Slick with survival-and-gore heroics and thick with Northwest-wilderness period detail (1820-40), this gutsy adventure-entertainment is also larded with just the right amounts of frontier sentiment. After killing a man in St. Louis (over a faithless woman), young Josiah Paddock heads out west to the mountains with friend Mordecai to join Captain Gantt's Brigade--but the pair will soon desert, and a winter in the mountains will claim Mordecai. So Josiah, bitter and just a bit wiser, continues on until, in Oregon Territory, he comes up against his future mentor and best friend: mountainman/trapper Titus ""Scratch"" Bass--who's old at 38, who's ""outer Ohier by way of Missoura,"" and who delivers tobacco-juiced strictures on How-to-Survive (against Nature, Indians, grizzlies) . . . while sporting a curious two-toned head of hair (a combination of his own gray locks with a black Indian scalp). And, just when Josiah meets up with him, Bass is heading for the year's Big Time: the ""ronnyvoo"" where the Eastern fur firms compete for the free trappers' trade. Josiah goes along. The whiskey (progressively watered) flows. Cut-ups ensue. There'll be a break in the ""ronnyvoo""--for a bloody, no-win Indian skirmish. Josiah and Bass will meet up with white-haired preacher/trapper Asa McAfferty (with young squaw)--who's going to winter up north in dangerous Blackfoot territory. But, after beaver-trapping, a ""buffler run"" (Josiah learns to drink fresh animal blood), and some Indian-scalping, Bass and Josiah choose to spend their winter with a friendly, respected Crow tribe. And it's there that a murder will take place-a crime that leads to man-tracking, show-downs in the snow, freezing-feet ordeals, and a whirl of doom . . . as Bass considers the pilfering of a Chief's ""medeecin"" pouch, the death of a grizzly, and a kind of cosmic retribution. Enhanced by fine views of ""some of the best lookin' country the Lord put down for us niggers to gander at"": lust-rate entertainment in the steel-trap, ""man's-adventure"" tradition--with convincing warfare/trade specifics and the equally persuasive accordion wheezes of mountain-man egos.