Materials: Internet or library access, 8 ½” x 14” paper, colored pencils/markers/crayons, copies of “During My Life” worksheet, ruler, regular pencil, glue (optional),
Objective: Students will understand the time period during which the mountain man lived by comparing the life of one mountain man with world events.
Information relevant to the Fur Trade:
Most trappers and traders in the Rocky Mountain area came here from St. Louis, but they were men from very different circumstances. Some were sons of wealthy European or American parents, but most were from poor, illiterate families. Jedediah Smith and Ceran St. Vrain were both successful, but their backgrounds were very different indeed.
Jedediah Strong Smith would know the wilderness from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean and from Mexico to Canada by the end of the fur trade. He would have seen more of the west than Lewis and Clark. But he was not a very well educated man. When he was 15 and growing up in Pennsylvania, a country doctor taught him to read, write, and do math. The doctor even gave him Lewis and Clark’s book which sparked his interest in the West, but that was all the education he had.
Jed was one of twelve children in a poor family, but he had several traits that would help make him a success. He was quiet and modest, courageous, bright, and an energetic leader. He entered the West, an unknown land, with his rifle and the clothes he wore, and he became successful enough to eventually buy the fur company where he started his career.
Ceran St. Vrain, on the other hand, came from a wealthy French family. His grandfather was a member of the king’s council, and his uncle was the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana while it was under French rule. After the French revolution in 1789, the St. Vrain family left France and moved to St. Louis, where Ceran’s father, Jacques, lost his money in some bad real estate deals. He got a job running a brewery, but tragedy struck when he was killed in a fire at the brewery. His mother was then left alone to raise her ten children, but she did receive help from Ceran’s uncle.
As a teenager, Ceran worked for Bernard Pratte and Company, which was involved with the fur trade, and by 1825, he was on his first trading venture to the west. As years passed, Ceran’s gracious and polished air earned him respect in Santa Fe as well as in St. Louis. He became a naturalized Mexican citizen, and learned to speak Spanish quite elegantly. He joined forces with the Bent brothers and did very well in the trade business.
By the late 1830’s it was obvious to the mountain men that their days making a living at trapping were coming to an end. The Fur Trade boom had come and gone very quickly, too quickly for some. After only twenty years of active trapping, there were very few beaver left in the mountains, and the call for their fur had almost completely died since the silk top hat became popular. The trappers’ way of life came to an end and many men had to look for new kinds of work.
There were about 600 mountain men in all in the Rocky Mountains between 1825 and 1840. Of these, we know the details of about 230 of them and what jobs they chose when the fur trade ended.
70 became farmers and ranchers.
24 became businessmen of some type or another.
24 went into careers that were tied to the government.
50 moved into a variety of occupations. Some were teachers, miners, carpenters, Indian agents, interpreters, surveyors, post traders and guides.
60 stayed in the mountains to hunt and trap for their own survival.
Very few of the trappers returned to the East; they were too much at home in the wild open spaces of the West. Some chose to be buffalo hunters, other guided wagon trains of pioneers bound for the West Coast, while still other became scouts for the U. S. Army. The times were changing, and the mountain men had to fit in the best they could.
Have students choose one of the mountain men listed below.
Jim Bridger (1804–1881)
William Bent (1809–1869)
Jim Beckwourth (1798–1866)
Joe Meek (1810–1870)
Jim Baker (1818–1898)
Kit Carson (1809–1868)
Have students research the dates on which the events listed on the next page occurred.
Based on the information and dates the students researched have students create a timeline. Be sure to have the students make the timeline big enough to write on and long enough to include all the events.
- Instructor may also choose to have students draw or paste a picture of the event on the timeline.
Next have the students figure the age of the mountain man of their choosing and fill it in next to the event on the time line.
Have the students determine how old their mountain man was when he passed away, and have that number at the top right hand side of the paper, along with his name.
Teacher reference for events:
1806 - Lewis and Clark return from their exploration of the west
1812 - 1815 - The War of 1812 is fought
1818 - The first bicycle is built
1820 - Florence Nightingale is born
1824 - John Quincy Adams becomes President of the United States
1825 - The Erie Canal is completed
1826 - Thomas Jefferson dies
1827 - Beethoven dies
1831 - Sitting Bull is born
1833 - Bent’s Old Fort is built
1835 - Mark Twain is born
1835 - P.T. Barnum, of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, starts his career as a showman
1836 - Davy Crockett is killed at the Alamo
1838 - The First baseball game is played
1838 - The Cherokee are marched from Georgia to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears
1840 - The first electric clock is built and patented
1840 - Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert in England
1849 - Gold is discovered in California
1859 - Gold is discovered in Colorado
1861 - The Civil War begins
1876 - Colorado becomes a state
During My Life Worksheet
Instructions: Look up the year in which these events occurred and write it down next to the event. They do not go in order of when they happened, that is for you to figure out! Next, you will figure out the age of your Mountain Man when the event happened.
The Civil War begins. ___________________ Age: _______
The Erie Canal is completed. ______________________ Age: ________
Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert in England. ____________________ Age: _______
Mark Twain is born. _____________________ Age: _______
Bent’s Old Fort is built. _______________________ Age: ________
Beethoven dies. ______________________ Age: ________
Gold is discovered in California. __________________________ Age: ________
Thomas Jefferson dies. _____________________ Age: _______
Sitting Bull is born. _____________________ Age: ________
Florence Nightingale is born. ________________________ Age: ________
Davy Crockett is killed at the Alamo. ___________________________ Age: ________
The First baseball game is played. ________________________ Age: ________
Gold is discovered in Colorado. _____________________ Age: _________
Colorado becomes a state. ______________________ Age: _________
The War of 1812 is fought. ___________________________ Age: _________
John Quincy Adams becomes President of the United States. ________________ Age: ________
P.T. Barnum, of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, starts his career as a showman. __________ Age: _________
The first bicycle is built. _____________________ Age: _______
The Cherokee are marched from Georgia to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. ________ Age: _________
The first electric clock is built and patented. ________________________ Age: ________
Lewis and Clark return from their exploration of the west. _______________ Age: _______