The Lone Mountain Man


#1

There’s been a lot of discussion about going into the “wilderness” and surviving. But what are we talking about, really? More than a day trip, obviously. Are we talking about a season? Over the winter, perhaps? What about a year? Decades? Until we die, however long that takes?

Up until we get to those last two, it seems pretty reasonable to say that surviving alone in the wilderness is very doable. Assuming, of course, that you have either proper equipment or decent primitive skills. And you know the bioregion pretty well. And nothing abnormal happens. Obviously, if something unexpected does happen (and they often will) we may find ourselves in trouble. Injuries and illnesses usually aren’t conducive to either hunting or gathering. Perhaps we can find the right kind of medicine, be it a certain herb or a splint or a bandage. So, yeah, it seems reasonable that we can do that, maybe even for a year or so.

So, what about decades? That’s a pretty long time. I wonder what the odds are of an unexpected situation arising over the course of 10 years? When was the last time you were surprised by something and it threw you off? When was the last time you did something stupid out of carelessness? Has it been 10 years? I know I’m not so fortunate.

I’m pretty sure you’ve guessed my opinion on “Until we die, however long that takes?”.

But what about all those frontiersmen and mountain men we’ve been raised up hearing about? Didn’t they hang out in the wilderness alone for a long time?

Well, depends, what are we talking about? A season? A year? A couple years?

Let’s take a very brief look at Daniel Boone.

1734-1750 born and lived in PA

1750-1773ish moved w/ family to NC, married, started family; took “long hunts” for skins & furs (“long hunts” generally started in autumn w/ a spring return)

1773 moved to KY as part of a new settlement (along with 50-ish other emigrants, and, of course, his family). Moved back to NC before the end of the year.

1775-1779 moved back to KY and established a settlement called Boonesborough.

1780-? founded new settlement, Boone’s Station, KY. During this period he served as a representative to the Virginia General Assembly as well as sheriff of Fayette County.

?-1788 moved to present day Maysville, Ky

1788-1795 lived in Point Pleasant, WV

1795-1799 moved back to KY

1799-1820 moved to MO, where he died

Looks like his stints of “alone in the wilderness” were more in the 2 years or less category.

What about Simon Kenton?

1755-1771 lived in VA, on a farm.

1771-1773 explored the OH River w/ 2 other trappers

1774-1780 participated heavily in the conflicts with the Shawnee

1780-1792 married, started a family, etc

And, in fact, at no point beyond this, did he spend more than a year or so “alone in the wilderness”.

Okay, but those were frontiersmen, they had fight all those angry Shawnee, it would’ve just been too dangerous to be out and about all by your lonesome, what if that wasn’t quite so much of an issue?

Well, there’s John Colter…

1774-1780 lived in VA w/ family

1780-1803 to be honest, I couldn’t find a lot of info on this time period. I’m not especially surprised, it was a relatively quiet time for the KY/OH areas. By the same token, there was also a considerable influx of settlers during this time period. I can’t know for certain, but I strongly doubt John Colter had stints of “alone in the wilderness” longer than a season during this time period.

1803-1806 joined Lewis & Clark on their expedition. was given an honorable discharge on the return journey to join 2 trappers headed up the Missouri River.

1807 decided to head back to civilization (alone). ended up joining a group headed to the Rockies. Over the winter of that year, explored present day Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons (alone).

1808-1809 Travelled around the Montana, Wyoming area with John Potts

1810 helped to construct a fort at Three Forks, MT

At which point he went back east a ways, started a family and stayed there.

So, even some of the most celebrated frontiersmen/mountain men we have records of, really didn’t do stints of “alone in the wilderness” longer than a season (normally) or a year (maybe 2) on the far outside.

But, hey, these guys are civilized, right? What about indigenous peoples? Well, no, they’re part of a community. It’s not that they don’t spend a lot of time alone in the wilderness, it’s that they don’t generally try to do this for long periods of time. We may well be able to survive for quite a while, but at some point, something is going to happen and it’s real nice to have a buddy with you when it does.

