Making the Frontier Home: Stories from the Steamboat Bertrand

Mining Men

The mining frontier was primarily first settled by men, both single and married, searching for fortune and property. This was especially true in Montana mining communities during the early years of western emigration. Men took up mining, farming, shopkeeping, and various odd jobs to establish themselves in these new towns. Without wives or women to marry, men took on additional household duties, such as washing the dishes and churning butter. These adaptive strategies, however, were temporary for most men, as they sought out wives to help with the household economy. 

There were some female-associated activities, however, that men did not attempt.  Evidence from the Bertrand cargo indicates that sewing and millinery were not included into a frontiersman's duties. Instead, ready-to-wear clothing, made possible by the invention of the sewing machine, was shipped out to the territories. Clothing and accessories deemed practical for the harsh conditions of Montana were sent to various consignors for sale to the miners. These articles included trousers, frock coats, suit coats, boots, hats, and plaid flannel shirts. Limited availability and variety of clothing indicates that men had little choice in what they wore. 

Although burdened by numerous responsibilities, men still found time for leisure, which was essential in allowing them to build relationships that would provide them with companionship to combat hard times and isolation. Away from a curated domestic sphere and the pressures of a Christian society, men gambled and drank freely.  Among the Bertrand cargo alone, there were nearly 3,000 bottles of alcohol, including whiskey, wine, gin, beer, brandy, and bitters. Much of this alcohol was imported from Europe, including France, England, and the Netherlands, although some of the beer and liquor was produced domestically. A small portion of the ale was produced at Cooper and Conger in St. Louis, Missouri. However, the predominant type of alcohol found in the cargo of the Bertrand was Dr. Hostetter's Stomach Bitters, a liquor advertised to cure nearly every ailment (see Switzer 1963:31).  These products sold for around $1.50-$5.00, with the average bottle of liquor costing around $2.00 to $3.00 (see Switzer 1963:82). Despite being marketed for different uses, alcohol consumption in the territories remained primarily recreational and was attributed to the high frequency of violence in these areas.

Hand-carved wooden pipe intended to be sold in Fort Benton or a nearby Montana mining town.

Full catalog records:
Black beaver hat, from the cargo of the Bertrand, destined for sale to Montana miners; also see  Men's brown felt hat
Dutch gin bottle 

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