valley

1822 – Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser Feb. 13, 1822 and in the St. Louis Enquirer two weeks later

TO: Enterprising Young Men

The subscriber wishes to engage ONE HUNDRED MEN, to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be “employed” [my quote marks] for one, two, or three years. For particulars enquire of Major Andrew Henry, near the Lead Mines, in the County of Washington, (who will ascend with, and command party) or to the subscriber at St. Louis.

1822 – 1830,  Jim Bridger, employed by Ashley, 1822-1830 (not very supported by writer, nor was Bonneville

1822-1824 Ashley Henry
1825-1826 Ashley Smith
1826-1830 Smith Jackson and Sublette
1830-1833 Rocky Mountain Fur Company
1833-1834 Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy
1834-1840 Fontenelle and Fitzpatrick under the St. Louis company that had bought the Western Division of the American Fur Company.  Pratte, Chouteau, and Company of St. Louis became major suppliers.

1824 – first fur trapper to see Great Salt Lake was probably Etienne Provost, a Taos trapper

1825, 1826, 1827 1828, and the 1834 mountain man rendezvous were held south of the forty-second parallel, which was Mexican territory, west of the Continental Divide

1829, 1830, and 1838 rendezvous held in United States territory.

Five of the sixteen rendezvous were held in Mexico. The rest of the rendezvous were held in the disputed Oregon Country. Except for two sites in Utah and one in Idaho, all of the rendezvous were held in Wyoming; six of the sixteen rendezvous were held on Horse Creek in the Green River Valley near present-day Daniel, Wyoming

1825 Rendezvous.  Hudson’s Bay Company, and over twenty Taos trappers, Okanogan and Spokane post, Astorians at Fort Astoria, along the Pacific coast, Fort Boise in Idaho, and at Wallace House in the Willamette Valley near Salem, Oregon 1826 Rendezvous

William Ashley was not a mountain man; he went to the Rocky Mountains twice. Ashley had no interest in the mountains, or the fur trade, except as a way of making money to further his political career. Ashley is credited with the innovation of the Rendezvous System, and in terms of the Rocky Mountains, this is true. However, Ashley was not the first to use a rendezvous for the exchange of pelts and to re-supply the trappers. Ashley’s rendezvous scheme enabled him to retire from the mountains after two years, but he held a contract to supply his predecessors Smith Jackson and Sublette, which Ashley did until 1830.

1834 – Astor sold his interest in the American Fur Company. Ramsey Cooks bought the Missouri River-Great Lakes trade and kept the name American Fur Company. Pratte, Chouteau, and Company of St. Louis acquired the Western Department of the American Fur Company

1826 – first wheel tracks over South Pass were made for a small cannon being pulled to the 1826 rendezvous

 1826, Jackson joined Jedediah Smith and William Sublette to buy out William Ashley’s interest.  Jackson ran the field operations, Smith the explorer, and Sublette ran supply trains from St. Louis.  Smith Jackson and Sublette sold out to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1830.  Jackson Hole was named for David Jackson.

Moses “Black” Harris was a frequent companion of William Sublette on the journeys back to St. Louis for the next year’s rendezvous supplies. (called “Black” due to a powder burn on his face)

1830 – William L. Sublette took the first wagons along the Oregon Trail to the Rocky Mountains. Sublette left South Pass and went to the 1830 rendezvous site at the junction of the Popo Agie (Little Wind River, Popoasia) and the Wind River near present day Riverton, Wyoming. The 1830 supply caravan, consisted of eighty-one men on mules, ten wagons drawn by five mules each, two Deerborn carriages, twelve head of cattle, and a milk cow.
July of 1832, Captain B. L. E. Bonneville and Joseph R. Walker led one hundred and ten men with twenty-wagon loads of provisions through South Pass into the Green River Valley. These were the first wagons to cross the Continental Divide at South Pass on what would be the Oregon Trail.
 1834 – Osborne Russell made his way through Yellowstone Park, continuing westward into Oregon territory.    He was a part of Nathaniel J Wyeth’s 2nd Expedition.  Russell later returned to Oregon Territory in 1842 with the Elijah White, and was in Oregon Territory in 1843 at the Champoeg meeting when it was decided that this region would form a government.  Russell subsequently became a member of the Provisional Government for this territory and served through 1844.  In 1848, the region became officially known as Oregon territory.  Oregon did not become a state until 1859.     Note: The related book, Russell, Osborne and Aubrey L. Haines. Journal of a Trapper: In the Rocky Mountains Between 1834 and 1843; Comprising a General Description of the Country, Climate, Rivers, Lakes  often receives considerable attention as a trapper’s life history, but Russell get involved with this style of life fairly late, is never really fully engaged in this process, and is active when the region he is most associated with, the Pacific Northwest, has been substantially modified population wise and culturally due to the development of missions, forts and other communal settings during this period in Oregon history.
More notes for the time line of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade companies:
1833, Joseph Walker, Walker’s Trail to California, Jedediah Smith–these were the first Americans to cross East to West over the Continental Divide at South Pass.  Jedediah was the first to cross overland to California, the first to traverse the Sierra Nevada, and the first to cross the Great Basin Desert.  In his travels, Jedediah Smith travelled across Utah from East to West and North to South

