Mountain Men: Frontier Adventurers Alone Against the Wilderness


224 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 1-894864-09-3
DDC 973'.09'9




Reviewed by John R. Abbott

John Abbott is a professor of history at Laurentian University’s Algoma University College. He is the co-author of The Border at Sault Ste Marie and The History of Fort St. Joseph.


If you like your mountain men straight up and straightforward, this book
is for you. It is a collection of uncomplicated narrative essays about a
rustic handful of American individualists: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett,
Jim Bridger, James Beckwourth, Peter Ogden, Gedidiah Smith, Kit Carson,
and Kootenai Brown. Readers expecting a scholarly and politically
correct explication of these slightly smelly characters should look
elsewhere. For Tony Hollihan, they exemplify the traditional liberal
virtues of individualism, such as self-interest and self-reliance, as
well as an inclination to live on the margins.

Hollihan’s presentation of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett establishes
the pattern for the volume and its subjects. Boone’s courage and
native cunning won him substantial fortunes that were subsequently
undermined by his failure to register land titles in Kentucky and
Spanish America. He died penniless but debt-free on September 26, 1820,
in Kentucky, after satisfying his last creditor. Crockett’s courage
and independent nature prompted him to go man to beast with bears, man
to man against “King” Andrew Jackson, and finally to the Alamo where
he was one of six survivors ordered executed by Santa Anna in 1836.

All of the mountain men lived in close association with North
America’s Native peoples: intimate, merely friendly, or hostile, as
individual and tribal interests dictated. All of them lived off the land
and the commerce and sport it afforded. They bought furs from Native
providers, trapped for themselves, and hunted for pleasure, food, and
profit. Many of them functioned as guides for government survey parties,
the army, and the adventure tourism industry that began to develop in
the last half of the 19th century. But they, like their Indian
associates, received aid from the Great White Father in Washington.

What Hollihan reveals, without making any conscious effort to do so, is
the extent to which the lives of these rugged individuals were
supported, from the very beginning, by government funds made possible by
congressional appropriations and dispensed by eastern bureaucrats. It is
amusing to note yet another example of the intimate, often
unacknowledged, association between American individualism and
government subsidies in American history.


Hollihan, Tony., “Mountain Men: Frontier Adventurers Alone Against the Wilderness,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,