Sean McQueen is cut from different cloth.
The Kalispell 19-year-old appears like many his age. He has a cellphone, he is in college and he drives a 1994 Ford F150 pickup truck.
But his path has forks that many his age do not share.
Since the somewhat tender age of 10, McQueen has passionately pursued the mountain man lifestyle.
He has caught beaver with traps he’s built, floated the Upper Missouri River in a buffalo-hide canoe he constructed, killed deer with a cap-lock rifle and skinned them with knives he has made. McQueen has also fashioned clothing from raw materials such as deer and buffalo hides.
McQueen and his family, which includes five sisters and one brother, are from Missoula. They spent a few years in Missouri before coming to the Flathead Valley a decade ago.
“I joined the local rock club (Northwest Montana Rock Chucks) because I was a flintknapper,” McQueen said. “I met Rich Petterson there and he introduced me to the Flathead Muzzleloaders.”
Flintknapping is the process of chipping away material from high silica stones such as “flint” in a controlled manner with special tools to produce sharp projectile points or tools.
“My brother tanned deer hides and I learned how to flintknap from watching YouTube videos,” McQueen said.
Meeting Petterson propelled McQueen’s interest in the primitive ways.
“Rich has been flintknapping for many years and he’s very good at it,” McQueen said. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve met.”
The invitation to the Flathead Muzzleloaders led McQueen to meeting Rod Douglas, who has lived in Montana for more than 30 years. Douglas also has a passion for history as evidenced by his involvement in the Muzzleloaders and Montana Highlanders Association.
Douglas is also a member of the American Mountain Men Association, a group that strives to live the life of those who explored and helped settle the West.
The association is a select, invitation-only group.
“You have to know someone in the group and there’s a pretty extensive list of things that you must do to be a part of it,” McQueen said.
The list includes having a full set of hand-cut and hand-sewn clothing and handmade accoutrements. They must be researched for authenticity of the 1800 to 1840 period of history and be of a type that would have been seen on men in, or moving to, the Rocky Mountains.
Another requirement is to be able to converse using Plains Indians hand talk.
Yet another stipulation is to spend an accumulative time of two or more weeks in the wilderness under primitive conditions in the company of no more than one other member. Each stay must be at least three full days and two full nights.
McQueen’s relationships with the two groups have led him to some very interesting adventures in Montana.
One was a 10-day trip in September 2017 with Douglas down the Upper Missouri River that followed the famed Lewis & Clark Expedition.
“We went in the fall and we hunted and fished,” McQueen said.
The hunt didn’t provide any nourishment. But the fishing, done with a willow pole, silk line and a hook fashioned from the rib bone of a buffalo and baited with a bit of red wool, did net some brook trout.
“We ate the fish, but mostly we lived off of dried meat,” McQueen said.
The adventurers used two canoes. One was a modern vessel, but the other was a bull boat. It was constructed from the tanned hides of three bison that were sewed together.
“That thing performed admirably,” McQueen said with a sense of pride.
Another adventure was a fall deer hunting trip to the Yaak.
“We were hunting on private land of one of the club members during the last four days of the season,” McQueen said. “Nathan Blanchard got a deer, but the rest of us weren’t having any luck.
“On the last day, Daryl and I went up the side of a mountain. We were apart, hoping to jump a deer to each other. I had reached the end of the ridge when I sat down on a log and bleated out a doe call,” McQueen said. “Before I knew it, a buck appeared behind me, just as big as life.”
He turned his body and fired left-handed from his cap lock rifle. The 4x4 white-tailed buck dropped in its tracks and the storybook hunt was over.
“The last few hours of the season, to get a buck like that. I don’t think I could duplicate that,” McQueen said.
His ultimate goal is to shoot an elk with a primitive bow.
McQueen recently was featured in the January 2019 issue of Rural Montana, the Montana Electric Cooperative Association’s monthly publication.
Wendy Ostrom-Price, the public relations officer at Flathead Electric Cooperative, said she couldn’t recall a more popular edition of the magazine.
McQueen said his experiences and what he has learned from the members of American Mountain Men and Flathead Muzzleloaders have given him an incredible sense of self-reliance.
“It’s gratifying to know you have that skill set,” McQueen said. “This way of life is not something we want to see disappear.
“The amount of historical information these groups provide to the community is remarkable,” he added. “It keeps their (mountain men) legacy alive.”
Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org