From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 45 - 7/6/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Letter Home From the Frontier, 1836

by Jeffrey Reising

By Jeffrey Reising

Editor's Note: Pinedale's Jeffrey Reising has a different idea about the character of many of the mountain men who explored and made their living in Sublette County and West in the early 1800s. Certainly he sees the mountain men as being tough, hardy individuals, but he resents the hard drinking, rough and tumble stereotypes so commonly portrayed today.

Instead, Mr. Reising sees the mountain men as being intellectually and physically couragous explorers who were on the front lines of the United States' expansion westward.

I asked Mr. Reising to write something about the mountain men he respects and honors. In response, he wrote a letter home from afictional mountain man named William F. Kline. Mr. Reising's letter with his introduction is printed below.

- Rob Shaul


The following letter is from the archives of William F. Kline, written to his father from the Rendezvous of 1836, on the Green River at the mouth of Horse Creek. The history of the exploration of the Rocky Mountains by fur trappers and traders, coincides with many events taking place in the "outside world".

Mentioned in the letter is the secession of Texas from Mexico. In March of 1836, freedom fighters from the United States were defeated in their battle against General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who led the federalist forces of Mexico to put down the rebellion of American colonists in Texas at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio.

Four months later, the first white women to cross South Pass into the Oregon Territory were guided by Thomas Fitzpatrick of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, bringing a caravan to Rendezvous on the upper Green River. While Fitzpatrick and his caravan including the two women were enroute to Rendezvous on April 21, Sam Houston, Commander in Chief of Texas forces routed and defeated the Army of Mexico at San Jacinto. In that victory, independence was achieved for the Republic of Texas.

Also in the year of 1836, John Frederic Daniell develops a voltaic cell which effectively prevents polarization; Edmond Davey discovers and identifies acetylene; John Ericsson patents the screw propeller; Betsy Ross, maker of the first American flag dies; A.D. Phillips is granted patent for the manufacture of white phosphorus matches; Arkansas is admitted to the Union and Charles Dickens publishes his "Pickwick Papers."

Johnathon W. Kline

Canal Canvas and Timber Works

Logansport, Indiana

July 7, 1836

Dear Father,

This summer season finds me in the midst of the annual gathering of companies and men at the mouth of Horse Creek on the Green River. It is my third Rendezvous, and very possibly my last as I am considering riding South into the Pueblo country in a few short weeks. So next year I may be writing to you from Santa Fe or there abouts.

Thank you for the shipment of goods. Fitzpatrick and Company delivered it intact and undamaged. As they came into the country this year around the bottom end of the Wind Mountains through a level southern pass, they made easy and good time. Captain Sublette tells us the route is well enough for a wagon road into the mountain country. He will return to St. Louis with the fur through the same route and expects to arrive there in late August.

I think the most valuable items in my shipment from home have been the books and newspapers. Everyone's desire to learn of the events in the outside world is equal or more to that of achieving the best prices for their fur. But I think the price these men do receive is little in comparison of that which the market will bare in St. Louis. Many men have lost their lives again this last winter in trapping the fur. And the work involved, seems to me to be sub-human. The endurance of these men for the suffering of the cold and starvation, the attacking Indians and the deprivations of disease and infection would qualify them as Olympians, if indeed they survive to another Rendezvous.

I have made a good profit from the trade of the tobacco and razors you've sent. And the bolts of cloth have been prized in the eyes of the native women here. I have decided upon the advice of Mr. Andrew Drips of the American Fur Company, to invest half of my profits in the capital of furs taken back to St. Louis, and the remainder to be deposited in our account at that bank. You may then transfer this sum to the bank at Vincennes as usual.

As for the news received, I am amazed at all that is happening. The item of Texas declaring its' independence from Mexico has inspired my decision to travel there after Rendezvous. It seems the nationalist appetite and the hunger to expand the boundaries of the United States is unstoppable. President Jefferson's policy for expansion seems to have been driven by the Divine Hand. And I am glad that President Jackson complies. I have been traveling in this great land, unmapped and hardly explored, and to know this is now territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Oregon country is great comfort. I am home in this vast and magnificent land and not trespassing in a foreign place.

And yet, I am guilty of trespass. There are many boundaries that I cross in my travels that belong to numerous nations of aborigines. These boundaries are sacred and for the most part, mutually respected by the native inhabitants of this land. Mountain chains and rivers and valleys and habitations of the wild creatures; longitudes and latitudes, seasons and elevations and migration routes, all make up boundaries for these ancient peoples. Civilization has an effect of erasing these boundaries. And with the elimination of the boundaries, so too will come the elimination of the inhabitants. I ponder this, questioning whether our national expansion is truly guided by The Omniscient.

I have spoken with many natives; warriors and women, wise men, doctors and chiefs, and the knowledge of the Divine does in fact, guide and keep these people, regardless of tribal affiliation. The conflicts between peoples, when viewed in light of the question of destiny is extremely confusing. So, my father, if I am to understand the times in which we live, the understanding will have to be by revelation and not by my own efforts.

When I am in winter camps, I teach reading and writing to the men. Many of these individuals have never been to school. When their minds are opened to the knowledge of the world, they are awed and must be given time to mentally digest what they learn. So the books you've sent are invaluable. The long, dark months of winter are given over to much discussion and debate. The Bibles are the most popular. Many men, only want to learn the words of our language, independent of the thoughts of writers. And so the dictionary is well worn. The practice of speaking newly learned words by the men with each other presents lively and often humorous encounters. And as the men learn new words and how to use them in communicating, the native women are confounded and accuse the men of always changing their minds.

I have had the pleasure and honor of being an invited guest of Sir William Drummond Stewart, a captain in Her Majesty's British Life Guards. During the Rendezvous, Captain Stewart hosts an exclusive camp of his own, usually up some tributary away from all the raucous of the trappers and traders, inviting men of experience and knowledge. For many days, this group of individuals hold a type of court under a canvas canopy large enough to sit two dozen men. Here we have the opportunity to hear from scientists of all natures; men who study the history of rocks, the plants, the insects and animals. Even the paths of the stars in the night sky. This unique gathering is a council of the wise. I felt less separated from the civilized world while in the company of these men. During the afternoons, I will read the newspapers you have sent me to the audience and then open the rest of the time until dark to discussion of the current events. We philosophize all subjects, it seems to exhaustion and then supper is served. The mornings of our days at Captain Stewart's camp are usually taken up in short excursions touring the nearby area. We have found canyons containing the fossils of long ago creatures. Uncatalogued species of plants and insects seem too numerous to count. We have come across sacred and holy places, filling us with awe and tranquility, places where no living thing is permitted; places so silent and empty they must be openings to other dimensions and levels of existence.

Dear father, my plans for the following months are to journey south as I have stated, and in the Spring of next year, to travel east on the Santa Fe Trail to St. Louis and thence by steamboat up the Ohio River and then to embark on the Wabash and Erie Canal up to home to Logansport. I would like then, to spend the following months with you, compiling my notes and writings for a possible book of my journeys and expeditions in the Rocky Mountains. And so until my arrival at home, I wish you all health and prosperity, as I am most affectionately yours,

William F. Kline

Green River Rendezvous

Oregon Territory

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Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul