The staff at the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale expects 2016 to be a big year for 3 reasons. Some classic and contemporary photos of Yellowstone National Park will be on display, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th birthday, and The Revenant will stir curiosity about mountain men.
A museum specifically devoted to these hardy males is a great idea, and this 5 Compass museum in prosperous Pinedale, a town 134 miles south and slightly east of Yellowstone NP, is devoted to what it calls “the only real American Frontier Hero”. They were certainly a singular breed of men that this museum calls ferocious and wise. To perform his spring and fall functions of gathering and shipping beaver pelts, a mountain man had to have remarkable endurance, a highly developed sense of direction, and a strong body. Trapping beavers meant spending hours in waist-deep, icy water risking pneumonia and arrows from hostile natives.
Mountain men frequented rivers like the upper Missouri trapping the animals that made beaver hats possible when they were favored by aristocratic men. The English hat industry took off in the 16th century when they first became popular. By the 18th century there was heavy demand for fur-napped felt hats. John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company was established in Astoria, Oregon, as early as 1810, to supply beaver pelts. At this industry’s height, 100,000 beavers were trapped each year for hat production. By 1840 beavers experienced near local extinction; and the South American nutria pelt, which was cheaper, began to replace them in hat production.
The mountain men era lasted, roughly, from 1810 to 1880. Many mountain men also became guides, explorers, etc. Such colorful characters as Jedidiah Smith, who was scarred for life as the result of a grizzly bear encounter, now have national reputations. Many are profiled in the Museum of the Mountain Man. Perhaps the most famous mountain man was John Charles Fremont. Among his many contributions to history were planning the Oregon Trail and doing feasibility studies for railroad tycoons. Fremont married Jessie Benton, daughter of Thomas Hart Benton. Nicknamed Old Bullion, this U.S. Senator from Missouri was carried to his final resting place in the same hearse used for Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. Fremont ran for President in 1856.
The Revenant is a movie starring Leonardo DeCaprio. A revenant is a person who returns after a long absence, sometimes even after death. In this film DeCaprio uncharacteristically plays an 1820s fur trapper/mountain man. It was directed by Alejandro Iñárritu, whose film Birdman won the Best Picture Oscar earlier this year. Iñárritu won Best Director. Filmed largely in the Canadian Rockies near Calgary, Canada, and in South America’s Tierra del Fuego, The Revenant is said to be good enough to anticipate nominations, maybe even one for Best Picture, after its release before the end of 2015.
When I know more about the Museum of the Mountain Man’s 2016 Yellowstone exhibit, I’ll pass on the information.