The Original Rivermen

The Voyageurs: the Original Rivermen

Long before great North American rivers like the New and Gauley gave float to inflatable rafts full of fun-seekers, these waterways were navigated by rugged groups of journeymen who not only valued the river as a means of transportation, but also as a way of life. Those folk were referred to simply as “rivermen.”

The original rivermen were Native Americans from tribes such as the Iroquois, Huron, Algonquin and Mohawk. The Huron, for example, were master canoemen. They constructed their own craft from birch bark and used them to transport cargo along routes throughout the northern forests. Highly skilled rivermen, the Hurons traveled two to three thousand river miles a year to barter and trade, all on a single sheet of birch bark.

America’s first frontiersmen were free traders, also known as Boschlopers or “forest runners.” They were vagabond Irishmen, Swedes, Germans, Danes and Englishmen not highly regarded by their various clans. These traders chose not to settle and farm land, instead carving their way through the wilderness, spending a great deal of their time alone on the forest rivers hunting, fishing and subsisting off the land and local streams and rivers. They roamed from hundreds of miles north and east of the Hudson to as far southwest as the Delaware, trading with and befriending many Indian villagers. To the Boschlopers, there was no other way to exist.

The best of the French Canadian Rivermen were known as Voyageurs, enormously broad-shouldered and long-armed men cast from a 150 year old tradition that included explorers Champlain, Jolliet, Marquette and La Salle. The Voyageurs were simple, carefree individuals. The only life that mattered to them was the one they lived on rivers and lakes that provided them the opportunity to experience nature and all of its bounty. Riding the rapids, telling tall-tales and singing songs by the fire was the lifestyle that these natural outdoorsmen craved, a camaraderie that gave meaning to their lives as rivermen.

Finally, the greatest of the Rivermen were the Coureurs de Bois, direct descendants of the Vikings. These European adventurers were nomadic in nature and traveled anywhere they could conceivably push, pull, row or paddle. North American wilderness promised them a never-ending adventure. They hunted whale in birch bark canoes, reached the Arctic Ocean at Hudson Bay, named the Grand Tetons and built Fort Duquesne, which later became the great city of Pittsburgh, PA. They gave name to hundreds of North American landmarks. They gambled with death and lived their lives against enormous odds. The Coureurs de Bois roamed North America at will for nearly 200 years. Their legacy is an impressive benchmark for thrill seekers and outdoor enthusiasts everywhere.

So, as you plan your Rivermen trip, give a nod to those who blazed the trail ahead of you. We adopted the name Rivermen as a tribute to those adventurous spirits, and we welcome you to become a part of this historical tradition.