The Mountain Men. Illiterate or Educated?

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The more I study the Mountain Men the more misinformation and incomplete information (sometimes being passed off as authoritative) I uncover. Not really surprising considering how fragmented a lot of the information is. Considering there were probably only a couple of thousand mountain men in total we have a good deal of information about them, but again it is very fragmented.

A current interest of mine is how well educated were these men. I'm in the process of chronicling this for about 4-500 of whom there is information.

So far I've researched 45 Mountain Men and thought I'd share what I've learned, more will follow. I begin with who has to be the most interesting, no, extraordinary in lifetime accomplishments (so far).

Albert Pike- qualified by examination for the junior class at Harvard but could not afford the tuition. Teacher until 1831. Wrote poetry. Published a newspaper. Became a lawyer and practiced before the Supreme Court. Became a judge. During the Civil War was a Brigadier General for the Confederates and Commissioner to all the Indian Tribes south of the Kansas and west of the Arkansas. Wrote one of the best versions of Dixie. Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction for 32 years. Studied and revised the Rituals. Had a working knowledge of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Spanish. All his writing, which is enormous, was with a quill pen prepared by himself. And there is so much more.

Manuel Alvarez- cultured gentleman, read historical, philosophical, and religious books. Spoke English, French, Spanish

Abel Baker, Jr- worked as clerk, could read, write and do sums.

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau- raised by William Clark and Prince Paul. Spoke French, German, Spanish, English and various Indian tongues. An intelligent conversationalist. Traveled Europe and North Africa with Prince Paul.

Henry Chatillon- possibly illiterate, but wrote many letters

James Clyman- wrote extensive diaries, he could read, write and cipher. Read Shakespeare, Byron, and the Bible.

Alexander Culbertson- Spoke numerous Indian tongues. Became a wealthy man, then lost everything through poor investments.

Jimmy Daugherty- unknown

Job Francis Dye- could read and write amassing an enormous collection of books, well over a thousand

Thomas Eddie- attended school until he was seventeen. He kept a diary and enjoyed reading in his spare time.

Gabriel Franchere- could read and write, kept a journal, was hired by Astor as an apprentice clerk. His book was the second published account of the Tonquin story. He was considered at the time a literate gentleman.

Mark Head- unknown

Charles Larpenteur- could read and write, kept a journal which was twice published.

Joseph L Meek- was born into a first family of Virginia. Could read and write. He quoted Shakespeare and wrote poetry.

George Nidever- no formal education. Was considered extremely intelligent, had a photographic memory, and was very brave. Captained his own ship. A poem was written about him by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Hiram Scott- worked as a clerk for Ashley, could read, write and do sums.

Issac Slover- unknown

Pinckney W Sublette- struggled in school and was sickly so William took him out of school and to the mountains hoping his health would get better.

Solomon P Sublette- was educated

Charles Town- unknown

John D Albert- carried a German bible, could read and write, and was fluent in at least two languages.

Charles Bent- he attended College, was a surveyor, became a partner in the Missouri Fur Company, then Bent and St. Vrain, and went on to become governor of New Mexico.

Thomas Biggs- unknown

Francis Ziba Branch- could read and write, kept journals during his ranching years, became the wealthiest man in San Luis Obispo County, CA.

Calvin T Briggs- unknown

Lewis T Burton- could read and write, became an accessor and a prominent citizen of Santa Barbara, CA

John Pierre Cabanne Sr- well educated in France, very powerful in St Louis including being on the board of directors of a bank

Moses Bradley Carson- half brother of Kit Carson, minor partner in the Missouri Fur Company. Could read and write.

Jacques Philippe Clamorgan- could read and write, became a well known and respected merchant.

Auguste Clermont- unknown

William Craig- he went to a military school until age 17 or 18. His writing was exceptionally good.

John Day- unknown

Jacques D’ Eglise- illiterate

Warren Angus Ferris- educated, trained as a civil engineer, wrote “Life in the Rocky Mountains”

Johnson Gardner- illiterate

Hugh Glenn- store keeper, government contractor, director of numerous banks, so was clearly well educated

Antoine Godwin- unknown

Miles Morris Goodyear- was educated and enjoyed poetry

Mathew Kinkead- he could sign his name. Probably educated as he went on to become very wealthy owning many ships and haciendas, and property in numerous cities.

James Kipp- educated and mastered the Mandan language

Lancaster P. Lupton- West Point graduate. Robert E Lee and Joseph E Johnston were classmates. Fluent in French.

