Mountain Man at home in wilderness or house

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 25, 2003

Mountain Men are bigger than life.

They are the characters of history books, storybooks and frontier movies and that is where they exist, these men of times past.

Or, so some think.

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On Tuesday, the 60 youngsters who attended the 4-H Natural Resources Day Camp at Clay Hill Farms had the opportunity to meet a real-life Mountain Man.

It was as if someone had peeled him right off the cover of a frontier novel and placed him against the backdrop of baled hay in rural Pike County.

Some of the youngsters were obviously surprised when the tall, slender bearded figure spoke.

His voice soft voice seemed almost out of character for such a big man in animal skins.

Dalton Halbrooks, the Mountain Man, was a featured guest at the camp and kept the youngsters spellbound with his tales of life in the wilderness.

Halbrooks told the youngsters that he is as "at home" in the mountains and wilderness as he is in his own home. In fact, he would much rather be roughing it in the wilderness than sitting on a comfortable couch in the house.

The Mountain Man said he has always been fascinated by the great outdoors. Growing up, he was the hunter - the trapper - for his family.

"My dad never knew what he was going to have for supper," he said. "Whatever I killed or caught that day was what my mama put on the table. If I killed a coon, we had coon. If I killed a 'possum, we had 'possum. That's the way it was with the mountain men, if they couldn't hunt, fish and trap, they couldn't survive."

Halbrooks said he read all he could about the mountain men of the Old West. He learned about their ways and how they survived and, every chance he got, he went into the wilderness himself to test his skills.

He told the young people how the mountain men traded with the Indians and how that trading improved the quality of life for the tribesmen.

"Cooking was almost unheard of until the mountain men - the traders - came along with metal utensils," he said. "The Indians didn't have pans like we do. If they tried to cook a piece of meat on a stick over the fire, before the meat got done, the stick would burn and the meat would fall in the fire. They wrapped their meat in mud and threw it in the fire to cook. Can you imagine what it was like when they broke the clay away? It was full of grit. Imagine what it would be like to eat something like that."

Halbrooks said that mountain men were the adventurers of their time.

"If the mountain men were alive today, they would be the ones manning the space shuttles," he said.