The two greatest North American fur trader-explorers to some are David Thompson and Alexander Mackenzie.  Mackenzie is a British loyalist.

John Day.  His only claim to fame is that he became mentally ill and was sent back to Fort Astoria, by Robert Stuart.  John Day did much however to obtain the funding needed to initiate this risky endeavor.

Once upon a time St. Louis laughed at Jim Bridger for saying a fish could swim from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.   However, there is one place this occurs in North America — the Parting of the Waters on Two Ocean Pass in the Teton Wilderness.  The place where the Parting of the Waters takes place on the National Registry of Natural Landmarks

All the rendezvous were held west of the Continental Divide with the exception of the 1829, 1830, and 1838 rendezvous. Six of the sixteen rendezvous were held outside the United States in territory belonging to Mexico. Except for two sites in Utah and one in Idaho, all of the rendezvous were held in Wyoming; six of the sixteen rendezvous were held on Horse Creek in the Green River Valley near present-day Daniel, Wyoming. Another point of interest is that all of the rendezvous were held in the territory of the Shoshone, or Snake, Indians

Fur Trade Companies:

  • Lisa, Menard, and Morrison (1807)
  • Missouri Fur Company (1812)
  • Astorians (1811)
  • North West Company (1818 to 1821),

Much more is told about Castor.  Castor, or castoreum, a valued medicine that comes from two glands at the base of the beaver’s tail. Trappers mixed castor with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, alcohol, and anything else that came to mind. Each trapper guarded his recipe and swore it was the best. Castoreum was also used in perfumes and in medicines for a variety of illnesses; it is said to have contained acetylsalicylic acid, the main component of aspirin, but how much of this is uncertain.  More than likely it was salicylic acid instead, a very small amount which was probably minimally therapeutic due to these low concentrations.   Salicylic acid may have some pain maangement effects, but usually it is therapeutic due to its acidic nature and activities.  One the skin it could cause a sense of burning if concentrated enough; but in the beaver castor product, a secreted substance, this concentration was again possibly minimal and overpowered by the fat and oils of the tail flesh.  A small bottle of castor sold for ten- to twelve-dollars in St. Louis. David Thompson claimed that Northeast Indians were the first to use castoreum.



This is the maturation of the trapper era. 

Trapping in its traditional sense is very much a sign of the past, but it is now an everyday experience in most rural settings.  The skills are engaged in by most rural farm settings, and the trap itself has been improved significantly in design and success.  The Far West is open space for trapper and there are a number of trapping companies out there taking advantage of these hinterlands. 

Begining about 1835, transportation up and down the Missouri River allowed for posts to be established in the north-central region, later to become the Dakotas stretching westward across to Montana and into parts of lower Canada.  This movement in the industry kept the French Adventureur and Coureurs du bois professions alive.   

Further west near Oregon Territory, these French Canadian trappers were complements by British industries still out there trying to keep the Hudson’s Bay Comapny alive and prospering.   It too would be eliminated from the competition in just a few years. 

Forts however were maintained in the Far West and Pacific Northwest, some rebuilt in new locations, as the missions successfully settled down and local trappers became a part of their tradition as well.  Metis families (Euro-American husband, Native American wife) subsequently evolved as Christian families, although their lifestyle did not always change that much.

Examples of “trappers” and mountain men whom are written about, or who wrote their own books, include the following, some of whom I have covered in detail elsewhere.

  • 1840-1850, Fort Vancouver, and advertised as an “Indian Doctor” in Oregon in 1865 — William Dain
  • ca. 1855 – “Catnip” of Oregon

Fort Vancouver history reveals a lot about this period of trapper traditions.

The Canadian archives also hold some of the most important material on this period in trapper history.

[to be continued]