Kenneth McKenzie- born in Scotland to a distinguished family. President of the Columbia Fur Company which later merged with the American Fur Company. Ran the resulting Upper Missouri Outfit sub-depart consolidating the fur trade on the Missouri and known as “King of the Missouri” and “Emperor of the West”. After the fur trade he invested heavily in lands in three states, railroads and other industries amassing a fortune. Obviously well educated.

Stephen Hall Meek- older brother of Joseph Meek. Could read and write (wrote an autobiography) but lacked a formal education.

David Dawson Mitchell- became a partner of the Upper Missouri Outfit. Appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs a couple of times. Also served the US Government in numerous other ways including being a commissioner, along with Thomas Fitzpatrick, of the Fort Laramie Treaty. Clearly an educated man.

Antonio Montero- he could read and write as evidenced by letters between himself and Zenas Leonard. Also wrote a letter to David Adams.
 
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Culbertson was definitely literate (though a bit "irregular" in spelling): I have some documents and correspondance he wrote.

From what I've seen, most of these guys were trappers to make money, and had aspirations of bettering themselves. One way they prepared themselves for this was to become literate, and develop some skill with numbers and recordkeeping. Any who had completed an apprenticeship had some exposure to writing and numbers, if only because being in business meant being able to keep your own records. A generation or two later, many, if not most, of the homesteaders had some degree of literacy--often for the same reason.
 
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Well Massachusetts had printing within a few years of the pilgrims and before the seventeenth century was out the colonies were building paper mills.
There was a series of books for teens when I was a kid talking about colonial life. Big on illustrations. One was the making of a town. A guy has a cabin by a river and makes some cash canoeing folks across the river. Word gets out and soon ‘everyone’ knows he has a crossing there. He soon has the funds to make a ferry there. It’s not long before some one opened a trading post/public house/inn there. Next a copper, shoemaker, blacksmith opens shop. A printshop/ book store is one of the earliest business established.
Books are on the ledgers of most trading post, and in rendezvous goods.
We think of crusty old mountain or their long-hunter grandfathers as folks with wanderlust who left civilization, in fact most went to get a grubstake they could use to set up a life.
Daniel Boone just wanted a plantation
 
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The more I study the Mountain Men the more misinformation and incomplete information (sometimes being passed off as authoritative) I uncover. Not really surprising considering how fragmented a lot of the information is. Considering there were probably only a couple of thousand mountain men in total we have a good deal of information about them, but again it is very fragmented.

A current interest of mine is how well educated were these men. I'm in the process of chronicling this for about 4-500 of whom there is information.

So far I've researched 45 Mountain Men and thought I'd share what I've learned, more will follow. I begin with who has to be the most interesting, no, extraordinary in lifetime accomplishments (so far).

Albert Pike- qualified by examination for the junior class at Harvard but could not afford the tuition. Teacher until 1831. Wrote poetry. Published a newspaper. Became a lawyer and practiced before the Supreme Court. Became a judge. During the Civil War was a Brigadier General for the Confederates and Commissioner to all the Indian Tribes south of the Kansas and west of the Arkansas. Wrote one of the best versions of Dixie. Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction for 32 years. Studied and revised the Rituals. Had a working knowledge of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Spanish. All his writing, which is enormous, was with a quill pen prepared by himself. And there is so much more.

Manuel Alvarez- cultured gentleman, read historical, philosophical, and religious books. Spoke English, French, Spanish

Abel Baker, Jr- worked as clerk, could read, write and do sums.

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau- raised by William Clark and Prince Paul. Spoke French, German, Spanish, English and various Indian tongues. An intelligent conversationalist. Traveled Europe and North Africa with Prince Paul.

Henry Chatillon- possibly illiterate, but wrote many letters

James Clyman- wrote extensive diaries, he could read, write and cipher. Read Shakespeare, Byron, and the Bible.

Alexander Culbertson- Spoke numerous Indian tongues. Became a wealthy man, then lost everything through poor investments.

Jimmy Daugherty- unknown

Job Francis Dye- could read and write amassing an enormous collection of books, well over a thousand

Thomas Eddie- attended school until he was seventeen. He kept a diary and enjoyed reading in his spare time.

Gabriel Franchere- could read and write, kept a journal, was hired by Astor as an apprentice clerk. His book was the second published account of the Tonquin story. He was considered at the time a literate gentleman.

Mark Head- unknown

Charles Larpenteur- could read and write, kept a journal which was twice published.

