A Majority of Scoundrels
Introduction by Stephen Dow Beckham
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.
About the author
Don Berry (1932–2001) considered himself a native Oregonian, despite the fact that he was born in Minnesota, with a lineage from Fox Indians. After attending Reed College, where his housemates included poet Gary Snyder, who shared his interest in Eastern metaphysics, Berry began a lifetime of pursuing his many passions: playing down-home blues and composing synthesizer music, sumi drawing and painting, sculpting in bronze, exploring theoretical mathematics, and writing for prize-winning films.
In addition to his three novels about the Oregon Territory (Trask, Moontrap, and To Build a Ship) published in the early 1960s, Berry wrote A Majority of Scoundrels, a history of the Rocky Mountain fur trade. An early Internet pioneer, he also created a remarkable body of literature that exists now only in cyberspace.
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