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Trapping Techniques of the Mountain Man (Page 5)

By: Kent Klein

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Press' were used of different types to compress the pelts into packs weighing about 80 to 100 pounds each: "They were folded once first side in, and pressed into a pack encased within a wrapper of dried deerskin."(16) "In transporting the furs to market, they were disposed in packs weighing about 100 pounds. A pack of furs contained 10 buffalo robes, 14 bear, 60 otter, 80 beaver, 80 raccoon, one hundred twenty foxes, or six hundred muskrat skin."(17)

The packs were loaded onto mules, horses and later, wagons, and carried to St. Louis or were loaded onto boats and floated down the Missouri River:

" Traders had collected one hundred packs of furs which Ashley took with him on his return east. His route turned north from South Pass to the Bighorn which he descended to the Yellow Stone. There he met a government expedition under General Henry Atkinson, who allowed him to ship his furs on government boats down to St. Louis."(18) So who then were these men who went in pursuit of beaver pelts? "...it is necessary to state the terms on which the men enlist in the service of the fur companies. Some have regular wages, and are furnished with weapons, horses, traps, and other requisites. These are under command and bound to do every duty required of them connected with service ; such as hunting, trapping, loading and unloading the horses, mounting guard; and in short, all the drudgery of the camp. These are the hired trappers."(19)

"Camp keepers" were left at camp to watch over the stock, cook and do the majority of the skinning and hooping of the beaver. And last, but certainly not least, "Freeman or Free Trappers":

"...A party of trappers and hunters, called Free Men, from the circumstances of their not being connected with either of the rival Fur Companies, but holding themselves at liberty to trade with one or all. They rove through this savage and desolate region free as the mountain air, leading a vertuous and dangerous life, governed by no lawss save their own wild impulses, and bounding their desires and wishes to what their own good rifles and traps may serve them to procure. Strange that people can find so strong and fascinating a charm in this rude nomadic, and haverdous mode of life, as to estrange themselves from home, country, friends and all the comforts, allegances, and priviledges of civilization; but so it is, the toil, the danger, the loneliness, the deprivation of this condition of being fraught with all its disadvantages, and replete with peril, is, they think, more than compensated by the lawless freedom, and the stirring excitement, incident to their situation and pursuits. The very danger has its attraction, and the courage and cunning, and skill, and watchfulness made necessary by the difficulties they have to overcome, the privations they are forced to contend with, and the perils against which they must guard, become at once their pride and boast. A strange, wild, terrible, romantic hard, and exciting life they lead, with alternate plenty, and starvatiom, activity and repose, safety and alarm, and all the other adjuncts that belong to so vagrant a condition, in a harsh, barren, untamed, and fearful region of desert, plain and mountain. Yet so attached to it do they becomes, that few ever leave it, and they deem themselves, nay are, with all these bars against them, far happier than the indwellers of towns and cities, with all the gay and giddy whirl of fashion's mad delusions in their train.(20)


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