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Mountain Man

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"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..."
Del Gue, Jeremiah Johnson

A man who makes his living in the wilderness of Canada or the northern US, most often as trapper or hunter. One of the most recognizable characters in The Western, 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 and beaded accessories 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 one is the main character he will often have no beard, or a much smaller, scruffier one. Common equipment includes a readily accessible long hunting rifle (often anachronistic, such as a flintlock, muzzle-loaded gun), a "Big Fifty" (a .50 caliber Sharps rifle used for buffalo hunting), and of course a really big knife, either a Bowie knife or an Arkansas toothpick (a type of broad-bladed dagger).

As well, they carried a leather bag (called a "possibles bag") for essential equipment (a bullet mold for lead bullets, lead bullets in a bullet pouch, a gunpowder horn, an awl,note  knives, a tin cup, a buffalo robe or a blanket, pipe and tobacco, flint and steel for starting fires, a small frying pan or pot), a pack, a "medicine bag" for trap bait, and traps. Mountain men also carried beads and silver jewelry for trading with Indigenous people.

On the trail, they ate "appalos", which were meat and fat that were slow-roasted over a fire, jerky and pemmican (ground-up jerky, berries and beef tallow). These methods of cooking and preserving food were also used by Indigenous people. Their beverage of choice on an icy night around a campfire was "Awerdenty", their term for strong whiskey.

When they are the heroes of the piece, they are often employed as scouts, guides or trackers. If the story is set in the late 1800s or later, after the decline of the fur trade, they are more likely to be solitary characters. Mountain men may have a background in the army, which gives them solid marksmanship. Some may have a Dark and Troubled Past and so they keep on the move to stay off the lawman's radar. If the story is set in the early 1800s, when the fur trade was booming, they are more likely to be depicted as part of a group of trappers working for fur companies. When mountain men were trapping and hunting in a group, the leader was called the "Booshway" (this comes from the French word "bourgeois", used by the French voyageurs).

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 rifle will often be out-of-date (as previously noted), he may speak in a strange or antiquated way, and he may not be aware of changes in the big cities or the rest of the world.

They are often shown alternating between fighting and hanging out in a friendly way 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. Every summer, mountain men come together for a rendezvous (meeting) to trade and sell furs and goods. On the trail, they sleep in teepees (bought from Indigenous people), improvised lean-to structures, or just out in the open, wrapped in their buffalo hide.

In newer media, they are often portrayed having Indigenous wives. This was quite a common occurrence historically, but for most of the 20th century wasn't shown in media, 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. They live alone in the woods, so they have to set their own broken bones and tend to their own wounds. As such, they often know about natural herbal remedies.

Subtrope of Classical Hunter. See also Prospector, The Pioneer, Forest Ranger, and Nature Hero.


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    Comic Books 
  • Robin (1993): Tim Drake comes across an odd long-haired leather-wearing old man in Appalachia who lives off the land and avoids all but the outskirts of civilization while Tim is trying to track a gun smuggler to his source. He quickly learns that "Stephan" gets away with this due to his ill-defined powers that can make the forests into an Extra-Dimensional Shortcut.
  • Wolverine is more The Drifter in most of his appearances in the "present day" of canon, but he grew up in the backwoods of northern Alberta, which isn't literally mountainous but is rugged and inhospitable as anything.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Marya is a rugged solitary young woman who lives in the wilderness and is straight-up called a mountain woman. She comes from farther south than most examples as she's from Mexico, and she did, mostly, clean up for her stint as a student at Holliday College, but even then she pretty much refuses to wear shoes if the terrain doesn't require it and mostly keeps her own council and doesn't interact with the other students if she can help it.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side:
    • Parodied with "Seymour Frishberg: Accountant of the Wild Frontier," who totes his briefcase up mountain ridges.
    • Another strip features a straighter example... and his pet grizzly.
      "Raised the ol' girl from a cub, I did. 'Course, we had to get a few things straight between us. She don't try to follow me into town anymore, and I don't try and take her food bowl away 'til she's done."

