The Legendary Mountain Man

The mountain man is an integral part of the Frontier West. Although his original business was for trapping, his experiences fired the imagination of people in the East, and their travels would guide the original pioneers West.
A nations mythology really highlights our ideals. From the Leather Stocking Tales, and Natty Bumppo, and onward Americans value the rugged individualist. People who can take care of themselves, seek no sympathy from others, and approach life confidently in fearlessly. The mountain man really does embody the rugged individualist. Not wanting the constraints of society and looking for a job, as well as adventure, many of these men; often teenagers or men in their very early 20s, went from uninitiated, and unemployed immigrants, to legends.
Another aspect of the mountain man that excites our imagination is the sites that they must have seen. In the early 1820s and 1830s, not very long after Lewis and Clark, they had the opportunity to see, and interact, with Native American tribes before they were decimated by disease, and their culture permanently altered by contact with the white man. Endless herds of bison that cover the land to the horizon, and antelope, elk, wolves, bighorn sheep, appeared as natural as in creation. The rivers were untamed, and the land unbroken by barbed wire.
In the 1840s  however, the fur trade was mostly played out. Many of the mountain men would find work as scouts for the Army, and lead wagon trains to California and Oregon. Ranching, mining, businesses of all types, they understood the West better than anybody, and capitalized on it.
Across the valley from the Bar Kochba Ranch is Broken Hand Peak, named for legendary mountain man Thomas” Broken Hand”.Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was born in Ireland. He became a sailor, and eventually in 1822, came to New Orleans. Soon after, at the age of 23, he found himself unemployed in St. Louis. He answered an advertisement to explore the Missouri River to its source. Answering that ad, set the course for the rest of his life. He became a for trapper and wilderness explorer, although he had experience in either. Fortunately, at that time he was in very good company as he headed west with a number of other young man, who were smart, tough, and about to become famous. Other man on this initial trip included Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Mike Fink, and William Sublette – all became legendary Mountain Men.
Fitzpatrick developed a reputation for boldness when fighting Indians. He studied their habits, and their beliefs, and use this knowledge to develop effective strategies in combating the Indians, particularly of the Blackfoot tribe . He was quickly becoming a leader among mountain men. With Jedediah Smith, he is considered to have discovered South Pass, which is in Wyoming. This became a major route for immigrants crossing into California and Oregon Territory. In 1826 when he was 27 years old musket exploded in his left hand mangling it. The Indians thereafter referred to him as Broken Hand and that nickname stuck. Among Fitzpatrick’s many accomplishments, were leading the first two wagon trains to Oregon in 1841 in 1842. He also guided John C Fremont second and longest expedition. Fremont was known as the Pathfinder, but it was really Mountain Men scouts like Fitzpatrick, and Kit Carson, who led the way.
Fitzpatrick also guided General Kearney during the Mexican War. In 1849 he married an Arapaho woman. Fitzpatrick was respected by the Indians and was a key individual in the development of the Laramie Treaty of 1851. This was a very unique historical moment. Most of the Indian tribes of the Great Plains gathered together at Laramie to negotiate this treaty. Some of these tribes had been hostile to each other for generations, but they recognized the importance of the meeting, and the necessity of trying to come to an agreement with the American government. The government was motivated by the large increase in migrants going to California and Oregon, as part of the California gold rush. They were trying to ensure safe passage across the plains for these new immigrants. In exchange for allowing safe passage of the immigrants, and permitting the building of forts and roads, the Indians were guaranteed annuity payments and granted an extensive range of territory on the plains. The terms of this treaty, however, were never really honored by the government. Indian land rights were not respected and annuity payments were not made. The reasons for this ,include the fact that the pressure from settlers and miners was really too great, and at the end of the day, most European Americans regarded Indians as  inferior, and as savages.
Thomas Fitzpatrick had an important role in convincing the Plains Indian tribes to not only attend the Laramie treaty conference, but to negotiate the agreement itself. His role is briefly revisited in the movie Into the West.
He only lived a few years longer, until 1854, but that was long enough for him to realize that the government had betrayed the treaty. He was disturbed and embarrassed by these events,but like many others, was unable to alter the inevitable momentum of the Frontier  West.

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