Joseph L Meek- was born into a first family of Virginia. Could read and write. He quoted Shakespeare and wrote poetry.

George Nidever- no formal education. Was considered extremely intelligent, had a photographic memory, and was very brave. Captained his own ship. A poem was written about him by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Hiram Scott- worked as a clerk for Ashley, could read, write and do sums.

Issac Slover- unknown

Pinckney W Sublette- struggled in school and was sickly so William took him out of school and to the mountains hoping his health would get better.

Solomon P Sublette- was educated

Charles Town- unknown

John D Albert- carried a German bible, could read and write, and was fluent in at least two languages.

Charles Bent- he attended College, was a surveyor, became a partner in the Missouri Fur Company, then Bent and St. Vrain, and went on to become governor of New Mexico.

Thomas Biggs- unknown

Francis Ziba Branch- could read and write, kept journals during his ranching years, became the wealthiest man in San Luis Obispo County, CA.

Calvin T Briggs- unknown

Lewis T Burton- could read and write, became an accessor and a prominent citizen of Santa Barbara, CA

John Pierre Cabanne Sr- well educated in France, very powerful in St Louis including being on the board of directors of a bank

Moses Bradley Carson- half brother of Kit Carson, minor partner in the Missouri Fur Company. Could read and write.

Jacques Philippe Clamorgan- could read and write, became a well known and respected merchant.

Auguste Clermont- unknown

William Craig- he went to a military school until age 17 or 18. His writing was exceptionally good.

John Day- unknown

Jacques D’ Eglise- illiterate

Warren Angus Ferris- educated, trained as a civil engineer, wrote “Life in the Rocky Mountains”

Johnson Gardner- illiterate

Hugh Glenn- store keeper, government contractor, director of numerous banks, so was clearly well educated

Antoine Godwin- unknown

Miles Morris Goodyear- was educated and enjoyed poetry

Mathew Kinkead- he could sign his name. Probably educated as he went on to become very wealthy owning many ships and haciendas, and property in numerous cities.

James Kipp- educated and mastered the Mandan language

Lancaster P. Lupton- West Point graduate. Robert E Lee and Joseph E Johnston were classmates. Fluent in French.

Kenneth McKenzie- born in Scotland to a distinguished family. President of the Columbia Fur Company which later merged with the American Fur Company. Ran the resulting Upper Missouri Outfit sub-depart consolidating the fur trade on the Missouri and known as “King of the Missouri” and “Emperor of the West”. After the fur trade he invested heavily in lands in three states, railroads and other industries amassing a fortune. Obviously well educated.

Stephen Hall Meek- older brother of Joseph Meek. Could read and write (wrote an autobiography) but lacked a formal education.

David Dawson Mitchell- became a partner of the Upper Missouri Outfit. Appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs a couple of times. Also served the US Government in numerous other ways including being a commissioner, along with Thomas Fitzpatrick, of the Fort Laramie Treaty. Clearly an educated man.

Antonio Montero- he could read and write as evidenced by letters between himself and Zenas Leonard. Also wrote a letter to David Adams.
Thank you for this information. Osbourne Russel wrote a great diary everyone needs to read.
 
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Albert Pike- qualified by examination for the junior class at Harvard but could not afford the tuition. Teacher until 1831. Wrote poetry. Published a newspaper. Became a lawyer and practiced before the Supreme Court. Became a judge. During the Civil War was a Brigadier General for the Confederates and Commissioner to all the Indian Tribes south of the Kansas and west of the Arkansas. Wrote one of the best versions of Dixie. Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction for 32 years. Studied and revised the Rituals. Had a working knowledge of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Spanish. All his writing, which is enormous, was with a quill pen prepared by himself. And there is so much more.
No doubt Albert Pike was highly educated. He is well known in Arkansas and there is huge building in Little Rock built by him or in his honor. But, I, personally, would not class him as a mountain man. Just a man of the times.
 
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No doubt Albert Pike was highly educated. He is well known in Arkansas and there is huge building in Little Rock built by him or in his honor. But, I, personally, would not class him as a mountain man. Just a man of the times.
For this research I defined the definition of someone having been a "Mountain Man" as a person having trapped or traded for Beaver in the 1800 to 1840 time period, and in any of the mountains associated with this era (today's Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming). I'm not judging their success, nor am I judging how long they were there (or lived). Just that they at least attempted it.

