The classic term “mountain man” has been thrown around for the past two centuries to define a man who was able to live and survive in the wild no matter the dire circumstances. These men are the toughest of the tough, battling the toughest forces of nature. But beyond the “mountain man” is the little-discussed “mountain woman.”
Often placed in the shadows, the mountain woman is just as tough as the mountain man. History has plenty of mountain women, even though you may not have heard about them. Let’s take a look and see what mountain women history has been hiding.
Stagecoach Mary Fields
Mary Fields was the first African-American woman mail carrier along a star route during the late 1800s. Star routes were not part of the Post Office Department but instead contracted by the department to go to difficult to reach areas, which included the Montana Territory where she lived.
She won the contract by being the fastest applicant to hitch up a team of horses. She never missed a day delivering the mail. If the snow was impassable for horses, Fields carried the mail on snowshoes. Tough and reliable, Fields was the only woman allowed in saloons in Montana.
Marie Dorion Venier Toupin
Marie Dorion was the only woman to be sent by the Pacific Fur Company into the Pacific Northwest. Making her way through the mountains from the Iowa Tribe into the Oregon Territory along with her children, she was a scout and fur trapper. She also missed out on two attacks that killed her husband and the rest of the trappers she was traveling with, leaving her to travel through the mountains alone on her horse. She lived in the Blue Mountains for more than 50 days in the winter by herself with her two small children, feeding them with snare traps, smoked fish, and frozen berries.
Growing up in Fairbanks at the turn of the previous century, Mardy Murie indeed knew how to survive in the most extreme circumstances. Even as a young woman, she went dog sledding for her honeymoon and hunting for caribou.
While camping for weeks at a time in extremely cold weather, Murie studied wildlife in an effort to speak for animal conservation efforts, even going so far as to helping to pass the Wilderness Act and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She also earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Audubon Medal, and the John Muir Award.
Hallie Morse Daggett
An avid hunter, fisher, and trapper, Hallie Daggett was the first woman to work for the Forest Service in 1913. She lived at the Eddy Gulch Lookout Station on the top of Klamath Peak, located in the Klamath National Forest in Northern California for 15 years, putting her in a constant state of isolation and exposure to the elements, which is exactly what she liked and was good at.
The Eddy Gulch Lookout Station sits 6,444 feet up and is about a 3-hour climb from the base, so you can imagine, this is no easy location for anyone to be in.
While the list certainly does not reveal every tough woman who has taken on the wilderness, it is important to remember that these women were the standouts of their time, performing tasks that were not typically deemed as “appropriate” for women to do at the time.
This means that the women were not just impressive in the wilderness, but that they were also impressive in terms of overcoming the typical stereotype of women as being too soft for the wild. These mountain women prove that women are not just strong enough for the wild, but that they were strong. Period.
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