Mountain men were most common in the North American Rocky Mountains from about 1810 through the 1880s (with a peak population in the early 1840s). They were instrumental in opening up the various Emigrant Trails (widened into wagon roads) allowing Americans in the east to settle the new territories of the far west.
Approximately 3,000 mountain men ranged the mountains between 1820 and 1840, the peak beaver-harvesting period. While there were many free trappers, most mountain men were employed by major fur companies.
The life of a company man was almost militarized. The men had mess groups, hunted and trapped in brigades and always reported to the head of the trapping party. This man was called a "boosway", a bastardization of the French term bourgeoisie. The boosway was the leader of the brigade and the head trader.
Free trappers were independent men who usually struck out alone, or in the company of no more than two or three other men to seek their own fortune.
About 1828, while on a trapping expedition with Jim Bridger, James Beckwourth was supposedly captured by a party of Crow warriors. By Beckwourth’s account, he was mistaken for the long lost son of Big Bowl, one of the tribal chieftans, and adopted into the tribe.
Jim Beckwourth was an African American who played a major role in the early exploration and settlement of the American West. He was an American mountain man, fur trader, and explorer.
Born in Massachusetts on October 12, 1812, Adams first worked as a shoemaker before becoming a hunter in New England’s forests. When gold was discovered in California in 1858, Adams, along with thousands of others, made his way west.
The buckskin clad trapper became a well-known figure when he took his bears to New York City and later became involved in P.T. Barnum’s Circus.