Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mountain Men - 1950s Style

Heroes of folklore and legends of the wild west were popular subjects during the 1950s, and the young people of the period were particularly fascinated by practically anything relating to frontier life. Disney took distinct advantage of this in many ways, from film and television productions such as Davy Crockett and Paul Bunyan, to the creation of Frontierland at Disneyland.

Smaller scale endeavors were also numerous, as this article that tells the stories of famous mountain men Jim Bridger and John Colter from a 1957 issue of Walt Disney’s Magazine demonstrates. While studio vet Milt Banta is shown as the author of Yellowstone: Land of Burning Mountains, the artist of the illustrations is uncredited. The renderings of Colter and Bridger are however very similar in style to the studio's cartoon version of Paul Bunyan, that was released the following year. The character of Jim Bridger would appear in a two part episode in 1977 of the Wonderful World of Disney entitled “Kit Carson and the Mountain Men.” He would be portrayed in that show by actor Gregg Palmer.

"The Ballad of John Colter" by well know Disney composer George Bruns would be sung by Fess Parker in the Disney film Westward Ho the Wagons, and would also be included on Parker’s own record album Cowboy and Indian Songs.

Here is the text from Yellowstone: Land of Burning Mountains, a small piece of fun nostalgia from the 1950s:

A man had room to grow out on the western frontier — before the towns came in, and the farms and the factories. Sometimes men grew so great, and their fame spread so far, that they became legends in their own time. John Colter was one of these. Folks say that John was chased by hostile Indians once, and he fooled them by hiding under the surface of a deep stream, breathing through a hollow reed.

Now a man who'll keep cool when a pack of redskins are after his scalp will keep cool most anywhere. That's probably a good thing, because Colter needed all his wits about him when he stumbled into Yellowstone.

It was along about 1805 or 1806 that Colter decided to leave the trail and strike out on his own. He walked for nearly 500 miles before he found himself in a valley like no other place he had ever been before.

First, Colter saw a great lake stretching out in front of him. Then he came on huge waterfalls in the midst of a yellow rock chasm. He found springs of scalding water that bubbled right out of the ground, and spectacular geysers and steaming pools of mud. "Land of Burning Mountains" the Indians called the place, and to them it was filled with evil spirits. Colter went back east and told everyone who would "There couldn't possibly be a place like that," they scoffed. John Colter was so hurt and humiliated at this that he went back to the peace and quiet of the mountains. But his stories went on.

It was about 25 years later that another great frontiersman, Jim Bridger, heard the tales of Colter and the Yellowstone country and decided to find out for himself whether the tales were tall ones, or true. Bridger found Yellowstone and saw that Colter had been right. When Bridger went back east and told the folks about Yellowstone, they laughed at him, just as they'd laughed at Colter. But Bridger didn't take to the hills to nurse his wounded pride. Instead, he decided that since no one believed his true stories, he'd tell some fantastic tales about the mysterious place.

There was a mountain there, he said, called Echo Mountain, where it took six hours for an echo to come bouncing back. And there was a glass mountain that had a peculiar way of making things miles away seem a whole lot nearer.

Bridger's favorite yarn was the one about the "Peet-rified Forest" filled with petrified birds singing among petrified leaves in the petrified moonlight.

Strangely enough, the tales of Colter and Bridger are, still told in Yellowstone, "Land of Burning Mountains," which is now a national park, preserved for all to enjoy.


Deb Goodrich said...

Super illustrations! Super subject!