Journal of a Trapper.

Started by nastygunz, May 10, 2022, 07:57:54 PM

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Osborne Russell left behind perhaps the best mountain man journal from the time period. In this journal, titled Journal of a Trapper, Russell describes his experiences and emotions as a mountain man for a period of nine years. During this time, Russell traps, hunts, explores, fights, nearly dies, and lives to tell the tales. If you have not read the book, I would highly suggest you take the time and put in the effort at least once in your life.

While the Osborne Russell journal is filled with dozens of stories worth retelling, his encounter with a band of “Snake people” is one that seems to really stick with people. Basically, Russell is traveling with a group of other trappers in the Yellowstone region during (according to my best estimate) is his second summer in the Rockies. To his surprise, the groups battles snow in the month of July as they cross mountain passes in search of their fall trapping grounds. It is at this point, Osborne Russell recounts the story of meeting the nearly uncontacted tribe below:

“28th We descended the stream about 15 mls thro. the dense forest and at length came to a beautiful valley about 8 Mls. long and 3 or 4 wide surrounded by dark and lofty mountains. The stream after running thro. the center in a NW direction rushed down a tremendous canyon of basaltic rock apparently just wide enough to admit its waters. The banks of the stream in the valley were low and skirted in many places with beautiful Cottonwood groves

“Here we found a few Snake Indians comprising 6 men 7 women and 8 or 10 children who were the only Inhabitants of this lonely and secluded spot. They were all neatly clothed in dressed deer and Sheep skins of the best quality and seemed to be perfectly contented and happy. They were rather surprised at our approach and retreated to the heights where they might have a view of us without apprehending any danger, but having persuaded them of our pacific intentions we then succeeded getting them to encamp with us. Their personal property consisted of one old butcher Knife nearly worn to the back two old shattered fusees which had long since become useless for want of ammunition a Small Stone pot and about 30 dogs on which they carried their skins, clothing, provisions etc on their hunting excursions. They were well armed with bows and arrows pointed with obsidian The bows were beautifully wrought from Sheep, Buffaloe and Elk horns secured with Deer and Elk sinews and ornamented with porcupine quills and generally about 3 feet long. We obtained a large number of Elk Deer and Sheep skins from them of the finest quality and three large neatly dressed Panther Skins in return for awls axes kettles tobacco ammunition etc. They would throw the skins at our feet and say "give us whatever you please for them and we are satisfied We can get plenty of Skins but we do not often see the Tibuboes" (or People of the Sun) They said there had been a great many beaver on the branches of this stream but they had killed nearly all of them and being ignorant of the value of fur had singed it off with fire in order to drip the meat more conveniently. They had seen some whites some years previous who had passed thro. the valley and left a horse behind but he had died during the first winter. They are never at a loss for fire which they produce by the friction of two pieces of wood which are rubbed together with a quick and steady motion One of them drew a map of the country around us on a white Elk Skin with a piece of Charcoal after which he explained the direction of the different passes, streams etc From them we discovered that it was about one days travel in a SW direction to the outlet or northern extremity of the Yellow Stone Lake, but the route from his description being difficult and Beaver comparatively scarce our leader gave out the idea of going to it this season as our horses were much jaded and their feet badly worn. Our Geographer also told us that this stream bed united with the Yellow Stone after leaving this Valley half a days travel in a west direction. The river then ran a long distance thro a tremendous cut in the mountain in the same direction and merged into a large plain the extent of which was beyond his geographical knowledge or conception 30th We stopped at this place and for my own part I almost wished I could spend the remainder of my days in a place like this where happiness and contentment seemed to reign in wild romantic splendor surrounded by majestic battlements which seemed to support the heavens and shut out all hostile instruders.”

As you can see, Osborne Russell and his companions come upon a “nearly uncontacted tribe.” I describe them as “nearly uncontacted,” because they had met a group of whites before, but were more or less living a Stone Age existence. They had no horses. They had no useful guns. They only had one metal knife that was nearly worn completely out. They had a rock pot. Also, they had so little contact with the trappers that Russell says they trapped many beavers but just singed the hair off because they didn’t realize how valuable they were. And, if you have any doubts they would have traded with trappers, you can see they just kept throwing furs on the ground saying, “Take what you want, we want the metal stuff!” This might be one of the most interesting parts of this encounter.

In our modern world, we seem to wonder why Native Americans didn’t just resist Europeans at the shores and keep them off the continent. In my opinion (again, one person’s opinion) here is the crux. Native people really, really, really, liked manufactured metal wares. They simply made their lives better. If you don’t believe that, I’d challenge you to boil your next family stew in a shallow depression lined with a buffalo stomach and heated with hot rocks. It wouldn’t take long, and you’d want a metal kettle, too.



I have a copy of that journal. An interesting read.


