Montana Trappers Are Integral to Montana’s History But Who Are They?
The trapping culture has never consisted of a large number of people. Over time there have been fur booms and busts where trapper numbers rise and fall like the cycle of rabbit populations. Those who trap when fur prices are high are, for a time, trappers. They set traps and put up their catch and sell it to a waiting market and reap the reward of hard work and knowhow. But despite their enthusiasm when the prices are high for their efforts, they are not the heartbeat of the trapping culture, not even a faint pulse. For when the fur prices drop, their traps remain hung in the shed. Trapping season comes and goes, but their traps never move. For these trappers, trapping season is over until the prices rise again.
It’s the trappers who trap no matter what the fur prices are or are predicted to be, who make up the heartbeat of the trapping culture. These men and women don’t trap because they want financial gain, although a few extra dollars in their pocketbook won’t be turned down mind you. Just as an elk hunter may sell the hide and antlers of their trophy that is not the reason they hunted. A hunter could choose to buy domestic meat at a grocery store instead. But that is not what hunting is about. It’s about taking responsibility for the food the hunter eats, immersing one’s self in nature, being part of it and not separate. The same is true with trappers.
Trappers trap for the enjoyment of being outdoors at a time of year when many people are snuggled up in blankets at home on the couch. They trap to fulfill the trappers call. Trapping is in their hearts and there isn’t anything a real trapper can do to shake it loose but go trapping. With prices high or prices low, the traps come down off the shed wall when the fur is prime. Heavy coats and warm hats are pulled on and the ground falls away behind them as trappers are drawn ever closer to whatever lies ahead on the trap line.
The historical and cultural significance of trappers, especially in Montana cannot be overstated. It was primarily the search for pelts that spurred European explorers deeper into the western United States. The settlement of the west was based on the relationships developed between trappers and Native Americans. The history of the modern day American west is a compilation of events which trappers and trapping cannot be separated from. To the contrary, it was because of trapping and the stories of mountain men, that those events ever took place.
Four hundred years ago, fur trappers and hunters ventured into the wilds on foot or horseback in search of wild fur. This tradition which shaped the United States and Canada continues today. Trappers are truly wild and proud caretakers of wildlife who carry on the richest wildlife legacy in the world. The intimate relationship between man and nature spawned by early explorers is continued through a few hardy souls lucky enough to know the thrill and excitement of a trap line.
Few can know – really know, wild creatures and places. What it is to intimately know the environment in all its harmonious convulsive functioning is reserved for people who choose to spend much of their time immersed in intense and passionate study of wild details seen only after extended observation. Trappers are one of the few remaining subcultures in tune with their natural surroundings. They are not casual observers who rarely visit, randomly catch a glimpse of nature’s beauty. Instead, they are astute participants, educated about the ways of nature and its inhabitants. More comfortable figuring out the mystery of tracks and scat on the forest floor than dressing up in business attire and belting out financial jargon.
Montana Trappers are people with stories as wide and varied as the mountains surrounding them. Their stories are vivid and their passion for wildlife contagious. They share freely their knowledge and celebrate the rich heritage received and passed on.
The story of the fur trapper didn’t end in the 1800’s. Not even close. Montana trappers proudly continue their wild heritage today along with men and women in virtually every state of the U.S. and every province of Canada, across Europe, and around the world. The wildly adventurous life style of modern day trappers is the culmination of nearly four hundred years of producing the most sustainable natural product on earth. It is exciting to run a traditional trap line high in the mountain country, to battle weather and rugged terrain, to snowshoe for miles with a heavy load and to bring the seasons catch to sale as an extension of Americas trapping heritage. Perhaps the only thing more exciting than the melded natural and human history of the American fur trapper is the wild and proud story of trappers yet to unfold.