For any of us who have toyed with mountain man skills, we cannot help wondering what the original mountain man was like and would we have what it would take to survive the Rocky Mountains in the 1800′s.
We learn how to set a trap, start a fire with flint and steel, shoot a muzzle loader, and throw a hawk. We learn a bit about edible plants and take pride in killing, processing, and eating hunted game. For good measure we make our own buckskins, spent time in our teepee and learn to tan hides. We convince ourselves that we could be employees for Ashley’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company, or even one of the more adventuresome free trappers.
The real mountain men came from the East and found that they had a thirst for the adventure. Many did not like the farm life, or the employment civilization had to offer. I have little doubt that most of them underestimated the life that they romanticized. Many became nothing but a name in an employment ledger never to be heard of again. The natives, wild animals, and natures indifference to humanity, claimed the lives of many.
Once the pilgrims learned the survival skills essential to existing in the wild, they learned more of themselves and a true appreciation for life itself. They would rather be alone than to partner with a man that he could not count on when times became truly dangerous. They learned about diversity. The French, Canadians, Americans, and many different Indian tribes forced them to learn about the difference in language and customs. They learned who they could consider friends and those who were war like. When you consider the difficulties of dealing with Mother Nature and couple that with the complex social interaction that was required to survive, these men were truly amazing.
The rendezvous for these men carried a much higher meaning than just trading for the furs collected throughout the year. The reunion of those thought dead and the celebration of news from the East made this event one that I doubt we can match in these modern days. For those of us who look at the Fort Bridger Rendezvous as more than just a way to spend Labor Day, I hope we can keep in mind what our heroes of the past accomplished to advance our history to what we have today.