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Mountain Men focus of new County Museum exhibit

mountainmenexhibitA new exhibit will open in the San Bernardino County Museum’s Hall of History on Saturday, February 7. “Turn Left at the Rockies” will introduce visitors to “mountain men,” legendary fur traders of the Rocky Mountains who came to southern California between 1826 and 1850. The exhibit is included with regular paid museum admission. An invitation-only Museum Association members’ exhibit preview is Friday, February 6, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Beaver fur was a highly valued commodity in the 18th and 19th century. In North America, beaver was first acquired by trade with Native Americans, but in the early 1800s fur companies began organized trapping expeditions. These companies were so efficient that beaver quickly became scarce, and the search for new beaver streams began.

Mountain man Jedediah Smith set off in search of beaver streams in 1826, and his path south brought him to the Colorado River and across the Mojave Desert to Mission San Gabriel, the first American to enter California overland. His trailblazing path was followed by other trappers and traders, at first seeking fur, then California horses and mules, and finally gold.

“The period of time between 1826 and 1850 was selected as the focus of the exhibit because those few years were a time of amazing change in California,” said Jennifer Reynolds, museum media specialist. “Southern California transitioned from the Spanish Mission era to the Mexican Rancho era, and then, with the discovery of gold and the Gold Rush, plunged into statehood. Former mountain men like Kit Carson, Isaac Slover, John Brown Sr., James Waters, and others were right in the middle of these events, right here in our county.”

Mountain men, already skilled at exploration, found new niches in their rapidly changing world as guides, scouts, Indian agents, and businessmen. Several former mountain men were instrumental in the development of the state of California and the county of San Bernardino. Using artifacts, extracts from their own journals (no, they were not all illiterate!), and hands-on displays, “Turn Left at the Rockies” explores myths about mountain men, their ways of life, relationships with Native Americans, and their stories after they arrived in southern California.

“The consultation of historian Nick Cataldo was a great help in putting together this exhibit,” said Reynolds. “We also thank the San Bernardino County Museum Association for funding which helped make the exhibit possible.”

The San Bernardino County Museum is at 2024 Orange Tree Lane, at the California Street exit from Interstate 10 in Redlands. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5.p.m. General admission is $10 (adult), $8 (military or senior), $7 (student), and $5 (child aged 5 to 12). Children under five and Museum Association members are admitted free. Parking is free. For more information, call (909) 798-8608 or visit The museum is accessible to persons with disabilities.

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