Visitors to the town of Pinedale, Wyoming, are greeted by a sign that reads, “Welcome to Pinedale…All the Civilization You Need.” Yes, Pinedale has long prided itself on its history of being off the grid, even before there were grids in the first place. And the place where this rough-and-tumble hunting, fur trapping, and trailblazing era is celebrated is known as the Museum of the Mountain Man.
The era of the mountain man began just after the turn of the 19th century, as the Lewis and Clark Expedition returned from their journey reporting that the northern Rockies were teeming with beaver. Beavers were valued for their pelts, which are tough and waterproof with a soft felt underneath. A beaver pelt hat soon became all the rage among the upper crust set not only in the United States, but Europe as well. Across Wyoming, several men began to stake their claim in the wild, working with (and often fighting with) members of indigenous tribes and fighting the elements to trap beavers for the fur trade.
This trade peaked in the 1820s, and several of the trappers became widely known for their rowdy behavior and exploits. The Museum of the Mountain Man celebrates these legendary figures such as Jim Bridger, whose .403 caliber rifle is on display in the museum. Another trapper, Hugh Glass, would become famous for his encounter with a grizzly bear and her cubs. Hugh Glass was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film The Revenant, but he may even be more expressively portrayed by the figure in the diorama of the incident contained in this museum, who truly conveys the horror of someone who is about to be mauled by a grizzly bear in a way that even Leo could not manage.
Beginning in 1825, mountain man William Ashley began hosting a rendezvous the second week of July. Mountain men of all kinds would meet to trade, sell furs, and restock their supplies, meaning they would no longer have to return to St. Louis to stock up. Hundreds of people would join these rendezvous, which would eventually be hosted near the area that would become Pinedale. These included not only trappers and local Native American tribes, such as Nez Perce, Flathead, and Shoshone tribes, but also tribes from the Eastern states and even many international trappers.
1840 marked the last year of the Rendezvous, as the fur trade was nearly dead. It was done in by over-trapping of beavers, the presence of nutria in South America undercutting prices, and the whims of fashion, as silk hats came into vogue. These stories passed into legend and Western history. To retell the story, Sublette County (itself named for a mountain man) established the Museum of the Mountain Man in 1990 to better connect Wyoming residents with their mountain man heritage.
The people of Sublette County also began re-enacting the Mountain Man era in 1936. The Green River Rendezvous is held every second weekend of July in Pinedale at the Museum, with living history demonstrations. Sure, it may be more civilized than in the days of the Wild West, as wine auctions and book sales replaced trapping and duels, but in Pinedale, a little civilization only goes so far.
Know Before You Go
The Museum of the Mountain Man is open seasonally each May through October. Check the website for details on admission and information about the upcoming Green River Rendezvous.