Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole


One of the stereotypes of the mountain man is that of a man who was only capable of signing his “X.”   Statistical studies, however, show that this is far from representative.  Of trapper/traders whose educational background is known, half had at least a common school education, and 20 percent wrote extensive letters and journals.  Only 15 percent are described by their contemporaries as illiterate (Swagerty).

One caveat is that the data set on which these statistics were based is probably skewed.  History is better able to “remember” those that produced a paper trail, whereas the memory of many of those that were illiterate disappeared with the passing of their contemporaries.  However, the statistical data still shows that a significant number of mountain men were well educated for the time.  

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