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Sunday, May 29, 2016

JIM BECKWOURTH: NEGRO MOUNTAIN MAN by Harold W. Felton



Originally printed in 1966

As you can tell by the title, Jim Beckwourth: Negro Mountain Man has a hopelessly out-of-date title. When it was written in 1966, the term "negro" was still considered to be acceptable, of course.


Jim Beckwourth
Jim Beckwourth (1798-1866) was born in Virginia and moved out to the frontier, roughly in the St. Louis area, before he moved out on his own. He apprenticed as a blacksmith but didn't really pursue that career. Instead, he set off as part of larger expeditions and quickly earned a reputation for being tough, fair and honest. And, perhaps most important, he was considered to be dependable in an environment where almost nothing was dependable.

Beckwourth's skin color did not seem to hurt him any as he trapped beaver, scouted for military expeditions and explored the American West. He even served in the Second Seminole War in Florida. It seems that real talent was valued a lot more than a man's race.


But, the bulk of this book deals with Beckwourth's time with the Crow Indians. He claimed that he became a chief and told many tales of his adventures among the Crow. 

Felton goes out of his way to be fair to Beckwourth in a time when the idea of racial equality and African-American heroes could be controversial. This makes Felton's running commentary on Native Americans all the more jarring. He calls them "redskins" (p. 36), "squaws" (p. 43), "thieving and murderous Indians" (p.55) and more. Once again, this book is a product of its time and cannot be judged by modern standards of acceptable speech, but it was jarring. Be prepared if you read the book.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Jim Beckwourth: Negro Mountain Man.

 I rate this book 4 stars out of 5 while issuing no judgment on the racial commentary for reasons listed above.

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