Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mountain Men

They wore fringed buckskin clothes decorated with porcupine quills. Around their necks they carried sacks filled with salt, coffee, tobacco, gunpowder, and other necessities. They ate whatever they could catch or gather, including buffalo mean, roots, berries, and even ants. During the harsh winters, they often lived with Indians, who taught them survival skills.

These adventurers were known as the Mountain Men. They were hired in the 1820s by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company “to ascend the Missouri to its source” and to send back beaver pelts and other fur. The life of a Mountain Men was hard, but he had a chance to make a lot of money, and he lived free human law and restrictions. Each year in late summer, the Mountain Men gathered at one meeting place, a “rendezvous.” There they traded for furs for supplies and money. Then they celebrated for days with dancing, drinking, target shooting, and storytelling.

By 1840, the fur trade began to decline. The trappers had done such a thorough job that there were few beavers left to catch. Many Mountain Men abandoned trapping and served as army scouts or guildes for the settlers moving to the Far West.

When Mountain Men could find nothing else to eat, they made soup from their moccasins.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Marquis de Lafayette

He was called “the hero of two worlds” because of his important role in both the American and the French revolutions. He was the Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobelman who devoted his life to fighting for liberty under law.

Lafayette came to America in 1777 to help the 13 colonies in their revolt against England. At first the colonists were suspicious of the 19-year-old Frenchman, but Lafayette volunteered to serve without pay in the colonial army. He fought bravely and was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. He lived through the hard winter with George Washington at Valley Forge and became one of Washington’s closest friends and most successful generals. But more important was his key role in convincing the French government to provide support for the colonials.

Lafayette was present at Yorktown, Virginia. In October 1781, when a large British army was trapped by American troops and French forces that had come to help the colonials. The British surrendered, bringing the Revolution to an end. Lafayette returned to France and worked for the liberty of his own countrymen. When he died in 1834, flags flew at half-mast all across the U.S. in honor of the Frenchman known as “America’s Marquis.”

Lafayette visited the U.S. in 1824. When he returned to France, he took with him a box of American soil. Ten years later that soil was used to cover his grave.