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A Majority of Scoundrels

An Informal History of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company

Don Berry

Introduction by Stephen Dow Beckham

Northwest Reprints

6 × 9 inches. Maps. Appendices. Notes. Index. 456 pages.

2006. ISBN 978-0-87071-089-6. Paperback, $22.95.

With the skill of a historian, Don Berry set his celebrated trilogy of novels—Trask, Moontrap, and To Build a Ship—in pioneer-era Oregon. In A Majority of Scoundrels, he brings the craft of a novelist to his captivating history of the American fur trade.

Berry’s fresh and invigorating narrative captures the peak years (1822-1834) of the fur trade in the Mountain West, the period in which the Rocky Mountain Fur Company grew to be “the greatest name in the mountains.” These were heady times in which trappers and traders explored the far corners of the western country, disputed territory with Native American tribes and the Hudson’s Bay Company, learned the lore of the land, and perfected their drinking, brawling, yarn-spinning, and boasting at the annual rendezvous.

With lively prose and an ear for a good yarn, Berry brings to life the principal trappers—colorful figures including Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass (who miraculously survived the mauling of a bear and came back from death to haunt his fellows), champion liar James P. Beckwourth, Joe Meek, Jedediah Smith, Jim Clyman, and many more. Using their journals, business records, and other sources, Berry laces his back-country narrative with an analysis of the power struggle between the St. Louis businessmen who controlled the trade and the trappers.

A new introduction by historian Stephen Dow Beckham looks beyond the romantic legends of the mountain men to set A Majority of Scoundrels in the context of recent scholarship on the American West. While Beckham demonstrates just how much our sense of history has changed in the almost fifty years since Berry’s work was first published, he also helps readers understand the continuing appeal of the mythology of the fur trade era and the lasting importance of A Majority of Scoundrels.

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