But safety aside, even the most introverted of us are still, essentially, gregarious animals. We need community. It’s as much a part of our biological heritage as our poor ability to digest wheat. One person does not constitute a culture, it requires a community to have a culture. Leaving one culture for… what? No culture? The faint remnants of the culture you thought you left behind? Your own thoughts & opinions?

I, personally, don’t see how going alone into the wilderness to escape living like “the living dead” will accomplish anything other than living like “the living dead” unless there’s a community somewhere off on the horizon…


#2

nice analysis, j!

i would also like to add that in as much as we grow up without primitive skills these days, we also grow up without pioneering skills. even though these guys used steel and gunpowder instead of flint blades and bows, they still had an intimate familiarity with a far more primitive way of life than the one we grew up with.

they knew how to skin a kill; they knew how to respect the weather; they knew how to feed a fire; they knew where to set a trap. These guys embodied the kind of knowledge that most modern survivalists strive toward–the kind of knowledge that we grew up without. And even they felt pulled back toward the civ.


#3

Good points jhereg. I’ve been discussing this subject alot recently, and my main beef is with people criticizing other people who want to live alone in the wilderness. I never said it was the best thing to do. I know that humans are communal creatures who crave a certain (tribal) social structure. But I’ve never blamed anyone who wanted to escape this civilization. It was a childhood dream of mine (and still is mainly because I love the wilderness and hate my civilized life). I guess the main reason I want to live alone in the wild is because the only social structure I’ve ever known is civ’s. I don’t know, or even have a real clue as to what tribal life is like. I’m very sure though, that tribal life is one I would enjoy. Tribal social interactions and general lifeways seem much preferable to civ’s. The only community I’ve ever known is a shitty one, so I’ve associated community in general as shitty. I’ve always been shy and sort of hated people(civilized people anyway) so it seemed natural to me to become a hermit, destined to wander the wilderness alone forever…


#4

Rix, all excellent points.

Ando, I hear ya, no doubt. And I’m not posting all of this to dis anyone, but, like I said, there’s been a lot of talk about & around this lately. I felt this really needed to be said, because, in a lot of ways, even tho we’re all talking about it, I’m not sure we’re really hitting some of the more important points. Skills for instance. Obviously skills are important, and we’re going to have to learn them. But just learning them doesn’t equate to getting out of civ. There’s a lot of mental baggage and unlearning and relearning to be done. But even once that’s done, it doesn’t equate to getting out of civ. What community are we going to go to? There isn’t one. So, in a lot of ways we’re left with two options, get out on our own as soon as possible or stay in until we’ve built a community. Either one appears doable from a technical standpoint, but I really think that the first option has a lot of non-technical obstacles that we may not be fully aware of.


#5

jhereg-

I applaud your scholarship! Thanks so much for writing down all that interesting info.

So what about Davy Crockett? Did he live the life of a poseur too?


#6

[quote=“Willem, post:5, topic:254”]jhereg-

I applaud your scholarship! Thanks so much for writing down all that interesting info.[/quote]

Hmm, I really don’t know much about Davy Crockett. But it would be a mistake a think these guys are poseurs. It’s been said of Kenton, for example, that he was one of the few white men that was as good as an Indian. There’s no doubt that these guys had the skills, but what exactly was it that kept them in touch w/ civ pretty regularly? Was it just that they were civilized? Did it have something to do with community? Some combination? I don’t know, and maybe that’s really the point of all this.

Maybe we need more primitivists that go out “alone in the wilderness” for a year or two, then come back to tell the rest what was learned. But I think it’s a mistake to head out with the notion of not coming back, esp. if the motivation for doing so hasn’t been thoroughly explored.


#7

Might interest some folks to hear about a Dine (Navajo) friend of mine; as the story would have it 50 hunters go out – whether they travel out for war or just a normal trip, the story doesn’t say. At the end of their time away from each other, 49 of them return. The daylight fades, the sun sets, and they have no idea what happened to their 50th companion.

So, they light a big bonefire and dance and sing all night. They figure that (1) a hurt or lost companion might find their way back to the fire or (2) if their friend died, their spirit sees a proper wake in progress.

