If you've ever seen the classic movie "Jeremiah Johnson", or the recent hit film The Revenant", you know something of the story of the famous Mountain Men of the 1800's Fur Trade...the Trappers and Explorers who went into the Rocky Mountains to trap Beaver for their pelts. They ventured into the American wilderness and endured unbelievable hardships...frozen temperatures, setting traps in icy rivers and streams, hostile Native Peoples, starvation, and even physical mishaps hundreds of miles from medical care. The Fur Trade played out by the 1840's and the Mountain Men went on to other pursuits, but the question I am asking is; Who are the Mountain Men of today? Do they still walk among us? I think they do, and here is why...
To answer the question, we must first look at the skills and qualities that made the Mountain Men who they were.
Many years ago, I used to participate in "Buckskinning", which is a hobby of reenacting the period of muzzleloading black powder firearms, generally between the late 1600's and mid-1800's fr the U.S. There were gatherings called "Rondy's", named after the Rendezvous' of the Fur Trade era, that brought Longhunters, Colonial's, Rangers, and Mountain Men together for a week or so of comradery. we lived in canvas tents and tarps, cooked with cast iron over campfires, split cards in half with muskets, and threw knives and hawks. It was a great time. During that time, I reenacted a Mountain man, read books and studied to get into persona. There are some key points I found that were present in the Mountain men:
1.) Rugged individualists - The Mountain Men were self-reliant. They were expected to care for fend for themselves insofar as possible. They could ask for another's assistance, but always strove to be self-reliant. They worked hard to develop skills and add to their knowledge of how to find or make shelter, hunt and gather food and water, to care for their own injuries, repair and make their own clothing, make a warming fire when necessary, and be proficient with arms and defend themselves from any aggressor.
2.) Naturalists - The Mountain men strove to learn about nature. What woods and plants were useful to them, the habits and tracks of animals, understanding weather patterns so as to predict inclement conditions to be prepared for, wilderness navigation or natural way-finding skills, celestial navigation. Time in the wilderness taught them to recognize and develop respect for the gift of nature's bounty and not taking or consuming more than one needed was essential.
3.) Respect for their fellow humans - The Mountain Men worked as a team, traveled in large units called Brigades, composed of hunters, trappers, cooks, packers, and etc. As such, respect for their campmates was essential to prevent fracture of the unit. This meant dividing and sharing food and resources in a survival situation, not nosing into other's personal business, defending the whole if attacked, not stealing from another, and understanding that, once given, a man's word was not broken or gone back on. Equally, respect and fair treatment of one's neighbors, such as the Native Peoples was key to survival.
4.) Curiosity - The Mountain Men were individuals who wanted to know what lie beyond the next ridge. They had a restless desire to explore and an adventure spirit that led them to leave the safety and confines of the cities and see what was in the wilderness.
So the question would be, are there still these individuals among us? I would answer yes!
In spite of the seductive pull of modern convenience and our comfortable technology, the modern Bushcraft movement has greatly stirred the ashes and rekindled peoples interest in the outdoors. Bushcraft is the whole of outdoors activity...birdwatching, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, and etc. But more than that, it is about "thriving" in the outdoor environment, and accepting the ambient conditions and living in harmony with nature, rather than trying to conform nature to our situation. This is exactly the approach the Mountain Men adopted.
I and people I know regularly go outdoors and camp and practice & strive to better their Primitive Skills, [wickiup shelters, stone and wood tools, friction fire], Modern Outdoor Survival Skills [backpacking, lighter-made fire, nylon tents and aluminum camp gear], and "Classic" Outdoor skills [Reenactors, flint & steel firemaking, canvas shelters]. The Mountain Men certainly had Primitive and Classic skillsets and equipage, and we can too.
Mountain Man Primitive Skills
Bushcrafter's seek to add to their understanding of nature though gaining knowledge and making observations of weather, plants and trees, and animal activities. Time spent on the trail gradually opens one's eyes to the minute details often overlooked by others...tiny burrows hidden in the brush, the strangeness when the woods fall suddenly silent and conversely awareness when a bird's alarm call erupts.
I belong to a few different forums and groups.Visit any of a number of bushcraft forums and you will find people all over the globe who are going outdoors and developing their primitive, classic, and modern skill sets. You will also note a bond of warmth, respect, and fraternity borne of a common love of nature and skills that transcends nationality or sex. Male and female alike are practitioners of the hobby and none are judged regardless of level of skill or origin, but rather, are encouraged by their fellows, just as did the Mountain Men.
Many forum members are from countries other than the U.S. that have their own famous adventurers who set foot into the wilderness..people like Canada's Alexander MacKenzie, renown for his overland crossing of Canada to reach the Pacific Ocean in 1793...the first first east to west crossing of North America, it preceded Lewis & Clark's expedition by 12 years. Or Russia's Ivan Moskvitin who trekked across the Yakutsk with 50 men and made it to the Sea of Okhotsk. He was the first Russian to reach the Pacific Ocean and spent his life exploring several rivers and learning about local tribes. These were men who were not afraid to set foot in the wilderness and explore what lie beyond the settlements. I would say the Mountain Man spirit is not just relegated to the American experience, but is common to men and women of strong character and a thirst for knowledge and adventure.
Alexander Mackenzie Expedition
I'll conclude by saying that I believe evidence exists that the "Mountain Man [and WOMEN] Spirit" is alive and can be found today. It resides in anyone who is has a love and appreciation for nature, is self-reliant & actively works to advance their skills, respects their fellow human, and cannot help but go see what is over that distant yonder ridge.