Western novelist Blevins (Ravenshadow, 1999, etc.) spins robust, theatrical and mostly true tales of early-19th-century American mountain men.
He comes at the stories with gusto, dramatizing to a certain extent these frontiersmen’s fantastic experiences, from the exploits of John Colter in 1808 to Kit Carson’s legendary work as John C. Fremont’s scout during the 1840s. Along the upper Missouri River, Colter ran afoul of some Blackfeet Indians, who stripped him of his clothes and told him to run. Stark naked, with nothing but his hands to gather food, he managed to make his way hundreds of miles to Fort Lisa on the Yellowstone. Blevins follows up that opening chapter with the equally mind-boggling saga of Hugh Glass, torn to shreds by a grizzly bear and left in the hands of two reluctant young caregivers who were annoyed when he didn’t die quickly. After they abandoned him, taking his rifle and supplies, he crawled and stumbled for 250 miles to Fort Kiowa. Blevins colorfully profiles several other hardy adventurers, including hardcore wanderer Jedediah Smith—men for whom it was natural when departing each other’s company to talk of a rendezvous two years down the line. Yet he dismisses the notion that they were vagabonding reprobates, pointing to their varied business interests. The author also unsnarls the competing agendas of the various fur-collecting agencies and ponders the sexual mores of natives and trappers. Most gratifyingly, he evokes the glories of the mountain men’s geography: the natural wonders they described from the Missouri River to the Sierra Nevada to the sere Southwest.
Wilderness stories that will leave you agape and agog.