The story doesn’t end. It leaves the reader with the rest of the 49ers, dancing, laughing, singing… and most importantly, waiting for their friend.

In context of this “lone mountain men”, I simply wish to point out that even the most traditional societies didn’t assume their people would come back and these folks lived (and still live!) quite handily in their ecosystem.

Best

Bill Maxwell


#8

This is a great thread…very important perspective on the “mountain men”.

I’d just like to add this little piece written by Tamarack Song to the mix (Tamarack is the founder of the Teaching Drum Outdoor School, in case anyone here didn’t already know that).

(And just a note for clarity, when Tamarack uses the word “native” he means either 1. clan based hunting-foraging peoples, not town based agricultural people or 2. one’s intrinsic, ancestral self beneath one’s cultural conditioning). Anyway, what follows are his words, not mine:

Quote:

Someone recently asked, “How long does it take from knowing nothing about the wilderness to going off and living in it, and when do you know when you are ready? I basically just have a few books I haven’t started reading about it.”

This is a profound question, and I see it is the main theme in various group discussions lately. Not a day goes by that someone does not ask me the same thing, or else a related question, such as, “What are the top skills I need to know?” “Learning the Old Ways should be free, like it used to be; why do I have to pay money?” “Where can I find an elder to teach me?” “Is it even possible anymore, with all the hunting and fishing regulations?” “All the land is private or restricted, and I can’t afford to buy any, is there anywhere can I go to live primitively?” “I want to learn on my own, what steps should I take?”

I’m going to give you all some straight talk, in hopes that it will help to steer you on to a track might get you somewhere. The reality of the situation is that I have not met, or heard of, a single person in the past 40 years who has used the approaches that we have been talking about, who has been able to return to primitive living. This includes the authors of the popular books. Yeah, they might talk a good talk, but look at what they’ve actually done – a month in the mountains, a solo year in the woods, some time in Alaska – is that really living the Old Way? Where is the clan? Where are the elders? The children? Where is the example and clan memories to learn from?

Why didn’t it work for them, and why won’t it work for you? Because they carried civilization with them into the wilderness, and you likely will as well. You can learn all the skills you want, and The Mother will spit you back out just about as fast as you went in. The more stubborn individuals will last a few months or maybe a year, but rest assured, they’ll be back.

Why? Because they didn’t do their work. We come from a technological society, so we naturally think that substituting primitive technology for civilized technology is our doorway. The only problem is that Native people are not into technology. They spend only a couple hours a day providing for their simple needs, and they mostly use simple means. Look at their tools – few and crude, and their craftwork – basic and utilitarian. What a Native person excels at is what I call qualitative skills – how to sit in a circle with your clan mates and speak your truth, how to find your special talent so that you can develop it to serve your people, how to use your intuition, the ways of honor and respect, how to live in balance with elders and women and children, how to speak in the language beyond words, how to befriend fear and live love. Without these skills, you will surely die. Or else you’ll go back to the life that shuns these skills.

Will a book teach you these qualitative skills? Will a class or a workshop? Is learning firemaking or edible plants going to give them to you? They actually take you further away from what you need to know, because focusing on them reinforces the technological approach, and that 95% of your brain which you don’t use, shrivels up even more. We become what we surround ourselves with; the way to learn Truthspeaking is to share with other truthspeakers, the way to bring life back to our dormant brain is to immerse ourselves in the full spectrum of life in which our brain evolved, the way to elder wisdom is to be with wise elders. There are patterns to break – crippling, blinding patterns that take continual, unrelenting attention if we are ever going to see, hear, smell, and feel as fully as we are intended.

That takes guidance, a supportive environment, and example. Otherwise, it’s just another exercise, another class, another walk in the woods, and then it’s back to life as usual, with no end in sight.

Roughly 80% of what a Native person eats is not affected by hunting and fishing regulations. There are vast tracts of public and unregulated private land that are available to a hunter-gatherer, with virtually no human competition. If you think there are a lot of people at your favorite state park or national forest just step a few paces off the trail, and they all disappear. Very few people really go “out” in the woods anymore. I know a dozen ways to live legally on or adjacent to foraging lands without having to pay big bucks. I can grow fat by living primitively in a farmer’s woodlot or city park. It doesn’t take Alaska or the Grand Tetons. It takes shaking off the old preconceptions of what primitive living is and rebecoming the Native person you already are.

