Conservation and Trapping Science

Mountain Man – Thomas Fitzpatrick
Oct 25, 2021 07:01 ET

[Reprinted from original]

ountain men in the United States were primarily French. They prospered as fur trappers and made their way North into Canada as fur became scarcer here. However, we have rare documentation about an Irish mountain man named Thomas Fitzpatrick (1799 to February 7, 1854) that was written by E.M. Laughlin.

According to Laughlin, Fitzpatrick was fondly nicknamed by many Native Americans in the region as “Broken Hand” in addition to “White Hair.” His research indicates that Fitzpatrick was a trapper, explorer, Indian fighter, guide, government agent for the wild tribes of the plains and was even head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

He goes on to state that this position with the fur company brought Fitzpatrick toward the great bend of the North Platte River in search of a supply train that he eventually found on the Sweetwater arm about 300 miles away in Wyoming. There does appear to be a controversy about the accuracy of historical records that claim he was a partner at Rocky Mountain Fur Company though. Government sites do not back this up, but there are enough archival records to make Laughlin’s claim a possibility.

Even though many Indian tribes grew fond of Fitzpatrick, he did have to keep guard against certain tribes. The Blackfeet from Montana saw him as an enemy, and Fitzpatrick knew that if they were to capture him he would die a slow torturous death. In 1832 he nearly met such a gruesome fate, but managed to escape.

He evaded similar encounters with other tribes during his 30-year career as a mountain man. The Arikara were a fierce tribe from North Dakota that he came across with General William Henry Ashley and his company, but due to casualties they were forced to retreat. Fitzpatrick continued as a guide and agent until his death in 1854.