January 1, 1839
A mountain man who trapped across the plains and Rocky Mountains named Jim Bridger is described. He certainly sounded like an entertaining carnivore and an excellent outdoorsman. "he had been known to kill twenty buffaloes by the same number of consecutive shots. Tall-six feet at least- muscular, without an ounce of superfluous flesh ... he might have served as a model for a sculptor or painter, by which to express the perfection of graceful strength and easy activity."
Trappers and Mountain Men
Jim Bridger could not write his own name, but his skill in the mountains, was proverbial, and the American Fur Company was eventually happy to take him into its service. A writer who knew Jim in the late 1830's said that he had "a complete and absolute under-standing of the Indian character in all its different phases, and a firm, though by no means over-cautious distrust with regard to these savages." Jim was the perfect outdoorsman, his bravery was unquestionable, his horsemanship equally so, and ... he had been known to kill twenty buffaloes by the same number of consecutive shots. "
The physical conformation of this man was in admirable keeping with his character. Tall-six feet at least- muscular, without an ounce of superfluous flesh ... he might have served as a model for a sculptor or painter, by which to express the perfection of graceful strength and easy activity. His cheekbones were high, his nose hooked or aquiline, the expression of his eve mild and thoughtful, and that of his face grave almost to solemnity. "To complete the picture, he was perfectly ignorant of all knowledge contained in books, not even knowing the letters of the alphabet; put perfect faith in dreams and omens, and was unutterably scandalized if even the most childish of the superstitions of the Indians were treated with anything like contempt or disrespect; for in all these he was a firm and devout believer."
Like other mountain men, Jim became a guide and scout when the beaver trails thinned out. A West Point officer for whom Bridger worked in his later years said that Jim had never heard of Shakespeare until one night at the campfire he asked who wrote the world's best book. The West Pointer named the Bard of Avon, and Jim dashed away to find a covered-wagon train. He located a set of the plays which he bought for a yoke of oxen worth $125. He also hired a youth to 120 read the books to him. Jim was able to commit Shakespeare's poetry to memory as easily as he had absorbed every geographical detail of the West. There. after he entertained his mates by reciting the stories, with a liberal sprinkling of mountain vernacular, which he used for emphasis.
Like Jim Beckwourth, Bridger was a yarn-spinner of considerable genius After stories of petrified forests became current in the West, he liked to tell of petrified birds that sang petrified songs, and of a wide chasm that he could cross because the law of gravity was petrified. But Jim's tall tales never limited his usefulness. When in the late 1830's it became apparent that beaver could no longer maintain the fur trade-the emphasis was shifting to trade with the Indians for buffalo robes-and fixed posts were springing up at many places in the mountains, Jim began to think of establishing a post of his own somewhere in the Green River Valley. In 1841, in association with Louis Vasquez, he built the first of several such forts, finally made permanent in 1843 as Fort Bridger in the southwest corner of Wyoming, on what was then becoming the Oregon Trail. The fort served as a supply station for the emigrant trains, and Jim ended his active days in doing something he was well qualified to do-helping others in their struggle to settle in the West.
The Diet of a Mountain Man
We read and watch daily opinions about our overweight society, “Americans are too fat,” we are continually told. Maybe so, today anyway, but not always. I smile each time I remember the story of Jim Bridger making his own supper. He skinned and gutted a jack rabbit and a nice sized trout, skewered them and propped both over the fire for roasting. Once they were cooked to his taste, likely not long, he ate both quietly and drank an entire pot of boiled coffee to wash down the meat. No seasoning of any kind, maybe smoke flavor from the fire, but that’s it. This was not uncommon for early hunters/trappers in the American West. Meat and coffee. Surprising to some, that many of these men also drank a lot of tea, it was as popular as coffee for many of the early explorers.