Although not a commonly known historical figure, Andrew Drips proved his mettle throughout the the height of the western fur trade.
When you think of famous mountain men, who comes to mind? You’d likely recognize the names of Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass, and Kit Carson. If you’ve spent a little more time in your history book you’ll easily recall names like Joe Meek, Manuel Lisa, and William Ashley. Even more studious historians instantly know the names and stories of men like Osborne Russell, Robert Campbell, and David Jackson. These names are some of the most well known mountain men to enter the Rocky Mountain fur trade and their contributions are well recorded. However, as you scroll through your list of mountain men names, you may be missing one important name. Andrew Drips is a fellow whose name could easily fall into the category of the most prominent names, but one who has largely been passed over.
Andrew Drips was born in Ireland sometime in 1789. Very early in his life, his parent’s immigrated to the US and settled in western Pennsylvania. At this time the region was still considered the frontier and Drips would likely have had a rough and tumble upbringing. History doesn’t record much of Drip’s youth, and the fact he participated in the War of 1812 is about the extent of what we know of his young life.
The next time Drips shows up in records is 1817 in St. Louis. You can only imagine the type of man young Drips was if this lively frontier town attracted him. Like many of the mountain men, odds are he was a little rough around the edges and could certainly hold his own. Drips doesn’t get involved in the fur trade until 1819, and joins the prominent Missouri Fur Company in 1820. After joining the Missouri Fur Company, Drips falls into the crowd that he will spend the rest of his life with. He starts rubbing shoulder with influential men of the fur trade, and proves himself from the very start. In fact, by 1822 he becomes a partner in the company.
During this time Drips headed to Fort Lisa near the headwaters of the Missouri and experienced a genuine western fur expedition. He would have seen the Missouri, mingled with Native tribes of the plains, climbed the mountains, and trapped valuable beaver. By 1824 though, Drips had found his way east to operate trading posts near what now is Nebraska’s eastern border. Much of his business involved trading with the Pawnee on the plains. During the mid 1820’s he also took an Oto wife and began growing his family. It’s hard to say for sure, but you may assume Drips was settling into a fairly stable life as a trader. With a Native wife, and given his isolation on the plains, it’s easy to imagine Drips also led a life very much influenced by the Native people around him.
By 1830, Drips had likely heard about the success of the Rocky Mountain fur traders and wished to return for his share of the fortune. Using some old contacts he was able to pitch in with the American Fur Company. In 1830 he headed up river to once again see the vastness of the Rockies. This journey would be the start of Drips second tour in the Rockies, and his most successful venture.
Life of a Mountain Man
Over the course of the next 10 years Drips would come to experience the entire gamut of mountain man life. He was in Indian fights, led trapping brigades, suffered extreme hardships, and led supply caravans to rendezvous. He rode all over the northern Rockies and developed a reputation as a steadfast leader and consummate man of the wilderness. He also began leading a few early pioneers west and was responsible for guiding the famous Father Pierre deSmet on his first journey west. Primary sources record Drips as “very popular with the people of (the mountains)”, polite, very kind, and “a good, honest, old beaver trapper.” To say he impressed his peers would have been an understatement.
Mountain Business Man
As a businessman Drips also appears to have excelled. After entering the American Fur Company in 1830, he had gained enough influence to negotiate trapping agreements with the well-known Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Not only that, but a year later, in 1834, Drips along with Lucien Fontenelle, actually arranged for the American Fur Company to buy and absorb the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This responsibility shows us what his business associates thought of the man.
In 1837 he began leading the pack caravans back to St. Louis and trade goods out to rendezvous. Under his guidance, pack trains of goods headed out of St. Louis in 1838, 1839, and 1840. When you consider the responsibilities involved with this aspect of the fur trade, it really shows how versatile a fur trader Drips had become.
Post Mountain Career
By the end of the rendezvous period, 1840, Andrew Drips would have been nearly 50 years old. He had proven himself a capable trader, trapper, brigade leader, and business man. He had guided hardened men through the mountains, and led some of the first “civilized” men west. He not only lived during the heart of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, he had risen as the cream of the crop of a hardened fraternity of men. By 1840 though, even Drips realized the mountain fur trade was coming to an end.
In 1841 he returned to what would become Kansas City. Over the next two decades of his life, Andrew Drips would be engaged as a guide, Indian Agent, and trading post administrator. He eventually ended up operating a trading post near the historic Fort Laramie near Torrington, Wyoming. Although his time as a wild mountain man had expired, he was able to put his reputation and experience to use in those last few decades. By 1860, his trail in this life met its end. He died in Kansas City in his home surrounded by his family.
Although the name of Andrew Drips doesn’t generally pop up when names of famous mountain men are discussed, it seems he deserves mention. Not only was he capable as a trapper, but the men we remember so fondly respected him as a peer. Not only had he mastered the ways of the wilderness, but he blended those skills with a business savvy that made him one of the most coveted employees of any fur company. Hopefully more folks will come to mention the name of Andrew Drips as they discuss historic mountain men.
Works Cited: Carter, H. L. (1982). Mountain Men and Fur Traders. Lincoln, NE, USA: University of Nebraska Press.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on historic mountain men and the place of Andrew Drips among them.
Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article about the life of Andrew Drips.If you like the content, I’d encourage you to follow the blog by subscribing at the bottom of the page. You may also enjoy this article I wrote on the 28 wild foods eaten by mountain man Rufus Sage.
Follow the author through his Facebook page.