In and moving to the rocky mountains

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by Gene Hickman
The type of clothing a man would have worn 160 to 200 years ago would depend on several factors: the part of the country he came from, his occupation, his ethnic background, his nationality, his station in life and even current fashions. Consequently, Company owners like Manuel Lisa who went into the field, visiting noblemen or wealthy men out for a big adventure or hunt, the Canadians or Frenchmen, Mexicans, mixed bloods or half-breeds, Creoles, ex-military, the “Euro-Americans from the states, the part of the states or North America they came from, the traders, trappers, clerks, engages, voyageurs or boatmen, and all the other folks would have had some distinctive clothing items, styles, fabrics and even colors particular to their situation. All that said, much would still be the same, based on what was popular at the time and of course what the companies issued to the men in the brigades as they departed for the west and what the men may made or had available at rendezvous and trade forts for replacement items. Items at forts may also have varied as to whether they were HBC, AFC, or other companies, where the forts were located, these forts were mainly stocked for the Indian trade. Consequently, Indians in particular areas had certain color and item preferences, although many of the goods were the same in a given time period. So your mountaineer may have had to settle on what the fort had to choose from. Fashions for some items changed about every 20 years, some less, so your outfit also depends on the time period you are depicting with some items being rare, some items just coming into use or going out of “vogue,” and of course those items that were the dominant or fashionable items for that period.

If you are going to portray a Euro-American trapper in the 1820-1840 time period than I highly recommend as a source the article by Allen Chronister and Clay Landry, Clothing of the Rocky Mountain Trapper 1820-1849, in the Book of Buckskinning VII (BOB VII) and if doing late 1830s also Shawn Webster’s In the Image of A.J. Miller. Other excellent source can be found in the Northwest Journal (, the Museum of the Fur Trade sketchbook series, and Robert Wheeler’s A Toast to the Fur Trade. You should also study journals, trade lists, fort documents and other period fur trade records. An excellent source for some of these is Dean Rudy’s Mountain Men and the Fur Trade; Sources of the Fur Trade in the Rocky Mountain West ( Study of period paintings and sketches by artists such as A.J. Miller, Rindsbacker, Krieghoff, Bodmer, Kurz, Point and others give us further information about what was worn or used. A.J. Miller is the only artist known to have painted and sketched at an actual rendezvous and in the Rocky Mountains (1837) and other daily activities of the mountaineer during our time period. However, for all the artists you must consider the places and time periods closely for some of these sketches and paintings are right after our time period or done later in the artist’s life and all were not in the Rocky Mountains. So you need to differentiate what was sketched or painted during the time period and those that were painted some years later from field sketches. As I’ve said, these later paintings have been altered from the original sketches.

An example of painting done later and altered from field sketches is cited by Chronister & Landry in BOB VII, concerning some Miller’s paintings. ….Differences between some of the field sketches and later paintings based upon them can be demonstrated. The original field sketch of Joe Walker and his Indian wife shows a clean shaven Walker wearing a floral beaded Red “River-style shoulder bag and plain, fringed hide clothing (Parke-Bernet 12). In the later (some done as late as 1858-1860) and better known versions of the scene, Walker looses the floral bag and gains a beard and painted stripes on his hide trousers (Tyler pl. 81;289-29). In Picketing the Horses-At Evening…the two central figures in the 1837 version are barefoot and wearing plain knee breeches (Tyler pl. 38). In the later (c. 1858-1860) finished painting of the same scene, a number of details are altered and the two central figures are wearing fringed long trousers and moccasins (Tyler 220: DeVoto, Across pl. XLIII). The differences in both of these scenes are crtical to an analysis of trapper’s clothing (Chronister & Landry 4-5)
All of this gets even more confusing when we see all of the items worn at modern rendezvous. Many of these items cover a broader time and place in history than we in AMM depict, a large portion are modern rendezvous items, many are just “old-timey” stuff, what they had back in the settlements, and unfortunately most just do not fit into our AMM personas. It is my general perception that the more you see an item being worn or used at modern rendezvous the more likely that it has no historic precedence and it is just what is “cool” now. To say that “they would’ve used it if they’d a had it” or “this works better,” is just an ignorant and lazy answer to justify your stuff. Choose a persona for the Rocky Mountains from 1800-1840 and you’ll be much more successful in authenticating and accurately representing our historic period.
Chronister, Allen and Clay Landry. Clothing of the Rocky Mountain Trapper, 1820-1840. In Book of Buckskinning VII. –ed. William Sculock. Texarkana, TX: Scurlock Publishing Company, Inc. 1995.
DeVoto, Bernared. Across the Wide Missouri. 1947. New York; Bonanza Books, 1957. --, ed. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1963.
Park-Bernet Galleries, Inc. A Seris of Watercolor Drawings by Alfred Jacob Miller. Catalog no. 2436. New York, 6 May 1966.
Tyler, Ron. Alfred Jacob Miller: Artist on the Oregon Trail. Fort Worth, TX: Amon Carter Museum. 1982.

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