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Mountain Man

"By God, I are a mountain man, and I'll live 'til an arrow or a bullet finds me. And then I'll leave my bones on this great map of the magnificent..."

A man that makes his solitary living in wilderness of Canada or the northern US, most often as trapper or hunter. One of the most recognizable characters in Westerns, the Mountain Man is always presented as a large man, covered from head to toe in fur and skins, even in seasons and areas where these would not be needed. When they want to get fancy, they'll wear fringes as well. The whole ensemble is often topped with a coonskin cap.

They also usually sport a very large beard and rather long hair, though if they are the main character they will often have no beard, or a much smaller, scruffier one.

Common equipment includes various traps, a rifle (often anachronistic), and of course a really big knife, either a Bowie Knife, or an Arkansas Toothpick.

When they are the heroes of the piece, they are often employed as scouts or trackers.

As the heyday of mountain trappers was before that of cattle drives, he may be visibly older than the cowboys and other stock characters. His gun will often be out of date (as previously noted) and he may speak in a strange or antiquated way.

They are often shown alternating between fighting, and hanging out with the local natives, sometimes doing both at the same time with two different tribes. Their other common enemy is the grizzly bear, and they are often shown killing them in hand to hand combat.

In newer media they are often portrayed having native wives. This was quite common historically but didn't appear in many older works due to stronger interracial marriage taboos than now.

They are often portrayed as incredibly strong, being The Big Guy of western characters. This is also one of the character types most prone to going native.

See also Prospector and Nature Hero.


Examples:

Comic Books
  • Wolverine breathes this trope, coming from the mountains of Canada. He's from Northern Alberta, which isn't exactly mountainous, but is inhospitable as anything.
  • Fungus in Deputy Dink.
  • A similar character in A Man Called Horace.
  • Bear Fart Johnson, 200 year-old patriarch of the Johnson clan in Outlaw Nation

Film
  • Jeremiah Johnson from the movie of the same name is probably one of the most famous examples of this character, he in turn is based of the real life John Johnson, or Liver Eatin' Johnson.
  • Jeremiah from Grizzly Mountain and Escape From Grizzly Mountain. In these movies, Jeremiah is actually friendly with a bear — who he called Jack. In the latter, he helps a future boy rescue a bear from his abusive owners.
  • The bearded, burly Hill Folk in Matewan, who only once come off of the high mountains to chase the Company men away because their cars "make too much noise". When asked how old their rifles are, they respond "from the war...between the states". The movie is set in 1920.
  • Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles who speaks only "Authentic Frontier Gibberish".
  • Brad Pitt's character in Legends Of The Fall seems to become this at the end.
  • The Bear Man from the new version of True Grit.

Literature
  • Discussed in The Areas of My Expertise.
  • Diesel Buchanon, from Joan Hess's Maggody mysteries, is a non-period parody of this. He lives in a cave in the Ozarks, scares backpackers, and subsists on squirrels and roadkill.
  • The outdoor humorist Patrick McManus often writes about his youthful adventures with the local mountain man, Rancid Crabtree.
  • The poetry of Robert W. Service features many of these. You'll probably only recognize The Cremation of Sam McGee
  • Robert E. Howard's Breckenridge Elkins: a 19th century Mountain Man, Played for Laughs and, although not well known now, at the time of his death, Howard's most popular character. These days it's Conan the Barbarian.
  • Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods begins with the author detailling how his wish to become more of an outdoorsman led to him setting out to hike the Appalachian Trail.
    "Daniel Boone didn't just wrestle bears but tried to date their sisters"

Live-Action TV
  • James 'Grizzly' Adams and Mad Jack from The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams.
  • Joe Crane from The Saga Of Andy Burnett from Disneyland (who also appeared in a few episodes Disney's Zorro TV series).
  • Earthquake from the MacGyver episode "The Spoilers" is a modern day mountain man.
  • The villain of the week in the Highlander episode 'Mountain Man' was one. There were two, actually, Caleb Cole and the guy he killed, Carl the Hermit, who taught Duncan how to track. Caleb then got out-tracked,out-fought and beheaded by Macleod after kidnapping Tessa-instant Berserk Button for Duncan.

Music
  • Singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton (who wrote "Still Alive") bases his image around one of these. He has a coonskin cap and everything.
  • Lots of newer indie folk artists in general lean towards this look (the male ones, at least). See Devendra Banhart, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and Iron and Wine for a few examples.
  • Dinosaur Jr. have a song called "Mountain Man" on their first album.
  • Seattle grunge band TAD were often marketed as being forest-dwelling lumberjack types early in their career, even though they were actually all suburban kids.

Pinball
  • Bally's Spirit Of 76 has Davy Crockett dressed up as a mountain man on the backglass art.

Sports
  • The mascot for the West Virginia University Mountaineers is the platonic ideal of this trope, complete with a black powder musket that is fired off during sports events.

Video Games
  • Ned and Colton White from the game GUN are both portrayed as mountain men, (although Colton ends up going through nearly every other western character trope, including ranch hand and member of the pony express.)
  • Punch-Out!!'s Bear Hugger probably qualifies, but he isn't the enemy of the grizzly bear. He befriends 'em.
  • The "Hiker", one of the many different standard Trainer types in Pokémon.

Western Animation
  • In The Simpsons, the founder and namesake of Springfield was a mountain man. (Or at least, that's how history recorded him..)
  • Buckle from American Dad! is one of these. He used to be an "Imagineer" for Disney, which allowed him to build his Treehouse of Fun. He left civilization when Disney started stealing his dreams.
    Buckle: No, seriously. They had this ... machine.

Real Life
  • The "mountain men" proper (that is, fur company-contracted American men who trapped in the West) existed for a little over one generation in the 19th century, but had antecedents in the North American colonial period going back several centuries. The voyageur was essentially the same man, but 200 years earlier and Canadian French. They, in turn, descended from the coureurs des bois, who were independent rather than being tied to a particular fur company.
  • One notable real life example is the enigmatic "Leatherman" (no, not that kind), who toured the northeastern United States in the late 19th century.
  • The Devil's Brigade was the name of a U.S./Canadian joint special forces group during World War II. They recruited men from rural areas that were experienced in hunting and survival skills to fight in the cold harsh mountains of northern Italy.
  • It was common for the first people traveling the Oregon Trail to hire mountain men as guides, but later they were replaced by books and at the migration's peak the wagon ruts were so deep they could be followed across the country. These ruts are still visible in parts of Wyoming.


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