It simply can’t be done alone. We evolved as social beings, and we literally start going crazy when we spend too much time without company of our fellow creatures. Learning skills alone, buying land alone, is feeding a pipe dream, a romantic fantasy, that will likely only lead to frustration and disillusionment. Virtually everyone I know who has tried it for any period of time, has given up and bought back into the system. Try to look up some of the older people who once had dreams as you do now. You’ll see – they now have mortgages and jobs with benefits they can’t let go of, and kids’ educations they have to worry about. Yeah, they might still be talking about their dreams, and they might practice their skills and head out in the woods now and then, but realistically, when is that dream ever going to become reality?

And then there’s the cost of your rewilding. Yes, I said cost, because nothing is free. Money is the least of what you are going to be asked to give. There is a world of difference between something for free and something that is freely given. On a stay with one of my elders in Canada, I built her a cabin. 15 years ago another elder asked me to literally lay my life on the line for him. I would gladly give my last dollar, and much more, for the privilege of walking in my ancestor’s footsteps.

The alternative? Sit in the city, whining about how things used to be and ought to be. Or look at the cost of NOT rewilding, and come to realize that one has to give before they can receive. Then you’ll be ready to throw away your books, turn your back on the “experts,” and turn your face to the wind. You’ll start hearing voices that help you walk rather than give you sweet talk. There waiting to greet you will be your clan, your teachers, and your real self. You’ll leave survival behind and walk into the Beauty Way.

–Tamarack Song


#9

RedWolfReturns thanks for posting Tamarack’s quote. Something the urbanites to think about.

jhereg, intresting post. They were quite a number of people who choose to live out a lone wolf existince in the wilds, but even they had some sort of limited contact with others. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d bother with doing some research and posting the results. Someday maybe I will.


#10

RedWolfReturns, Thanks for posting that. I had read it somewhere before and forgotten about it, but that concern is a big part of why I started this post. We, as humans, need other humans. Not necessarily 24/7/52, but…


#11

yeah, being a skilled tracker isn’t even enough. I can catch all the crawdads I want, but it’s crawfish ettouffe if the fish don’t bite. The main lesson I can think of to share with people is to let go of all your expectations and try and find this thing Tamarack Song calls ‘qualitative skills’ or what some may call today ‘street smarts’. It’s the ability to think on your feet, let go of your concepts, and survive with what you’ve got, not with what you’ve imagined would be waiting for you…

for example, this weekend I went out and picked pawpaws, and feasted on their goodness. I had no idea I was going to feast on pawpaws, I didn’t think it had been cold enough, long enough… but there they were. Now I had better get ready for this weekend to see then if I can find any early persimmons!

is there anyone in the Midwest in love with the remaining river valleys enough to band together? I want to go out, but I don’t want to do it alone.


#12

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to rewild where I am. I love urban environments. I’m sorry, I do. I love Anbandoned, overgrown, cracking and decaying urban environments. I want to crawl all over them, drag up their bits and peices and reuse them, and sleep in the abandoned houses. I want to oversee them as they gradually turn into ruins. I want to infest the corpse of civilization, like a worm in a body, returning all I can to the earth. I’m convinced I don’t need to go anywhere to rewild at all.


#13

Everyone here is still talking about the physical skills required to survive, as opposed to the cultural skills required to live. Yes, these “mountain-men” could start fires and skin deer and track animals and build log cabins. They all returned to civilization, though. They all returned because what they lacked (in my opinion) were the cultural skills to live outside of the box they were raised in. It’s like a man in a space-suit. Sure, he can go out and explore the moon – even play a few rounds of golf on it, but in the end, he comes back to the mother-ship because he doesn’t know how to survive out there on the moon. This might be a bad example because, taken literally, nobody can survive on the surface of the moon – but my point is metaphorical.

