Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Pack Train Life - Mess:

While traveling, there might be 40-100 or men with the pack train or in a fur brigade.  A group of men of this size was much to unwieldy to be easily organized for cooking, drawing supplies, camp duties, etc.  As a result, a number of "messes" would be organized consisting of generally 8-10 men, each mess with its own captain.  

"On the 18th [or 20th] of April we reached Lexington, where we found our party camped in tents, awaiting our arrival. There the sumptuous fares were all over. Mr. Campbell called me up and said, "Charles, I will now assign you to your mess. I have a mess of nine first-rate old voyageurs — French boys from  Cahokia — you will be well off with them."   I was not quite a stranger to them, having formed acquaintance with some of them before leaving St. Louis; and I am glad to say that they did all they could for me as long as I remained with them.  None of those men had any education, and would frequently remark that if I took care of myself I could get into good business.  Our fare during our stay at Lexington was not bad; we drew rations like soldiers, and having yet a little pocket money we could add to our provisions considerably."

Written by Charles Larpenteur in Forty Years a Fur Trader.  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.  


"A description of the formation of our camp may, perhaps, not be amiss here. The party is divided into messes of eight men, and each mess is allowed a separate tent. The captain of a mess, [who is generally an "old hand," i.e. an experienced hunter, or trapper,] receives each morning the rations of pork, flour, &c. for his people, and they choose one of their body as cook for the whole. Our camp now consists of nine messes, of which Captain W.'s forms one, although it only contains four persons besides the cook."   

John Kirk Townsend recorded the above description in his Journal on April 29,  while traveling with Nathaniel Wyeth's pack train to the 1834 Rendezvous.   


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