Hardships of the Fur Trade

Back in 1856 during the heyday of the mountain men, Antoine Robidoux and his good friend James Ohio Pattie both skilled hunters set out for the Rockies riding their horses clad in deerskins along with their four hunting dogs and they went out looking for game.  The dogs were ferocious and they worked as a team to fight off mountain lions.  They were all coon dogs, but Hatchet the mostly white one may have had some pointer blood in her.  Turbo was the brown one and he was known to howl if he detected something, so he made a great watch dog for their camp.  Lady the black one with the white patch on the back of her neck got cut up pretty bad in an encounter with a grisly, but she was still able to chase it off, although she does lie down a lot more now, and sometimes she was able to ride on the horse with one of the men if it looked like she was limping.  Rascal the other black dog was the fastest dog and she ran down many bobcats and she was also a great swimmer.

Out in the wild these trappers needed to depend upon themselves to supply their own food and water, as once they were out in this wilderness there would be no help coming to save them.  They lived mostly on meat from animals they killed and they skinned these animals for their hides which they knew they could trade once they got back to civilization.  There was no shortage of ways to run into trouble here in the far West, between dangerous trails, wild animals, Indians, dying of thirst, nasty weather, unavoidable accidents, disease and hunger.  Grizzly bears were numerous and they had no fear of man.  Weighing in at about a thousand pounds or more, being agile as a cat and able to run at speeds of 35 mph made them a formidable foe.  They had a nasty disposition and it was best to avoid them when at all possible.

The quest for food was a daily task even in a land where game was plentiful.  A trapper never knew where his next meal was coming from and that thought always made them hungry.  Some trappers had to subsist on ants and crickets when the hunting turned up nothing, or they might even have made stew with the ears of their mules.  When they did find a place where game was plentiful a feast was held and they ate until their stomachs were filled.  Every good trapper was skilled at making a good fire without much smoke, as they needed to blend into the atmosphere, so as not to scare off their prey.
A bison always made a good meal, but they stayed in the plains and their numbers were dwindling now, because the herds were over hunted.  Another delicacy the trappers always enjoyed was the tail of the beaver which contained plenty of nourishing fat.

The trapper’s clothes were made of leather, as it proved more durable and lasted longer than wool or cotton fabrics.  Leather could also be made water-proof by applying generous amounts of animal fat to it and this came in handy if the trapper had to cross a stream or a river, or if it started raining.  While eating the trapper always rubbed his greasy hands on his clothes, which caused the water to run off rather than soak in during wet weather.  Besides their clothes, horses and dogs a trapper always made sure to carry their guns, dry gun powder and ammunition, along with a jug of whiskey, which always came in handy, especially on a cold winter night.  Many trappers would take a pretty young Indian girl for a bride.  They were sold by their fathers for a horse, or maybe $2,000 in beaver skins for a chief’s daughter.  A wife was not only a good companion on a cold night but she could cook, sew, and help with the work by gathering firewood.

The two men and their dogs reached the edge of a cliff, which made a nice spot to see what was ahead of them.  The snow had stopped yesterday and it made nice tracks for them to follow and identify all the animals.  The horses didn’t seem to mind being up to their ankles in snow, as the dogs looked off toward the unknown out in the distance ahead.  They had to turn around, but this was all part of being in the wilderness and living as a real mountain man, encountering the hardships of the fur trade.

Written for Teresa Grabs Daily Writing Prompt – Jonathan K. Trego painting Trappers.

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