Take stories like the one in the movie “Castaway” with Tom Hanks. Brilliant bit of one-man-abo-skill-building re-wilding awesomeness. They even did heavy consulting with the Society of Primitive Technology to see if the stuff he was doing in the movie would work.

Hanks’ character tried to kill himself.

You remember that part - when he hauled up the wooden dummy on the broken branch with the 20’ of cordage he made from plant fibers, while sitting around his friction-built fire in his loin-cloth eating fish he speared with a stick. All those aboriginal skills did nothing for him - he wanted to die.

If any of us were alone on an equal island paradise, I’m sure we’d be thrilled - for a while. Without culture, man is nothing. It might take any of us a longer stretch of time before we started eying that cliff like Hanks did, but there would come a day when any of us would throw a glance to the sky and wonder…

It’s great to be able to sit in the woods and hear the spirits talk to you - but it still sounds pretty lonely if you don’t have anyone to share those spirits with. Aboriginal skills are great. Being able to survive like our earliest ancestors is an admirable goal to aspire to. But the point remains that our most ancient ancestors had something very few of us are trying to re-connect with: a real culture; a tribe that we are a part of and that is a part of us. Until we have that, then all we’re doing is surviving until the next day. Call me crazy, but that’s not what I read when I read the definition for “Rewild”.

~ SW


#14

Yes, yes, I totally agree. I think there are some anti-civilization proponents who are not anti-civilization but really anti-social (two very different things - in fact, I’d say civilization breeds anti-social attitudes). Those people see rewilding as a lone activity. I think they are missing the point. It needs to be done with one’s whole self, not by one’s own, lonesome self. Human social groups are a must for survival. It’s a need that is still genetically encoded into us (but I guess I don’t need to use science to be able to assert it).

That’s one reason why I have been reluctant to rewild in its more practical applications. It would be a statement of a kind that would further weaken the (already tenuous) social links that I maintain. Until I can find a place to rewild (a physical and social environment) it just seems false to me, and (unfortunately) a means for further social alienation.


#15

This is a Great Thread. But someone here said that all Mountain Men later
returned to civilization. But is this true??? I personally do think that there
were some that after having an Native American / Indian wife for a period
of years … after the fur trade collapsed, they just joined up with their
wife’s people. And it is these ones that one never heard from much again.
The Mountain Men that became famous were the ones that did return.
And then there could of been those that in their later years just lived on the
fringes of civilization somewheres also never being heard from much again.

Thanks RedWolfReturns for that post.


#16

[quote=“kmatjhwy, post:15, topic:254”]This is a Great Thread. But someone here said that all Mountain Men later
returned to civilization. But is this true??? I personally do think that there
were some that after having an Native American / Indian wife for a period
of years … after the fur trade collapsed, they just joined up with their
wife’s people. And it is these ones that one never heard from much again.[/quote]

there were a number of whites who joined Native American Tribes, but history rarely recorded their names. and there was Ben Bruno, tho’ he was black, not white (cool story tho’, check it out). however this thread is less about “civilized people w/ primitive skills leaving civilization” than it is about “people w/ primitive skills living alone, independent of other human beings”. we very much do have examples of the former, but, really, at any deep, meaningful level, not so much of the latter.

uh, yeah, more or less. many of the frontiersmen that did leave civilization are known in certain historical circles, but known to the “mainstream”? Not so much. The frontiersmen you hear about in mainstream circles are generally the ones who more or less helped to spread civilization through North America (ie, Daniel Boone, Simon Butler, John Colter [there’s a reason i picked those]).

[quote=“kmatjhwy, post:15, topic:254”]And then there could of been those that in their later years just lived on the
fringes of civilization somewheres also never being heard from much again.[/quote]

certainly, we have a number of tales about the better known frontiersmen that suggest they felt crowded when civilization started to concentrate in their area(s), and i think this is where the “myth” really got started, but they generally always maintained some kind of ties to civ, and always considered themselves civ.


#17

"however this thread is less about “civilized people w/ primitive skills leaving
civilization” then it is "about “people w/ primitive skills living alone,
independant of other human being”.

