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A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific Hardcover – August, 1997
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It's true, Robert Utley writes, that mountain men such as "Crazy Bill" Williams and Jeremiah "Liver-Eating" Johnson were an unlearned, unwashed, drunk, and violent bunch who tore a bloody swath across the then-unconquered American West from the 1810s to the 1840s. Yet their travels across deserts and plains and over high mountains yielded a huge body of geographical knowledge that would enable American pioneers to cross the Mississippi and traverse the continent in relative security. Utley, a historian with a fluent narrative style, tells the stories of hard-fighting men like Jim Bridger, Benjamin Bonneville, Kit Carson, and Joseph Walker, whose names now figure prominently on maps of the region but are otherwise little remembered.
From Library Journal
Utley, former chief historian of the National Park Service, knows his terrain firsthand and admirably captures the exciting adventures of the first white men to explore the Rocky Mountain West. While he offers minibiographies of characters such as Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger, he has fashioned a full-blown social history of a movement that still captures the imagination of readers today. Though scholars might criticize the book for being "once over lightly," general readers will appreciate the popular magazine style. Recommended for public and academic libraries.?David S. Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Mountain Men were risk takers, rugged individualists, optimists and American patriots rolled into one (although being patriots did not interfere with some of them taking Mexican or British citizenship when it would help them settle in parts of the West that were not ours before the Mexican-American War).
Utley begins right after the Lewis and Clark expedition, when two of those intrepid expedition members returned to the new lands in search of beaver pelts. The story progresses through the fur trading companies, the likes of Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and ends shortly after the time of Charles Fremont. By the time of the Gold Rush, the mountain men had spent their moment, the victims to changing fashions (beaver pelts were in demand for men's hats primarily) and over trapping as well as growing popular interest in settlement and exploitation of the land.
This book is mostly a chapter examination of the doings of the most famous of the mountain men. Their hard life in the open, scrapes and alliances with natives (many had Indian wives and families), habits of trade and merriment and their epic journeys from there to there are explored in well written and at times riveting detail.
Utley has added to an understanding of the American West by bringing back to life the men who established trade routes, guided the first settlers and importantly mapped and explored the great interior lands of the American continent. This is a great and interesting story told well.
Well written, well researched! Two thumbs up!