Why I included Pike is because in August 1832 in Taos he purchased from a Mr. Campbell powder, lead, tobacco, six traps, one horse and one mule. He joined Mr. Campbell's party which was made up of mostly Mexicans which then joined with John Harris' party of Americans (including Old Bill Williams). This group went to the Pecos River and the Bosque Redondo. Campbell's group turned back to Taos after hearing of Comanche attacks. Pike changed over to Harris' group and went on to one of the headwaters of the Colorado. Poor trapping lead to a disintegration of the Harris party with some like Williams going back to Taos and others like Pike, Lewis, Irwin, Ish and Gillette heading northeast about 140 miles until they reached the Red River. They continued on reaching the Washita River on November 8 where they then turned downstream again reaching the Red River and then Fort Smith on December 10.

During this brief time Pike, Williams and Harris had supper with a Comanche Chief and traded tobacco for food. Later Pike's small group of trappers traded with an Osage hunting party led by Chief Claremore. Still later Pike traded his gun to some Choctaw Indians for twelve pounds of meat.

Pike certainly wasn't a successful mountain man, but he did the mountain man thing even if only for one season, which in my eyes for this purpose makes him at one time in his life a mountain man. Hence his inclusion.
 
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For this research I defined the definition of someone having been a "Mountain Man" as a person having trapped or traded for Beaver in the 1800 to 1840 time period, and in any of the mountains associated with this era (today's Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming). I'm not judging their success, nor am I judging how long they were there (or lived). Just that they at least attempted it.

Why I included Pike is because in August 1832 in Taos he purchased from a Mr. Campbell powder, lead, tobacco, six traps, one horse and one mule. He joined Mr. Campbell's party which was made up of mostly Mexicans which then joined with John Harris' party of Americans (including Old Bill Williams). This group went to the Pecos River and the Bosque Redondo. Campbell's group turned back to Taos after hearing of Comanche attacks. Pike changed over to Harris' group and went on to one of the headwaters of the Colorado. Poor trapping lead to a disintegration of the Harris party with some like Williams going back to Taos and others like Pike, Lewis, Irwin, Ish and Gillette heading northeast about 140 miles until they reached the Red River. They continued on reaching the Washita River on November 8 where they then turned downstream again reaching the Red River and then Fort Smith on December 10.

During this brief time Pike, Williams and Harris had supper with a Comanche Chief and traded tobacco for food. Later Pike's small group of trappers traded with an Osage hunting party led by Chief Claremore. Still later Pike traded his gun to some Choctaw Indians for twelve pounds of meat.

Pike certainly wasn't a successful mountain man, but he did the mountain man thing even if only for one season, which in my eyes for this purpose makes him at one time in his life a mountain man. Hence his inclusion.
very great information, thank you very much I know that had to take a lot of your time. But do check out Osbourne Russel. I wish there were more posts like yours.
 

Rudyard

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Well Ive' never made a study of Mountain men , Iv'e trapped Opossums in NZ & wandered many serious Mountains kitted out like' a mountain man' no buckskins but a muzzle loader . Hardly qualifies me as a ' Mountain man' in this context . But some inkling and similar experience.s .
What I don't buy is Baird's they spoke like he wrote them speaking in his publications .Maybe some did . If Jim Bridger came from Kent he probably spoke in a Kentish dialect and most unlikley to come out with any "I are a mu'tinman trappin beav'r on my mind & big rocks in my head " type jabber.. His myopic fixation on the Hawken so biased they became the great " Got to have' . But Hanson's studies based on facts didn't resonate as well with Dinglehoofer's devotes . Last sort of rifle Ide lug would be a heavy Hawken nearest I got was a 490 three winged projectile English percussion rifle & it got used more to shoot small pot game & once was handy to test the depth of a rocky ledge in a narrow swollen stream . But the swaged Maxi bullets I set off with mostly got left to decorate my camps as I neared my 12 days later goal of a loggng camp on the Lower Homathka river in British Columbia's Coast range . (Start point Tatla Lake store & via Waddington Canyon , .crossing Teedman Glaciers run off ) Those where the day's Im'e stuffed now .
Rudyard
 

Daveboone

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One must remember that the overall literacy rate for the time was pretty low. Simply put, for the common man eking out a living, there wasnt much in a book that helped them clear the land, scratch some crops from the ground or sweat out their manual labor in what ever job they were able to find.
There was little standardization in spelling until good ol' Daniel Webster came along, so what is freqeuntly looked at as barely literate/etc. was just norm for the time.
 

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