In 1820, Major William Ashley posted the above advertisement in St. Louis Missouri, wanting to employ a hundred mountain men for two years work in the Rocky Mountains gathering beaver. He and his partner, Andrew Henry, were to command this historic expedition.
Of course, Ashley and Henry were interested in exploring the new territories of the Northwest, but the main motive was financial, and that financial means was the beaver.
In Europe, especially in Britain, no well dressed man would be seen without a top hat. These top hats were made from the under layer of the beaver pelt called "felt". These beaver felt hats became so popular in Europe that the demand and price for beaver fur exploded. Thus, a need for someone to harvest the streams of the unexplored west became attractive for large fur companies like the Hudson's Bay Company, The Rocky Mountain Fur Company and the American Fur Company. And, it suddenly became a romantic journey for young men to explore...enter the mountain man.
These young men came from all walks of life...they were farmers, store keepers, teachers, ex-military men, and artists just to mention a few; They were educated men down to individuals that could not read or write a word.
These brave men, in the course of finding new trapping grounds, found, explored and opened up trails that would be eventually used by pioneers heading west. Their exploits have grown in legend over the last century and a half, and along with the cowboy have become romanticized in books, movies and TV programs. It seems we don't want to let go of this era, and many people of today want to re-enact this period at mountain man rendezvous around the country.
In reality, this period of history lasted little more than 20 years. By 1840, the beaver hat had become "pass-a" and a new trend, the silk hat, had become popular. As the demand for beaver drifted, so did the trapper, but we will long remember them as...the mountain men!
Charles Nate, aka Conagher