David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West. Edited by Leroy R. Hafen. Glendale, Ca.: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1965-72. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Map. Notes. 10 volumes. $155.00.
With the publication of volume ten, an index, LeRoy R. Hafen and the Arthur H. Clark Company have brought to completion a major reference work of Western Americana. The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West contains the biographies of 292 trappers and traders who roamed the Rocky Mountain West during the first half of the nineteenth century. The significance of these men, as pathfinders who worked on the cutting edge of America’s westward moving frontier, has long been recognized. Indeed, two of the trappers whose biographies are included in this series, Jedediah Strong Smith and James Ohio Pattie, are well-known for pioneering overland routes to California, and to San Diego in particular. When Jedediah Smith came to San Diego to call on Governor José María Echeandía in December, 1826, he had just led the first Anglo American expedition to enter California by an overland route. Neither Smith, whom Echeandía ordered out of California, or Pattie, whom Echeandía threw in jail, cold have had very pleasant memories of San Diego.
Some of the biographies in the Mountain Men series are of figures as well-known as Smith and Pattie: William H. Ashley, James Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Hugh Glass, Peg-leg Smith, Old Bill Williams, and the brothers Robidoux and Sublette. The series’ greatest contribution, however, is in illuminating the lives of minor characters in the fur trade. The combined efforts of eighty-five scholars in ferreting out the details of the lives of these men have answered, and will continue to provide answers to questions of students of the West for generations to come. Most of the mountain men, whether minor or major figures, engaged in occupations other than trapping furs, so their lives touched upon and illuminate the entire Western experience of the early- and mid-nineteenth century.
The welter of biographical detail that emerged from this series provides some raw data which will enable us to better understand the “typical” mountain man. In the final volume of the series, Richard J. Fehrman has taken a step toward analyzing that data.
The 292 biographies in this series vary considerably in quality, of course, depending on the information available and the skill and diligence of each biographer. Generally, the quality is high and The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West will take its place alongside three widely acclaimed collections published previously by the Arthur H. Clark Company: The Early Western Travel Series, The Southwest Historical Series, and The Far West and the Rockies Historical Series. The Mountain Men promises to become as frequently consulted and as prized by collectors as are those earlier works.