A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

The era of the Fur Trade and the Mountain Man was a short, but colorful part of Western History and the Wind River country was in the heart of it.

A new display in the lobby of the Fremont County Pioneer Museum in Lander gives a glimpse of the tools and equipment that would have been used by Jim Bridger, John Colter, Thomas Fitzpatrick, and other Mountain Men that trapped along the Wind River, the Popo Agie and other streams. The display will be up through this summer.

Native Americans traded fur and hide with Europeans from the beginning of Europeans arriving on the continent. Deer hides, bison hides, and otter, mink and other pelts were in demand by the French, English, and Spanish, who traded beads, guns, cloth, knives, pots, and axes for them.

As the continent was settled and became The United States, the era of the Mountain Man began. Beaver pelts were in high demand for hats in Europe and the Eastern United States. Trappers headed west to find beaver as they were trapped out in the Eastern part of the country. From the 1820s to the 1830s, Mountain Men lived in the Rocky Mountains trapping beaver to ship east. By numbers the Mountain Men were few – most of the trapping was still done by Native Americans, who continued to trade fur for goods they couldn’t get otherwise.

The equipment on display was typical of what the Mountain Man carried, or traded, during their trapping. Smooth bore muskets for hunting and protection, tomahawks (or “hawks”), steel knives, and powder horns to carry the gunpowder needed to use their guns.

A highlight of the display are sixteen powder horns from a private collection never before seen by the public. A powder horn was a container for gunpowder and was created from cow, or ox horn.

Typically there was a stopper at both ends. The wide mouth was used for refilling, while the powder was dispensed from the narrow point. Some horns had measures attached to them so an exact amount of powder could be poured from the horn. The powder horn was typically held by a long strap and slung over the shoulder.

The inside and outside of a powder horn were often polished to make the horn translucent so that the user would be able to see how much powder he had left. The use of animal horn along with nonferrous metal parts ensured that the powder would not be detonated by sparks during storage and loading. Horn was also naturally waterproof and already hollow inside.

Powder horns were often decorated, most often with engraving, making a form of scrimshaw, which was sometimes supplemented with color.

Even though forms of pre-packaged paper cartridges were around very early, their extra cost and small benefit to civilians’ discouraged wide-spread use. The military often used preloaded paper cartridges. For example, on April 19, 1775, in Lexington and Concord, paper cartridges were routinely used by many civilians on the opening day of the American Revolutionary War. Similarly, the British soldiers carried cartridge boxes holding 36 paper cartridges. The advantage of paper cartridges was speed; 3 to 4 rounds a minute were possible using paper cartridges. Measuring each charge via a powder horn before firing reduced the rate of fire to about one round per minute.

For most trappers, the powder horn was an essential part of their equipment. All were hand made, and many were carved, some intricately, to indicate ownership.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

May 4, 1-3pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Historic Plant Day”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

May 11, 2 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Spool Knitting”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

May 16, 7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Teen Adult Bead Cleaning Workshop”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

May 18, 10 am at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander Downtown Walking Tour”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.