Tom Oar Obituary: The Life And Legacy of A Mountain Man

Tom Oar was a true American mountain man, one of the last remaining individuals to embrace the traditional life of self-sufficient survival in the wilderness. Born in rural Montana in 1945, Tom learned from an early age to live off the land through hunting, trapping, foraging, and primitive skills. 

After joining the Forest Service, he met his wife Karen and together they spent decades living a nomadic existence, following animal migration patterns across the rugged peaks and valleys of the American West. Shunning modern comforts, the Oars’ mountain man lifestyle of building remote cabins, harvesting wild game and plants, and traversing the backcountry by foot and horseback exemplified a profound reverence for nature

Tom’s unwavering commitment to the ways of the mountain men inspired many through History Channel shows before his passing in 2023 at age 77. This is the remarkable legacy of an icon who embodied rugged individualism through his connection to the American wilderness.

Early Life And Career

Tom Oar was born in 1945 in a remote corner of Montana, where his family eked out a living from the unforgiving wilderness. From a young age, Tom learned the ways of the mountain man – hunting, trapping, foraging, and living off the land. His early exposure to this rugged, self-sufficient lifestyle shaped his unwavering connection to nature and disdain for modern comforts.

After high school, Tom joined the Forest Service, working as a ranger and wildland firefighter. It was on one of his backcountry patrol assignments that he met Karen, an equally avid outdoorswoman. The two kindred spirits quickly fell in love, marrying in their early 20s with a shared dream – to live out their days immersed in the American wilderness.

Living Off The Land

Living Off The Land

The Oars wasted no time in turning that dream into reality. Over the next few decades, they became true mountain men, spending months at a time surviving solely on what they could harvest from the forests and mountains. Their lifestyle was one of minimalism and self-reliance:

  • Building remote cabins from hand-hewn logs
  • Hunting game like elk, deer, and bear
  • Foraging wild plants, roots, and berries
  • Creating tools and clothing from animal hides
  • Traversing harsh terrain by foot or horseback

But the Oars were no mere survivalists – their profound reverence for nature shaped every aspect of how they lived. As Karen put it:

“We took only what we needed and gave thanks. The wilderness provided for us, so we gave back by treating it with deep respect.”

Following the seasonal migration patterns of wildlife, the Oars embraced a nomadic existence. Their home was wherever they happened to make camp, from the glacial peaks of Montana’s Yaak River Valley to the lush rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.

Montana RockiesHunting elk, foraging huckleberries
Idaho PanhandleFishing for trout, making buckskin clothing
Oregon CoastHarvesting seafood, building dugout canoes

Retirement And Death

Retirement And Death

After decades of service, Tom retired from the Forest Service in the 1990s. But his mountain man ways were far from over. If anything, retirement allowed Tom and Karen to become even more entrenched in their off-grid lifestyle, actively avoiding any ties to the modern world.

Tragically, Tom’s legendary life came to an end in early 2023 at age 77 after a hard-fought battle with cancer. He passed away peacefully in the Montana wilderness he loved, with Karen by his side.

For Karen, now 76, life without her husband and kindred spirit has been unimaginably difficult. In a heartbreaking interview, she spoke of her desolation:

“That man was my life. After over 50 years together, I can’t picture a world without him in it.”

Yet Karen remains committed to preserving Tom’s legacy as one of the last true mountain men. She continues living self-sufficiently, sharing their story with the constant stream of reporters and documentary filmmakers who make the pilgrimage to her Yaak River cabin.

Tom’s funeral in early 2023 drew hundreds of mourners from across the country, including fellow mountain men who appeared on History Channel shows like Mountain Men. The service was fittingly held outdoors, with many attendees sharing campfire tales of crossing paths with the legendary Tom Oar over the decades.


Few individuals embodied the pioneer spirit of rugged American individualism and oneness with nature like Tom Oar. At a time when most people were increasingly disconnected from the land, the Oars audaciously turned their backs on modern living to revive the mountain man tradition.

Though Tom has passed, his legacy will endure through the many lives he touched – those who read his life story, watched him on TV, or visited him on History Channel shoots. His decades of self-sufficient survival skills, resourcefulness, and above all, reverence for the natural world, set an example for future generations.

As Karen so poignantly put it, Tom’s life was entirely about “becoming part of the wilderness, not just passing through it.” In that, he undoubtedly succeeded, leaving an indelible mark on the American wilderness he called home. The mountains, forests, and rivers of the West lost one of their most devoted guardians and kindred spirits.

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