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Osborne Russell's thrilling lifetime of trapping and wilderness exploration makes for adventurous, eventful and highly readable autobiography.
In the nineteenth century, the USA's wilderness was enormous and largely uncharted by the white European settlers who had, until the nineteenth century, been largely confined to the easterly coasts of North America. The discovery of the Rocky Mountains - a remote and rugged landscape unfamiliar to all but the local Native American tribes - sparked a new phase of exploration.
Among the first people to learn the lay of these vast lands were fur trappers and traders. Hearing tell of great forests and craggy lands, heavily populated by beasts whose pelts would fetch a great price, trappers such as Osborne Russell ventured to these places in search of adventure and fortune: exotic, high quality fur pelts in those days fetched a handsome price at market.
Russell's accounts take place between 1834 and 1843, beginning in the town of Independence, Missouri. Prefacing his journey with a warning that his recollections are not of a gentile or 'classical' nature, Russell offers a sequential series of episodes adapted from notes and diaries he kept over the years. Although he modestly downplays his recollections as 'rambles', Russell's narrative is often exciting; skirmishes with hostile Native Americans, and tense moments finding and catching creatures, make for riveting reading.
As well as its valuable insight into the fur trapping trade, Journal of a Trapper also contains some historical insights into the era. Particularly we see how the incipient white settlers and the Native Americans interacted; often they would come to blows not from a desire of combat, but a lack of communication and poor understanding between the contrasting cultures.
In all, this book remains a valuable and worthwhile account of a bygone age.