Now soooo true! But also with those that would go back into the wilds that
would “Rewild” their lives either by themself or some couple. Now even
though we might not have any or much examples, do think that they still
might be out there. For in what I have seen, if someone did do this then
they would Not try to make a big publicity stunt out of this. They would
probably do it more quietly. For consider all the ones that are not in the main
stream of our culture today or thru the years. Didn’t many of them kinda go
somewheres where they could persue their lives away from society kinda
in secrecy. For years I have been going back into the headwaters of the
Yellowstone hiking and wandering around. And when back in town have
tried to do some historical research on the area. There have been
occasional individuals thru time who did pretty much live back in these areas
with shucking for the most part civilization but did keep some ties to society.

One of these individuals was a man named Anson Eddy. He spent huge
amounts of time trapping, hunting , and living in the Absarokas. He built
some small trapping cabins back in there which he would resort to while
he was back in there and only come out occasional. Years later in his older
age, some friends of his got him a little land and helped him have a small
cabin I believe it was near Ishawooa Creek and Valley, Wyo. He was a
very interesting character. When I see an autobiography of him will post it
for do think everyone here would love to read it.

Yes true how many of us come from a technological civilization and is soooo
hard to really completely leave it once and for all. But there are those who
do make it a practice of their lives of guess living on the fringes like this
Anson Eddy. They might on occasions come into society but how many long
lengths of time live out in the wilds maybe one might say … half rewilding
their lives. And in fact this is a lot more towards “Rewilding” then alot of
people even in the Primitive Skills Movement will do from what I have seen
it seems.

Also I know another person who lives here in Town named “Gator”. He got
the name “Gator” from wrestling alligators in Florida in his youth. He has
spents years in the mountains including whole winters. And he knows all
of those Primitive Skills and could teach it all for he has lived it. Now he is
older and sometimes more back in town now. But in what I have seen,
someone who even half rewilds their life … this person rather then
publicly making a spectacle of themself or proclaiming loudly of this of what
they are doing. More or less quietly moves to the fringes of society and
goes about their wild lives more in secret. And then more or less just
vanishes and no one knows. So maybe it would be great if people posted
stories of people who have even half rewild their lives and will say and
these people, in what I have seen, are sooooo few.


#18

i think we’re really (inadvertantly) speaking past each other :slight_smile:

it seems that when a lot of people first come to “rewilding” or “primitivism” their first assumption is that it’s not only possible, but somehow desirable to live alone more or less permanently (ie, not for a winter, or even 1 or 2 years, or even as a lifestyle w/ minimal contact w/ civilization). that’s really what this thread was intended to address.

i don’t doubt that you’re right about living alone for much of the year w/ minimal “civ” contact, even tho’ for a lot of people, even that wouldn’t include enough people for their comfort.

i just saw a need to try to address the idea of “complete and total self-reliance” that americans (myself included) are prone to take to rather extreme ends. i don’t think “complete and total self-reliance” is required to rewild, and i suspect it probably works at cross purposes.

ah, well. my 2 cents anyway…


#19

Jhereg, just have to say, do so much agree with you. And thanks for
starting this thread. It has been a good one.

And at sometime I will post a biography on Anson Eddy for those that
might be interested.


#20

Yes, exactly. I think that trying to rewild by yourself is an indication that you haven’t gotten rid of certain cultural shackles. America does fetishize rugged individualism. But that kind of individualism is NOT what “leaver cultures” are about!

Of course it’s difficult and maybe even impossible (depending on where you are) to find others willing (and able! so many cultural shackles are left unshed…) to do rewilding fieldwork along with you - to grow and learn with you, for teamwork to become an integral part of any task. But a whole, unshackled human being would continue to try to find others for as long as it takes. It’s just too lonely and too dangerous to go it alone, if you want your efforts to have any meaningful outcome.

I guess the meme of my little post here is “shackles.” Lone Mountain Man: definitely still shackled. He forever has a grudge against civilization, endangering his sanity and life in the process, when what he should really be trying to do is refuse to let civilization conquer his emotions and decisions, and look for an alternate society. One person does not a society make - unless that person develops multiple personality disorder. :stuck_out_tongue: