Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Ice House:

At least at some of the larger forts and posts, luxuries such as ice for cold drinks and cooling meat was available for the summer months.  Both Bent's Fort and Fort Union were known to have ice houses.  At Bent's Fort, the ice was cut at mountain lakes far up the Arkansas River and hauled back down to the fort.  At Fort Union Missouri River ice was cut directly in front of the fort during the coldest months of the winter.  Robert Campbell in a letter to his brother dated November 16, 1833, describes the construction of the original Fort William.  An ice house was to be part of the infrastructure for this fort, and based on the context of the letter, it does not appear that and ice house was an unusual feature.  

According to Friederich Kurz (Reference) while he was at Fort Union in 1852:  "Our only occupation at the moment is the storing of ice in the ice house.  Some of the men cut out thick blocks of ice from the river and bring them up the river bank others load them, a third drives the cart, and I have to count the number of loads delivered at the ice house and supervise the packing of the blocks.  In summer ice is indispensable for preserving fresh meat and for cooling the tepid drinking water brought from the river."

On February 27, 1834 Maximilian (reference) while at Fort Clark reports that "Mr. Kipp had pieces of ice hewn on the river to fill his ice cellar."

Charles Larpenteur’s (Reference) description of the orginal Fort William which was constructed in 1833: “There was a store and warehouse 40 feet in length and 18 feet in width; two rooms for the men's quarters 16x18 feet, a carpenter's shop, blacksmith's shop, ice house, meat house, and two splendid bastions.”

Ice stored in a cellar and packed in sawdust can be preserved for as long as a year.   

Back to Everyday Living