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Across the Wide Missouri is about mountain men hunting and trapping in the Rockies, 1829-30. Interestingly, they aren't as solitary as mountain men are usually shown. They operate as an informal "brigade", and they build a fort before scattering in the mountains, a fort that functions as winter quarters and home base. In that sense this trope is mixed with Settling the Frontier.
  • Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles who speaks only "Authentic Frontier Gibberish".
  • The eponymous "Crocodile" Dundee is a very similar archetype, albeit in a radically different climate, being an expert tracker and outdoorsman who prefers a solitary lifestyle in the wilderness and obtains most of his income from hunting.
  • In "Dead Man", Billy Bob Thornton plays a mountain man named Big George .
  • 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.
  • Inglorious Basterds has Aldo Raines claim being a direct descendant of the famous mountain man Jim Bridger as to confirm his credentials for the war party tactics he intends his unit to use against the Nazis.
  • 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 on the real-life John Johnson, or Liver Eatin' Johnson.
  • The Magnificent Seven (2016) features Jack Horne, the big, tough mountain man of the group.
  • 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.
  • The Posthumous Character known only as 'the Mountain Man' in The Mountie. Grayling eventually learns that it was what the Mountain Man had discovered on his expeditions into the mountains that got him killed.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio plays legendary mountain man Hugh Glass in The Revenant, about how Glass was mauled by a bear, before miraculously recovering and seeking revenge on those who left him for dead.
  • In The Shadow of Chikara, the party encounters a trio of mountain men as they make their way into the mountain. However, these three are also Dangerous Deserters who plan to rob and murder them, and rape Drusilla.
  • Shoot to Kill: Jonathan Knox is a grizzled, surly mountain guide who lived alone in the woods until he met Sarah, and is the perfect man to help Stantin pursue a fugitive who's decided to Run for the Border.
  • The Bear Man from True Grit 2010. As Cogburn and Ross stand and wait to see who is after them, a giant bear appears to emerge from the drifting snow – except that it is not a bear, but a wild-eyed wanderer, covered by a full bearskin (including the head) and shaggy beard. Far more monstrous in appearance than the ‘Davy Crockett’ type of frontiersman more usually celebrated in oaters, this bestial eccentric is an itinerant dentist, veterinarian and doctor (“for those humans that will sit still for it”) .

  • Arly Hanks: Diesel Buchanonis a non-period parody of a mountain man. In a modern(ish) world, he lives in a cave in the Ozarks, scares backpackers, and subsists on squirrels and roadkill.
  • Blue Moose: Dave the Mountain Man befriends both Mr. Brenton and the Blue Moose himself.
  • 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.
  • Alan Dean Foster wrote a series of short stories about Mad Amos Malone, a Genius Bruiser mountain man who wandered the west from Colorado to Hawaii and had a variety of supernatural adventures (fighting a Chinese dragon that was robbing stagecoaches, challenging a malevolent spirit to an insult contest, protecting an Indian Burial Ground from railroad developers, etc) with his Cool Horse, Worthless (1/4 Clydesdale, 1/4 Arabian, 1/4 Mustang, 1/4 Unicorn).
  • 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".
  • Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods begins with the author detailing 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 
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries has one-off character Smelly Nellie, who lives in a remote cabin and traps possums for a living. As the team's Butt-Monkey, Breen is the one who has to interview her for a case. He returns to town with possum grease on his face, despite earlier having declined her offer to apply some.
  • Sully of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is a Mountain Man very friendly with the local Indians. Later, he's revealed to have deserted the US Army during The American Civil War because war profiteers ordered him to assassinate the concurrence.
  • Fort Boyard: A new character introduced in 2021 is Gary Boo (Jean-Marc Généreux), a crazy Quebecois trapper who was attracted to Fort Boyard by the numerous exotic animals to hunt. He built his hut inside a cell with plenty of obstacles for the contestants, and welcome them there at the end of his rifle.
  • In the Frontier Circus episode "The Shaggy Kings", Ben and Tony team up with a group of buffalo hunters. This includes an old mountain man named Tiber who laments how the West has changed since he first arrived.
  • Ghosts (US): The Viking ghost Thorfinn fits this trope. After being abandoned by his fellow Vikings, he spent years living alone in the untamed wilderness wearing fur pelts soaked in wolf urine as a natural bear repellent.
  • 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.
  • Hell on Wheels features Jimmy Two-Squaws, a mountain man with good relations with the Cheyenne whose territory Union Pacific is building through. He's fluent in Cheyenne and, as you might guess from the name, has two Cheyenne wives. Main characters Cullen Bohannon and Elam Ferguson approach him to help negotiate on Union Pacific's behalf.
  • In the Kung Fu (1972) two-part episode "Besieged", we meet Tamo, a Chinese mountain man who lives on Cold Mountain. He's in his mid-70s and can still kick most people's asses.
  • James "Grizzly" Adams and Mad Jack from The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.
  • Earthquake from the MacGyver (1985) episode "The Spoilers" is a modern-day mountain man.
  • On Northern Exposure a recurring character is Walt, a trapper in his mid-60s who becomes a love interest for local shopkeeper Ruth-Anne.
  • Joe Crane from The Saga Of Andy Burnett from Disneyland (who also appeared in a few episodes of Disney's Zorro TV series).
  • Wynonna has to fight an undead Mountain Man in the Wynonna Earp episode "When You Call My Name."

