Our family of eight recently visited the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming. We had a great time learning about the history of the Rocky Mountain fur trade and the lives of the mountain men who lived and worked in this region in the first half of the 19th century. We also learned about the Native Americans who lived in this region before the arrival of the mountain men.
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How we discovered this history museum
We had a long day of driving ahead of us, with few possibilities for an interesting lunch break. The mountainous road between Idaho Falls and Laramie, Wyoming has few settlements along the way. The few Wyoming landmarks nearby tend to be far off the major highways!
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This is part of an ongoing series about our family road trip from Oregon to Georgia and back.
We found ourselves near the Museum of the Mountain Man around lunch time. We decided to pause there to see whether it would capture our interest enough for an hour’s break from driving. The website and reviews were limited, so we weren’t really sure what to expect.
Unique location, fabled history
This Museum boasts a beautiful location at the top of a hill. From there you can view the Green River valley and nearby peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
The prime location allows visitors to get a real sense of what it would have been to attend a fabled and long-gone event of the American past: the Rendezvous.
For nearly half a century, the Green River valley was the meeting point for trappers hailing from all over the interior of North America. Consider a venue of thousands of fur trappers, indigenous tribes, tribal leaders, fur company representatives, and what-not meeting in the ungoverned wilderness of what would one day be Wyoming.
The purpose of the rendezvous was to exchange the pelts for supplies and catch up on the news. However, it would be hard to find a modern equivalent to the annual rendezvous. It was reunion, council, meeting, and bacchanal—all at once.
Who were the Mountain Men?
The Museum of the Mountain Man tells the story of the American fur trade. This was a brief period roughly between the Corps of Discovery Expedition led by Lewis and Clark (1804), and the onset of Western Expansion and emigration, such as the Oregon Trail (around 1840).
Men such as Jedidiah Smith, Hugh Glass, Jim Bridger, and Thomas Fitzpatrick explored much of the interior of the Mountain West. These men were seeking furs for commercial sale. In the process, they opened the way for westward migration and settlement.
Purpose of the Museum of the Mountain Man
The museum captures an era that is often overlooked in United States history—the era of the mountain man. It was an Old West before the emigrant wagons, where the land was still unknown and death was only a step away.
In spite of its name, however, the Museum of the Mountain Man has much more to offer than the tall tales of famous trappers. The Museum also preserves and presents the history of Plains Indians, the Oregon Trail, and the entire Sublette County region.
The Museum of the Mountain Man also participates in multiple living history events. The most significant local living history event, the Green River Rendezvous Days, recreates the feel of the original Rendezvous and is on our family bucket list to attend!
A Worthwhile Visit
Outdoor exhibits surround the Mountain Man museum, but since it was hot and the middle of the day, we opted to explore indoors.
Each of the kids snagged a scavenger hunt and pencil to guide their exploration, and we turned the oldest kids loose to look around. Mom and Dad stayed with the younger boys to help read things to them and answer questions.
Our kids loved looking at the well-designed exhibits and dioramas. Many of the display cases housed actual artifacts and handwritten records of the various individuals and events featured by the museum. Native American crafts, military provisions, and historic clothing are just a few parts of this interactive experience.
There was even an impressive display of rifles, knives and paraphernalia that once belonged to John Wayne along one wall—something extra for the western enthusiasts among us.
Taxidermied animal specimens of cougars, grizzly bears, deer, buffalo, hawks, wolves and many others helped our kids to see just how dangerous life in the Rockies could be. Another display showed how beaver pelts were turned into top hats and other luxury items.
The museum is not large, but it is rich with artifacts and items that can be touched, or looked at up close. The scavenger hunt encouraged our kids to study almost every display, and to think through what they were learning.
Lower Level: Play Area and Art
A fun kids play area welcomed us to the lower level of the building, and our boys enjoyed clambering onto real child-sized saddles and touching animal pelts to feel the soft furs of skunk, fox, mink and beaver.
The bottom level also features a Western art exhibit and a variety of displays on the history of Sublette County. The non-profit organization that runs the museum is the oldest historical society in Sublette County. These exhibits show only a small portion of its thousands of artifacts!
Our impressions of the Museum of the Mountain Man
When the kids finished their scavenger hunts, they turned them in at the front desk. Much to their delight and surprise, each child received a stamped wooden commemorative coin and a small piece of animal fur! This was one of their favorite souvenirs even throughout the rest of the trip.
Mom and Dad were thankful for an interesting break, nice bathrooms, and the opportunity to learn about a specific facet of Western history that we don’t often hear about.
We could have spent several more hours there, since there were still the outside exhibits. However we had a lot of driving to our next hotel, so after about and hour and a half, we loaded up and continued on our way- after applying our new bumper sticker, of course!
The Museum of the Mountain Man was a memorable and interesting stop. I recommend it wholeheartedly for families who are traveling through that remote area of Idaho and Wyoming.
Have you visited the Museum of the Mountain Man? Tell us what you thought in the comments!
© Copyright 2021-2023 Jennifer D. Warren and Brian A. Warren. Originally posted October 19, 2021. Updated and expanded June 7, 2023.