Whats the name of the book?  I have read through 50 years a hunter trapper a few times.  There is another fella that wrote a book about hunting trapping and living in upstate pa.  But I think that is called 30 years hunting.  it amazes me some of the things these old long hunters went through.  the fact that some could read and write is big as it shows the kinda people they were.  many were not educated well in that time period and the drive and determination to go through school set them apart enough to venture further into the wild then the average joe. 
“If you want to know all about a man, go camping with him. Probably you think you know him already, but if you have never camped on the trail with him, you do not”. Eldred Nathaniel Woodcock. “Fifty Years a Hunter and Trapper.”


Journal of a Trapper is one of the most important first hand accounts of the mountain man era. In it, Russell provides a detailed narrative describing the day-to-day life of an ordinary trapper in the Rocky Mountains. The Journal begins when Russell hired on with Nathaniel Wyeth's second expedition to the west. He participated in the establishment of Fort Hall, and later became a free trapper. He trapped for nine years in the greater Yellowstone region before leaving the mountains to settle in Oregon. Osborne Russell (1814 â€" August 2, 1892) was a mountain man and politician who helped form the government of the U.S. state of Oregon. He was born in Maine. Russell first came to the Oregon Country in 1834 as a member of Nathaniel J. Wyeth's second expedition. He returned to the country in 1842 with the Elijah White party. He participated in the May 2, 1843 Champoeg Meeting, voting in favor of forming a government. In October of that year he was selected by the First Executive Committee to serve as the supreme judge for the Provisional Government of Oregon and served until May 14, 1844. In 1844, he was elected to the second Executive Committee of the Provisional Government of Oregon. He was allied with the group that planned to create an independent Republic of the Pacific and thus was unsuccessful in his run for governor of the Provisional Government in 1845, losing to George Abernethy. Russell eventually went to California. Although not published until well after the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, Osborne's Journal of a Trapper contains an early description of the Lamar Valley or Osborne's Secluded Valley in Yellowstone.


bigben hit the nail right on the head! Osborne was quite a talented and busy man.


Charles Larpenteur, born 1803, died 1872, was an American fur trader, whose memoir and diary frequently have been used as a source to fur trade history. During his forty years in the fur trade Larpenteur diligently kept a diary, using it as a source to complement his memory when he wrote his memoir. Unable to finance publication of the memoir, he sent the manuscript to Washington Matthews, a U.S. Army surgeon he had learned to know at Fort Buford. At the end of the century, Matthews transferred the manuscript to Elliott Coues, a brother officer in the Medical Corps; a version was hence published in 1898.


Great first hand account of early days in the Old West. If you like this book you will also want to read the following similar 99-cent books:
1. My Sixty Years on the Plains: Trapping, Trading, and Indian Fighting (1905)
2  Journal of a Trapper Or Nine Years Residence among the Rocky Mountains Between the years of 1834 and 1843 (1921)
3  Three Years Among the Comanches: The Narrative of Nelson Lee, the Texas Ranger, Containing a Detailed Account of His Captivity Among the Indians, His Singular Escape ...(1859)
4  My Life as an Indian: The Story of a Red Woman and a White Man in the Lodges of the Blackfeet (1907)
5  The Old North Trail: Or, Life, Legends and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians (1910)
6  Life Among the Apaches (1868)
7  On the Border with CROOK (1891)
8  Twenty Years Before the Mast: with the more thrilling scenes and incidents while circumnavigating the globe under the command of the late Admiral Charles Wilkes 1838-1842 (1896)
9  The Evolution of a State or Recollections of old Texas days (1900)
10  The Vigilantes of Montana, Or, Popular Justice in the Rocky Mountains: Being a Correct and Impartial Narrative of the Chase, Trial, Capture, and Execution of Henry Plummer's Road Agent Band ...


I will check them out.  The main reason the other two books I mentioned are high on my list is they detail life in northcentral Pennsylvania which I hunt a good bit of.  Its cool seeing them reference areas I hunt annually. 
“If you want to know all about a man, go camping with him. Probably you think you know him already, but if you have never camped on the trail with him, you do not”. Eldred Nathaniel Woodcock. “Fifty Years a Hunter and Trapper.”


I feel like I know a little bit about the mountain man lifestyle as I was raised in the wild's of VT with no electricity, indoor plumbing or water. I tell people that and they look at me like I'm crazy, especially the millennials with their $1300 iPhones.


 I have that book. Awesome read. Thanks for that list of books Nasty. I'll check those out too.

  another good book is about George Drouillard, hunter and interpreter for Lewis and Clark


I am a voracious reader and download free books from the local library on my iPad and read them. Does anybody else do that? I haven't bought or checked out a book in years. Most libraries have the program now to use your library card and register and then download three books for up to seven days. Best thing since sliced bread :yoyo:


Fifty years used to be free on i books. 

I wish I could read more but anymore unless I am stuck without service its hard.  I have add and get bored quick if the book doesnt hook me.  I have been stuck on a couple books that everyone tells me to read but read a few pages and get distracted.  one is tenth legion.  the last books I tried reading was come november by gene wensel and silvertip by dave windour
“If you want to know all about a man, go camping with him. Probably you think you know him already, but if you have never camped on the trail with him, you do not”. Eldred Nathaniel Woodcock. “Fifty Years a Hunter and Trapper.”