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Mountain Men followed the lure of adventure to the west in the 1800s

The lure of adventure created the lore of the mountain men. They were a restless bunch in the early 1800s who looked at their fathers or uncles and saw them monotonously plowing furrows behind oxen. They wanted no part of that.

They heard travelers' stories of trappers who had been as far west as the Rocky Mountains, had fought Indians and grizzly bears and made fortunes trapping beaver. That was the lure of an adventure they never could have imagined.

In his book, "The Mountain Men: The Dramatic History and Lore of the First Frontiersmen," George Laycock gives us a vivid picture of many of them as individuals, trappers, guides, scouts, fighters and survivors. If there is such a thing as a "typical" mountain man, he was born in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia or the Carolinas (one exception was born in Ireland) and grew up learning trapping and hunting techniques. All were crack shots. Their greatest fear was the grizzly bear.

Jim Bridger ("Old Gabe")

James Felix Bridger was tall, muscular with high cheek bones, long brown hair and a hooked nose. Once described as "mostly rawhide," he born in Virginia in 1804, moved with his family to Missouri when he was 8 years old and was apprenticed to a blacksmith when his family members died, leaving him an orphan. Old Gabe never learned to read and write. During his years as a trapper, guide, Indian fighter and explorer (1822-68), he is credited with being the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake; established Fort Bridger in Wyoming that became a wilderness store, a landmark for travelers and a way station for the Pony Express; married Indian women and was widowed three times; and spent a year-and-a-half guiding English sportsman Sir George Gore on a big game hunt. He was considered a walking book on western geography as he could remember every stream, ridge, pass and trail that he ever saw. He died in Missouri in 1881.

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