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Journal of a Trapper by Osborne Russell
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Journal of a Trapper (1955)

by Osborne Russell

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Showing 4 of 4
I probably should have given this book three stars as it was interesting to read a first hand account from that time period (one in which I have some interest). I just found the actual reading of it a bit of a battle. But don't let me put you off reading it - you will certainly learn about many of the characters and lifestyles from that time. ( )
  Garrison0550 | May 5, 2016 |
This is four-star for me, but your mileage may vary. Spelling and punctuation are not edited for flow, but Russell's orthographic currents are far easier to navigate than the Lewis & Clark Journals. Still, I like the journals of my explorers unvarnished.
This journal runs from 1834 to 1843. The Little Big Horn is still a river. Russell is mainly trapping beaver. What I love about this book is how closely it brings me into an unimaginable life. It's all there. Days of looking for places to trap, hunting meat, maintaining horses. Not easy. They break down and need to eat. They get shot out from under you. The journal is a masterpiece of this mix of dailiness, then all of a sudden being face to face with a grizzly bear or crawling 2 days to the main camp because you took an arrow in the hip and can't walk. Someone's looking for you too. But you didn't lose the journal or the stub of pencil.
That Russell kept a journal says he knew he was somewhere special and that it was fleeting. Trapping beaver in the Rockies didn't last very long. Nor did much else.

"We travelled up about 40 mls and arranged an encampment in a beautiful valley as the weather began to grow cold--In the year 1836 large bands of Buffaloe could be seen in almost every little Valley on the small branches of this Stream at this time the only traces which could be seen of them were the scattered bones of those that had been killed. Their trails which had been made in former years deeply indented in the earth were over grown with grass and weeds. The trappers often remarked to each other as they rode over these lonely plains that it was time for the White man to leave the mountains as Beaver and game had nearly disappeared."

Russell is not a frustrating journal-keeper. He is a keen observer of landscape, Indian life, the oddities of Yellowstone, and the perils of civilization.
Since all of my memories of Yellowstone are faded segments from 'The Wonderful World of Disney' replete with tourists pointing Brownies at Old Faithful, loveable black bears and Air Streams; this more detailed view is appreciated.

"It would be natural for me to suppose that after escaping all the danger attendant for upon nearly nine years residence in a wild inhospitable region like the Rocky Mountains where I was daily and a great part of the time hourly anticipating danger from hostile Savages and other sources, I should on arriving in a civilized and enlightened community live in comparative security free from the harassing intrigues of Dames Fortunes Eldest daughter but I found it was all a delusion for danger is not always the greatest when most apparent..."

He settled in that place, the Willamette Valley, after the melancholy task of saying good-bye to his trapping partner of many years who decided to make his way back to Vermont. One of my favourite passages is his description of the Great Salt Lake from the top of a mountain, but before I return to the sounds of Saturday's lawn mowers, I'll go with this account of the dangers of the buffalo hunt.

"The most general mode practiced by the Indians for killing Buffaloe is running upon horseback and shooting them with arrows but it requires a degree of experience for both man and horse to kill them in this manner with any degree of safety, particularly in places where the ground is rocky and uneven. The horse that is well trained for this purpose not only watches the ground over which he is running and avoids the holes ditches and rocks by shortening or extending his leaps but also the animal which he is pursuing in order to prevent being 'horned' when tis brot suddenly to bay which is done instantaneously and if the Buffaloe wheel to the right the horse passes as quick as thought to the left behind it and thereby avoids its horns but if the horse in close pursuit wheels on the same side with the Buffaloe he comes directly in contact with its horns and with one stroke the horses entrails are often torn out and his rider thrown headlong to the ground."

This edition edited by Aubrey L. Haines has more biographical material, excellent footnotes, and maps tracing Russell's routes. ( )
  dmarsh451 | Apr 1, 2013 |
This journal covers life in the Rocky mountains prior to most of the pioneer movement and settlement. In that framework it provides an accurate description of both the lives of the few mountain men and the various much more abundant Indian tribes who were living on the land at the time.

Most surprising to me was the degree of spontaniety of the Indian, precluding expected behavior, and also precluding the chief's control of his own tribal members. The author found friendship, murder, theft and help, all from the very same individual Indians at various encounters without any logical explanation why behavior was so unpredictable.

The descriptions of the lifestyle of the mountail men is very good and detailed. The documentation of continual occasional death among fellow trappers and hunters fit in with the danger of the daily lives described. The land is often portrayed as a beautiful place and that beauty is convayed to the reader.

Most journals simply stop. This journal is different. The last page contains an entry that explains why it ends there. The last few paragraphs end in a poem that is very telling of the the changes the author has witnessed in the mountains and in the author's belief he will leave the area never to return. This author knew how to get his emotions to the reader and ends the journal in a very effective way.

Possible weaknesses of this book are the tight dense font of the photocopied text and the lack of illustrations. I believe the stregths of the book, its accurate portrail of lifestyles and the landscape during that period greatly outweigh the weaknesses just mentioned. I recommend reading this journal if you are interested in knowing the lifestyles of mountain men and Indians, and the land as it was back during the early 1800s. ( )
  billsearth | Jun 23, 2011 |
A good historical record but difficult prose to read - an editorial decision, to be sure, but some editing would have improved the readability without sacrificing the integrity of Russell's work. ( )
  NateJordon | Dec 28, 2009 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Osborne Russellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Haines, Aubrey L.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, Lawtonsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I envy no man that knows more than myself and pity them that know less: Sir T. Brown
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At the town of Independence Missouri on the 4th of April 1834 I joined an expedition fitted out for the Rocky Mountains and mouth of the Columbia River, by a company formed in Boston under the name and style of the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803251661, Paperback)

'Reader, if you are in search of a Classical and Scientific tourist, please to lay this 'volume' down, and pass on, for this simply informs you what a Trapper has seen and experienced. But if you wish to peruse a Hunter's rambles among the wild regions of the Rocky Mountains, please to read this and forgive the authors foibles and imperfections, considering as you pass along that he has been chiefly educated in Nature's School under that rigid tutor experience...' Born in a little Maine village in 1814, Osborne Russell ran away to sea at the age of sixteen, but he soon gave up seafaring to serve with a trading and trapping company in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1834 he signed up for Nathaniel Wyeth's expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the mouth of the Columbia. Subsequently he joined Jim Bridger's brigade of old Rocky Mountain Fur Company men, continuing with them after a merger that left the American Fur Company in control of the trade.When the fur trade declined, he became a free trapper operating out of Fort Hall, staying in the mountains until the great Westward migration began. Osborne Russell's journal covering the years 1834 to 1843 is, in the words of editor Aubrey L.Haines, 'perhaps the best account of the fur trapper in the Rocky Mountains when the trade there was at its peak. It is a factual, unembellished narrative written by one who was not only a trapper but also a keen observer and an able writer'. Edited from the original manuscript and originally printed in a limited edition of 750 copies, this classic piece of Western Americana is now available to the general public.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:52 -0400)

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Comprising a general description of the country, climate, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc., the nature and habits of animals, manners and customs of Indians and a complete view of the life led by a hunter in those regions.

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