Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth

The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth : Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians (1856) by [Bonner, T. D.]

The average mountain man was a cut above most normal men. Tough, rugged, resourceful and burning with a passion for the wilderness, these gents forever cemented themselves as a presence in the American West. While quite a few died in their quest for furs, either through bad-tempered grizzlies, freezing to death, or falling victim to the scalper's knife, it's more amazing at how many survived. And Jim Beckwourth was one of the best.

A mulatto and former slave, Jim set out at an early age with other trappers in the Ashley Company to penetrate the Rockies and secure the beaver pelts that the East so desperately craved. This remarkable man went from being just one of many green trappers to becoming a leading chief of the Crow nation and being accepted into their fold like few other men ever could.

Within this tome he describes a massive volume of his life and his adventures. These are his words, albeit somewhat edited. Even so one quickly gets a great idea of what sort sort of man Mr. Beckwourth was. One gets the impression that in spite of his many achievements and grand adventures, he is soft spoken and is more apt to lay things in a casual manner, yet one doesn't find himself bored at all. On the contrary! His insights into the mindset of the Crows is simply invaluable. He knew them as precious few other men could ever hope to. If you wish to learn deeply of this tribe, then this is essential reading.

I have heard that some of his accounts are inaccurate, so one may wish to take some of his words with a grain of salt. It is always wise to cross reference sources. Speaking personally, I get the impression of absolute honesty, a man simply relaying his accounts as best as his memory can serve him. So while individual details may be incorrect due to the effects of time on memory, I believe that as a whole his accounts are accurate.

Beckwourth was believed by the Crows to in fact be one of their own, kidnapped by the whites as a child and raised as they were raised. And wouldn't you know it? His "mother" found a mole above his eye, which she said belonged to her own son who had disappeared so many years before. Lo and behold, their long lost member had finally returned! And as a great warrior no less! The love these people bestowed upon him is enough to wrench most hearts from their breasts, and it becomes quite clear that Beckwourth himself cared deeply for them. He married many of their women, even when trying to court a lass back in the East, and for the most part handled himself as a wonderful adventurer. Even as his personal wealth in pelts grew, one gets the feeling that he had little desire to return to the life of the East. He could just collect a few more pelts and move back whenever he felt like it. Whenever that might be.

All said, this is a huge but fantastic book. I myself have not yet finished it, even after a few months of flicking through the pages, but I feel that it is well worth the read. Please take a look and see back into the days of the mountain man!

1 comment:

  1. Leigh Brackett best known as a writer of science fiction and as Howard Hawk's favorite screenwriter wrote a novel about Beckwourth: Fall the Free Wind. Haven't read it unfortunately.