Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mountain Men

Dale Matson

I remember reading about the adventures of Kit Carson when I was in grade school. One of my favorite movies is about another mountain man Jeremiah Johnson (1972) starring Robert Redford. Here in California (and the Rockies) another mountain man named Jedediah Smith gained fame. I ran the Jedediah Smith 50K trail run a few times in the 1990s.

Season two of “Mountain Men” has just concluded on the History Channel and I am already missing it. Season one was built around the adventures and misadventures of three men. I think they remain the most interesting men in season two with an expanded cast.  There is Tom Orr in Montana, Eustace Conway in North Carolina and Marty Meierotto of Alaska. I like and respect all three men for different reasons. Each is unique and has different skillsets adapted to his life situation. Each seems to be able to extricate himself from difficult situations some of which they brought upon themselves.

Eustace is a resourceful person trying to live off the grid. I admire his use of primitive tools, horses, plant knowledge and hunting skills with black powder rifles. He does not seem well suited to passing his skills along as a mentor. Part of the drama is meeting his financial obligations. His friend Preston is of like mind and ability and helps Eustace out of lots of difficulties. To quote Eustace, “What do I do for a living? I live for a living.” I like the way he took the time to find and boil a particular root to help his upset stomach.

Tom Orr lives off the land with his wife Nancy. He has been in the Yaak River Valley for over 30 years and age and injuries are catching up. Their children want them to move to Florida. I most closely identify with Tom because we are both about 70 years of age. They seem to be at the mercy of government regulations limiting their response to Grizzly Bears and Timber Wolves that threaten their homestead. Tom makes a living from trapping, tanning, knife and bow making. Tom heats with wood cut on the property. Their neighbors like the Orrs and stop by for a chats or to accompany Tom in the woods. He is part of a helpful but sparse community.  His wife Nancy and I both worry for his safety. As Tom would say, “It is what it is.”

Marty Meierotto lives near Fairbanks most of the year. He is a trapper during the winter and flies a small plane over 100 miles to his trap line for the winter. He is a sturdy lad who is comfortable living by himself for four long months of winter with its short days. He is self-reliant and mechanically inclined. It seems that he would be a hermit if it weren't for his wife and daughter. Marty is easy to admire and for me, he is the penultimate mountain man.

He knows that a minor mistake could mean dying because there is no one around to rescue him. Unfortunately he does make mistakes from time to time like leaving his rifle home, taking an undependable snow mobile too far from his cabin and having to walk back ten miles at night. He also got his snow machine stuck in a semi frozen river and knew better than to do this yet he was prepared to spend the night.  His flying by sight is a roll of the dice every time he goes up. I appreciate that he left his trapping to attend his daughter’s recital but the weather windows sometimes appear to be rather narrow. He almost didn't get his furs in to the dealer in time last season. Marty would say, “If a bear wants to get in the cabin, he’s going to get in.”

I am a mountain man of sorts and appreciate the lives of these men. I realize some of the “emergencies” are staged.  I understand them and see common qualities. They are genuine and independent. While mastering their environment, they remain students; always learning. I don’t see any malice in these men. They are straightforward dealing with others and sometimes humanely impatient with mentees. Each knows his limitations and there is a sense that “keeping on” is what they intend to do. God speed mountain men!


  1. Mountain Men is scheduled to return in June 2014 on the History Channel.

  2. Season 5 Episode 1. Why is Morgan wearing such small snowshoes?

  3. Marty Meierotto and Morgan are definately mountain men. Marty was after mountain goats on Kodiak Island. He is a good mountaineer. Morgan seems to have unlimited stamina. I will miss Preston who worked with Eustace. He was a good friend of many years who died too young of cancer.

  4. Except for the death of Preston Roberts, this season of Mountain men was probably the best. The cast is solid. Tom Oar and his young apprentice had a good trapping season, Marty's trapping season ended on an up note, Eustace made the best of wind and insect damage to his trees, Rich Lewis and his dogs kept the mountain lions away from the cattle and he remained healthy. I think how many opportunities all of these men have to become injured because of their way of life and the risks they must take to make a living off the land. Morgan Beasley continues to impress me with his carving a living out of land he is homesteading in Alaska. He has a female friend this year who is a great help to him. Jason Hawk finally was able to purchase 10 acres and rehab an old cabin. He can finally move his family there after living in a tent. All of these folks are intelligent and resourceful. They are all optimistic and move on from setbacks. I look forward to next season. There are few programs worth watching on TV these days but Mountain Men and The Last Alaskans show good people living a modest but free existence with skills and persistence.