‘Grizzly’ will bare his mountain-man soul with lecture
Historian Scott “Grizzly” Sorensen lives in Utah and has owned and run the Kipawa River Lodge in Quebec, Canada, for the past 42 years.
The lodge is Sorensen’s summer job. He keeps busy during the colder months by presenting mountain-men programs and assemblies for fourth and fifth grade students.
“I have done about 10,000 of those for schools between Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle over the years,” Sorensen said. “I do maybe 150 schools a year these days, but have shrunk my area way down.”
Sorensen will give a mountain man presentation to the general public during the next Utah History Lecture this weekend. The event is titled “Trappers, Traders and Explorers: Their Lifestyles and Contributions to the Settlers” and will start at 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26, at Park Meadows Country Club, 2000 Meadows Way.
Sorensen, who graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in U.S. History with an emphasis on folklore and outdoor survival skills, is an expert on mountain men and their lifestyles. The talk will feature some history and folklore that reach back from 1847 to 1870.
“What we have to remember there was no Utah back then,” Sorensen said. “To the mountain men, Utah was a name of an Indian tribe and not a place.”
Many of the mountain men at the that time called the Great Salt Lake or Cache Valley home.
“Cache Valley was where they held the rendezvous on the Bear River,” Sorensen said.
The rendezvous is what most people think of when they hear about mountain men, because of their depictions in film and on TV, Sorensen said.
“While the Hollywood versions of mountain men have a lot of history in them, the true life of the mountain man was a really tough, hard and grueling existence,” he said. “They had to do to trap and get their furs for nine months out of the year so they could take them to the rendezvous in the summer to party and trade, and have a few weeks of relaxation.”
Many mountain men didn’t live very long.
“By the time you were in your mid-40s, you were a very old man,” Sorensen said. “There were people like Jim Bridger and Kit Carson who lived into their late 60s, but they were the unusual ones who survived that long and still kept at it.”
Throughout his research and studies, Sorensen found two things that spurred people to become mountain men.
One was economics, and being a mountain man was an opportunity for them to go out at a high risk to make some good money, according to Sorensen.
“The other thing was the love of adventure and exploration,” he said. “They didn’t answer to anyone except themselves and they could go anywhere they wanted.”
The biggest contribution to western migration by the mountain men was showing settlers the areas, Sorensen said.
“By the time of the Oregon Trail, the Mormon pioneers and people moving west, the mountain men just about cleaned out the fur trade,” he explained. “Beaver was the main thing they were after and they nearly cleaned them out.”
So the men became guides.
“These weren’t men who were interested in the mining or gold,” Sorensen said. “These guys were free-roving trappers and traders, and they knew the trails, the passes and waterways.”
Sorensen, whose grandfather Horace built the Pioneer Village that has been located at Lagoon for nearly 45 years, said mountain men introduced explorers such as John Fremont and Captain Benjamin Bonneville to the new frontier.
“While Fremont and Capt. Bonneville are known for being explorers, it was Kit Carson and Jim Bridger who showed these men the places that have been their homes for years.” he said. “And I think some of the mountain men had some had real reservations of showing settlers these areas, because during the rendezvous, there were only about 200 trappers and a few friendly Indian tribes who left a pretty small footprint.
“So I think it was with a little bit of sadness that they saw towns and irrigated, cultivated, dug-up lands where they used to trap.”
While some mountain men couldn’t reconcile those lifestyles, others like Joseph Meek, did.
“He guided people to Oregon and settled down with his wife and became one of the legislators in Oregon,” Sorensen said.
These days people can find scattered populations who live the mountain man and homesteader lifestyle, but they mostly live in Canada and further north.
“The Natives up there still hunt and fish, but do it on snowmobiles,” Sorensen said.
Scott “Grizzly” Sorensen’s Utah History Lecture presentation, “Trappers, Traders and Explorers: Their Lifestyles and Contributions to the Settlers,” will start at 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26, at Park Meadows Country Club, 2000 Meadows Way. The event is full. Next month’s lecture will be about Native Americans by Dr. Gregory Smoak on Feb. 23, at the Park City Library. Contact Katie Madsen at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
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