  • 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.
  • The old jazz song "The Old Man of the Mountain," famously performed by Cab Calloway, centers around an old hermit who lives in the wild near an unspecified mountain, happily depending on natural resources to sustain him.
  • Singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton (who wrote "Still Alive") bases his image around one of these. He has a coonskin cap and everything.
  • Dinosaur Jr. have a song called "Mountain Man" on their first album.
  • Jethro Tull's song "Mountain Men" from their album Crest of a Knave. Ian Anderson being Scottish, it is, of course, about the Highlanders.
  • Led Zeppelin's When The Levee Breaks is about a rainstorm so intense and so prolonged that it's got what it takes to make a mountain man leave his home.
  • 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.

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

  • 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.
  • Two country league Australian Rules Football clubs, Bright in the Ovens & King League and Mitta United in the Tallangatta & District Football League (both located in Victoria's northeastern alpine region) are nicknamed the "Mountain Men".

    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.)
  • Pokémon: The "Hiker", one of the many different standard Trainer types, is represented as cheerful, somewhat heavyset, bearded men in alpine gear, and universally found strolling up on high mountains and other difficult terrain to train their Rock- and Fighting-type Pokémon.
  • Punch-Out!!'s Bear Hugger probably qualifies, but he isn't the enemy of the grizzly bear. He befriends 'em.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2:
    • The Trapper character, who still very much looks the part and will make comments about his younger days as a mountain man, hunter, and trapper. He now makes his living sewing unique items out of pelts that the player brings him.
    • The Skinner Brothers Gang are a group of insane, sadistic mountain men known for flaying their victims alive. They appear fairly late in the game, and are one of the more dangerous gangs encountered.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • The Old Man of the Mountain is based on the jazz song of the same name, and the titular Old Man is once again portrayed as a hermit who lives in a cave in the mountains. However, he goes through Adaptational Villainy in this cartoon. Rather than being a harmless, if batty, old man like he was in the original song, he's now a monstrous individual who tries to eat and/or assault anyone who enters his domain.
  • In The Simpsons, the founder and namesake of Springfield was Jedediah Springfield, a mountain man who settled the untamed lands that would become the town and once killed a bear with his bare hands — or at least, that's how history recorded him. In reality, he was little more than a charlatan — and the bear killed him.

    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.
  • In 1984, a father and son pair of these abducted Olympic biathlete Kari Swenson while she was out for a training run, wanting a wife for the son. She was rescued after a harrowing 18 hours, but not before being shot, caught in the crossfire between her kidnappers and would-be saviors.
  • The kidnapper of Peggy Ann Bradnick has been described as a mountain man, however Bradnick herself objects to this and points out that he knew little about surviving in the wilderness.
  • In recent years some real-life individuals who could be described as modern mountain men have become associated with the sovereign citizen movement and other extreme positions.
  • Non-American examples:
    • The Gurkhas. The ultimate men from the ultimate mountains.
    • Italy has the Alpini, raised among the inhabitants of the Alps specifically to defend that border from Austro-Hungarian attacks in case of war. They're considered the mountain troops, and have managed to outfight the Red Army in winter (they had been sent to the Eastern Front in World War II with plans to deploy them in the Caucasus, and in the meantime, they were deployed in the plains. They all happened to be very good skiers, and the Alps in winter are just as cold as Russian plains...).
    • Austria-Hungary's Landesschützen/Kaiserschützen, originally a territorial militia, later Austria-Hungary counter to the Alpini. They finally fought each other during World War I, with both forces blowing up multiple mountains because it's easier to do that than to straight-out assaulting it, and found each others' Worthy Opponents.
    • And, of course, Scots. The Scottish Highlands and the Peak District just over the border in Yorkshire are some of the most notoriously unforgiving terrain in Europe, more so than the Alps in some ways thanks to being right on the Atlantic coast.
    • In Sweden, a mountain man was a person who worked in the mountain iron mines, most famously in Berslagen and Dalarna. They were nearly always armed (since the Swedish Yeomen — much like the English — were required by law to own a certain set of weapons during the middle ages.) and occasionally used said weapons against the King, the Sherriff, or anyone else they felt threatened their interests. Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson is the most famous example of a Swedish mountain man rebel. Sometimes, however, they fought for the king, like in the case of Gustav Vasa and his Dalecarlians (men from Dalarna.) In a similar vein, people who had committed crimes would always receive amnesty if they took up work in a mountain mine (except if they had commited murder or high treason), where they were guarded by "mountain soldiers" who most likely were serving a sentence themselves. Needless to say, they were not nice people.
    • Fidel Castro and his guerrillas deliberately cultivated this image when fighting the Cuban government forces from their mountain hideouts.
  • The "Button Man" is a real-life hermit living in the vast bush of Wonnangatta Valley, Australia who has been known to stalk unsuspecting hikers. Although a number of high-profile disappearances in Wonnangatta have made the Button Man a minor Urban Legends celebrity, police reportedly interviewed and cleared him of any suspicion.