- Historic Sites
Reading, Writing, And History
William Ashley was largely responsible for the development of that most glittering of the West’s romantic figures, the mountain man—the free trapper who explored the western wilderness at imminent peril of his life.
June 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 4
And here, in Mr. Morgan’s compilation, are the details of the story. The way in which the thing worked—the rivalries of the different fur companies, the activities of the Indian agents and the army officers who were always on the fringes of the trade, the complicated relationships with the various Indian tribes, the growing suspicion that much Indian hostility was inspired by British interests anxious to secure the Oregon country and as much of the rest as they could get—all of this is spelled out here, not so much in one narrative as in the concretion of many separate documents. It provides a fascinating glimpse into an important chapter of this country’s history.
Yet the real fascination, perhaps, lies in an intangible: the strange, almost haunting force which pulled all of these men into the West in the first place. Out of what they felt and did, it may be, comes the real basis for the powerful attraction which those simple words, “the West,” have so long had for Americans. Here was the lure of the dangerous unknown, the land whose wonders equalled its perils, the country where men had to risk much but where they also could win much. The national response to that challenge had much to do with the building of America. Perhaps today, when wonder and peril are again visible on the horizon, there will be a similar response… with equally fruitful results?