Mountain Man/Mormon Interaction

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imageThe first segment of the Mormon Pioneer journey, from Winter Quarters to Fort Laramie took six weeks, with the company arriving at the fort on June 1, 1847.

imageThe company halted for repairs and to re-shoe the draft animals.  While at Fort Laramie, the vanguard company was joined by members of the Mormon Battalion who had been excused from service due to illness and sent to winter in Pueblo, Coloradoimage.

Also traveling in the new group were Church members from Mississippi who had taken a more southern route toward the Great Basin. At this point, the now larger company took the established Oregon Trail toward the trading post at Fort Bridger.

At a difficult crossing of the Platte, just before encountering the Sweetwater River, the company made use of their portable boat and were able to cross with comparative ease.

imageSeizing the opportunity to both help future travelers and increase the cash available to the migration, nine men under the direction of Thomas Grover were left behind to construct and operate a ferry at that location. Missourians and other travellers at the river paid the Saints $1.50 or more per wagon to help them cross.

imageDuring the last week of June, Sam Brannan, leader of the Mormon emigrant ship Brooklyn, met the company near Green River, Wyoming. He reported to Young about his group’s successful journey and their settlement in what is today San Francisco, California.  He urged the vanguard company to continue on to California but was unable to shift the leader’s focus away from the Great Basin.
imageBrigham Young met mountain man, Jim Bridger, on June 28. They discussed possible routes into the Salt Lake Valley, and the feasibility of viable settlements in the mountain valleys of the Great Basin.image

Bridger was enthusiastic about settlement near Utah Lake, reporting fish, wild fruit, timber and good grazing. He told Young that local Indians raised good crops, including corn and pumpkins, but that there was ever-present danger of frost.

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The Collapse of the Fur Trade

As the 1840s approached, the fur trade began to collapse.  There was a lessening demand for furs in Europe.  Fur bearing animals had become over-trapped and there were no longer many to be found.  With the silk trade, fabric took a stronghold and furs were considered too expensive for the common person to wear.  At the same time, killing an animal for fur became less politically correct.
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Mountain Man, Robert Newell, told Jim Bridger: “We are done with this life in the mountains — done with wading in beaver dams, and freezing or starving alternately — done with Indian trading and Indian fighting. The fur trade is dead in the Rocky Mountains, and it is no place for us now, if ever it was.”image

The final rendezvous was held in 1840.

As trapping became less and less lucrative, other means of earning a livelihood began a whisper in the ear of the weary mountain man.imageFortuitously, Manifest Destiny received a powerful push with two new international treaties in early 1846 and early 1848 officially settling ownership of the Pacific coast territories and Oregon Country to the United States.  This spurred an upsurge in America’s ongoing migration, in 1847-48, as it built rapidly from a trickle to a flood, largely due to the highly organized Mormon migration that exploited the road to the Great Salt Lake discovered by Mountain Man Jim Bridger.imageThe migration further exploded in 1849 as “The Forty-Niners,” responded to the discovery of gold in California in 1848.
image Many of the mountain men settled into jobs as Army Scouts, wagon train guides and settlers along the reliable mule trails through the lands which they had helped open up. The trails gradually improved into wagon capable freight roads. 
imageOthers, like William Sublette, opened up fort-trading posts along the Oregon Trail to service the remnant fur trade and the settlers heading west. During the summer of 1845 alone an estimated 5,000 immigrants went west. These immigrant trains from the east, and government surveying expeditions, provided a new realm of employment for the trappers.imageMilitary service was often the natural progression for trappers who guided for surveying expeditions. Sometimes the trappers joined the service out of loyalty to a particular officer, or because they were in the right place at the right time. Actual titles were not often needed and sometimes only given after long service.