Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole


Celebrations were not held just at the Holidays.  Celebrations might be held at the completion of a new fort, arrival at rendezvous, a wedding, or finding that friend, long known to be dead, was actually still alive.  Celebrations might include dancing, singing and storytelling, and almost certainly the use of ardent spirits if available.  


After Fort Hall had been constructed, Nathaniel Wyeth allowed his men to celebrate the occasion and their hard work.  The following was recorded by John Kirk Townsend: "August 5th. At sunrise this morning, the "star-spangled banner" was raised on the flag-staff at the fort, and a salute fired by the men, who, according to orders, assembled around it.  All in camp were then allowed the free and uncontrolled use of liquor, and, as usual, the consequence was a scene of rioting, noise, and fighting, during the whole day; some became so drunk that their senses fled them entirely, and they were therefore harmless; but by far the greater number were just sufficiently under the influence of the vile trash, to render them in their conduct disgusting and tiger-like.  We had "gouging," biting, fisticuffing, and "stamping" in the most "scientific" perfection; some even fired guns and pistols at each other, but these weapons were mostly harmless in the unsteady hands which employed them."


"On the arrival of the trappers and hunters a big drunken spree took place. Our boss, who was a good one, and did not like to be backward in such things, I saw flat on his belly on the green grass, pouring out what he could not hold in."  

Written June?, 1833 by Charles Larpenteur in Forty Years a Fur Trader. The boss was none other than Thomas Fitzpatrick.  At this time Larpentuer was a young man going on his first trip up to the mountains as a hired hand with the pack train Sublette and Campbell were taking to supply the Rocky Mountain Fur Company at the Rendezvous of 1833.  The Rocky Mountain Fur Company had not sent anyone down to St. Louis this year to confirm the shipment of goods to rendezvous, or the location at which it was to be held. The trappers and hunters referred to were a party sent out by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to confirm details.  


"In a short time a tent was rigged up into a kind of saloon, and such drinking, yelling, and shooting as went on I, of course, never had heard before.  Mr. Redman, among the rest, finally got so drunk that Mr. Fitzpatrick could do nothing with him, and there was not a sober man to be found in camp but myself.  So Mr. Fitzpatrick asked me if I would try my hand at clerking.  I remarked that I was willing to do my best, and at it I went. For several days nothing but whisky was sold, at $5 a pint.  There were great quarrels and fights outside, but I must say the men were very civil to me."  Written July, 1833 by Charles Larpenteur in Forty Years a Fur Trader.  The setting is during the opening days of the 1833 Rendezvous.  At this time Larpentuer was a young man going on his first trip up to the mountains as a hired hand with the pack train Sublette and Campbell were taking to supply the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.


"The river Platte is regarded by the navigators of the Missouri as a point of much importance, as the equicnotial line amongst mariners.  All those who had not passed it before, were required to be shaved, unless they could compromise the matter by a treat.   Much merriment was indulged on the occasion.   From this we enter what is called the Upper Missouri; Indeed the change is perceptible and great."  Recorded by Henry Brackenridge in 1811 as a member of a fur brigade belonging to Manuel Lisa's Missouri Fur Company in 1811.  


Lewis Garrard and Blackfoot John Smith, then employees of Bent & St. Vrain Company, were trading amongst a Cheyenne Indian village sixty or so miles down river from Bent's Fort during the winter of 1846-47.  The New Years holiday was appreciated only by the two men, and hence the celebration was muted.  Here is what Garrard (Reference) has to say:  "I shall have to be, to rescue our names from the depths of oblivion, narrator for both, to apprise all of our occupation and whereabouts on New Year’s day [1847].  While we, in this village, had neither mince pies, cakes, or any of the good things consumed on like occasions, neither did we hear guns, shooting crackers, or cannon, or see shops gaily decorated; yet we had good buffalo meat, and aromatic coffee (without sugar or bread), which I  enjoyed far more than anyone could a most tempting “State” dinner.  For music, the village maidens chanted warsongs-the harmonious strains of which fell on the ear far more pleasingly than Russel’s best."


Rufus Sage records the arrival of Lancaster Lupton's supply train at Fort Platte late in the autumn of 1841 (Rocky Mountain Life):  "The night of our arrival at Fort Platte was the signal for a grand jollification to all hands, (with two or three exceptions,) who soon got most gloriously drunk, and such an illustration of the beauties of harmony as was then perpetrated, would have rivaled Bedlam itself, or even the famous council chamber beyond the Styx.  Yelling, screeching, firing, shouting, fighting, swearing, drinking, and such like interesting performances, were kept up without intermission, and woe to the poor fellow who looked for repose that night, he might as well have thought of sleeping with a thousand cannon bellowing at his ears.  The scene was prolonged till near sundown the next day and several made their egress from this beastly carousal, minus shirts and coats, with swollen eyes, bloody noses, and empty pockets, the latter circumstance will be easily understood upon the mere mention of the fact, that liquor, in this country, is sold for four dollars per pint."

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