I wrote a book that details several of the leading mountain men of Montana, but that just might not be good enough for a lot of people.
That’s why I wanted to put together this list of what I consider to be great mountain men fur trapping books.
The books are presented in no particular order, so don’t think that the first one on the list is the best.
Links are provided to each of the books on Amazon so you can go ahead and check them out further for yourself.
I hope that anyone visiting this site will find the information presented below to be useful, and hopefully you’ll find something of interest that you can’t find on this website.
Oh, and if this is still not enough for you, check out 2015's 10 More Great Mountain Man Fur Trapping Books. Thanks!
Tales of the Mountain Men: Seventeen Stories of Survival, Exploration, and Frontier Spirit
People interested in reading about many different mountain men over a longer period of time might be interested in this book, edited by Lamar Underwood. It came out in 2004 and collects excerpts from books, original source material from the time, and even nonfiction samples.
A lot of time is also spent discussing what was happening during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which is quite a bit before the time that most mountain men began wandering around the wildernesses of the Rockies and surrounding mountains.
For fans of mountain men and fur trappers, however, it might be just the thing you’re looking for.
John Colter: His Years in the Rockies
This book does a good job detailing John Colter’s 1807-8 winter in the Rockies.
I used it quite a bit when I was writing my John Colter chapter for my first book on the history of Montana.
I think anyone who’s interested in reading about Colter will find this book to be quite the good read.
It was during that winter in Montana that Colter stumbled upon Yellowstone, or what would be known for some time as ‘Colter’s Hell.’ The book was first printed in 1952 by Burton Harris, so it might feel a little dated to some. The 1977 edition has a new introduction as well.
Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West
Written by Dale L. Morgan in 1964, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West is still a worthwhile volume today. Most of the research was conducted using original sources, many of which were unpublished at the time that Morgan was writing.
Cowboys, Mountain Men, and Grizzly Bears: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of the Wild West
This book was written by Matthew P. Mayo in 2009 and does a good job highlighting some of the more colorful episodes that the mountain men took part in.
The book is big, with 50 chapters that go over 200 pages. A few take place in the 1800s and one is from the 1810s.
The book’s chapters are a bit short, only 4 to 5 pages, but you get a sense of many different people in the span of the book’s length.
Mayo specializes in adventurous stories of real-life people, and he doesn’t disappoint in this volume. What is of interest to many are the multitude of stories from the 1840s, 1850s, and beyond. Usually we think of the fur trade as ending by then, but Mayo has lots of stories in the 1860s, 1870s, and even beyond.
Now, many of these stories get into the Indian Wars. For instance, Fetterman's Fight is detailed, as is Wounded Knee.
You get a lot of obscure stuff too, like Kit Carson's 300-mile walk through Navajo country in 1863 and even the fight at Tombstone in 1881.
Anyone interested in getting a good idea of what a century of life was like in the Old West will enjoy this book. Oh, and there are tons of grizzly bear attacks!
Rocky Mountain Rendezvous: A History of The Fur Trade 1825 - 1840
Written by Fred Gowans in 1977, this great volume on the history of the fur trade covers just 15 years. That means you’ll be getting a lot of details about what went on in that period, which can be great for die-hard fans of the fur trade, but it might be a bit much for those just casually interested.
The book is fully-illustrated, meaning you’ll not just be reading about the places the mountain men frequented, but you’ll be seeing pictures and maps as well.
The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man
Hugh Glass was quite the amazing mountain man and fur trapper. He was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead, but somehow he miraculously survived and walked for nearly 200 miles to get back to his companions. He spent several more years after that fur trapping before his untimely death at the hands of the Arikara Indians.
Fur Traders, Trappers, and Mountain Men of the Upper Missouri
Leroy R. Hafen edited this book which is a collection of historical essays about the various mountain men and fur trappers working in and around Montana in the early to mid 19th century. Most of the stories revolve around the American Fur Company and you won’t get the usual tales.
Who am I talking about? These are people like:
- Gabriel Franchere;
- Ramsay Crooks;
- Kenneth McKenzie;
- James Kipp;
- Alexander Culbertson;
- Malcolm Clark;
- Auguste Pike Vasquez;
- Charles Larpenteur.
Those are some of the men, and I have to tell you, I didn't know many of them until picking up this book. Crooks I knew because he was active around St. Louis in the 1790s, and Malcolm Clark was killed outside Helena in 1869.
Anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes action of the fur trade will like this book. I used it quite a bit when I was researching Tribes and Trappers and it helped a lot.
The book is part of Hafen’s 10-volume study of mountain men and the fur trade, although this particular volume is a bit shorter than the others in the series. I would highly suggest checking out The Fur Trapper website for a breakdown of some of the stats on mountain men from Hafen's works.
Die-hard fans of the time will like it, though, so if you have a craving for the obscure, this is the book for you.
Mountain Men and Fur Traders of the Far West: Eighteen Biographical Sketches
This is the very first book in Leroy R. Hafen’s monumental 10-volume study of the mountain men and fur trappers of the 19th century.
If you want more stories on mountain men and explorers, this is the book to get.
Everyone you want to know about is in the book: Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson, Old Bill Williams, Thomas Fitzpatrick, James Bridger, and thirteen more amazing individuals. The book first came out in 1982 but it’s still one of the best out there today. It’s really the best of the series, considering that it was the first, so you’ll be getting lots of great information about these interesting, brave, and at times foolhardy individuals that shaped the American West.
Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America
This book by Eric J. Dolan is rather new, having come out in 2011. The book stretches all the way from 1609 to the late 1800s and profiles people in both Europe and America who made the fur trade possible. You’ll find lots of interesting characters, but many are just touched upon and not detailed in depth.
Highlights for me included the very detailed look at how the French got the fur trade going in North America in the 1600s. There's a fine look at Astor and the Pacific Trade. The maps on the dust jacket are wonderful. Also has a very good look at the Upper Missouri River trade, before and after Lewis and Clark.
It’s a real scholarly work, having nearly 1,000 footnotes, so for the history buffs out there this is a good work to check out.
A Majority of Scoundrels: An Informal History of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company
Don Berry put this book out in 2006 and it does a good job explaining how the Rocky Mountain Fur Company got its start. William Henry Ashley was of course the driving force behind the creation of the fur company and it all comes back to his newspaper ad in the early 1820s that called for hardworking and able-bodied men to join him on the upper-Missouri River.
Volumes 1-3: 1800 to 1900
10 More Great Mountain Man Fur Trapping Books
Another 10 Great Mountain Man Fur Trapping Books
5 Great Montana History Books
Montana’s Indian Tribes in the 1850s and 1860s
The Marias Massacre – A Montana Disgrace
Prospectors and the Montana Gold Rush
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