The Revival of the American Mountain Man
Each year around the Fourth of July, in a vale in the Rocky Mountains, a scene from another century plays out. Dozens of rugged-looking men mill around an encampment. They tether their horses and mules to trees. They wear animal skins. And as they roast slabs of buffalo meat over a fire sparked with flint and steel, they share tips on how best to trap beavers and load a flintlock rifle. Who are these guys?
They’re American mountain men—reenactors of the fur trade that flourished in North America from roughly 1800 to 1840. Like the better known reenactors of the Civil War, they’re dentists or lawyers or mailmen in real life. But for a week each year they shake off the yoke of civilization and return to a time when survival meant self-reliance.
Photographer David Burnett recently spent two years among them. He found “a welcoming bunch who are really curious about what it took to live before the conveniences of modern life. They love knowing the old stuff, the authentic stuff—things that are no longer taught. And they love to share that knowledge.”
Indeed, the American Mountain Men (AMM) association strives to preserve “the traditions and ways of this nation’s most fearless pioneers and daring explorers” and “share the fraternal concept to teach, share, and learn the skills needed and required to survive and live as the great American mountain men did.” For most reenactors, interest in the bygone era began at a young age...