Tom Oar is an American former rodeo rider, craftsman and TV personality, born in 1943, in Rockfort, Illinois USA. He’s known for being a star of History channel’s reality show “Mountain Man”.
Deeply influenced by their horseman father Chike Oar, Tom and his brother Jack spent their childhood outdoors, roaming free through the small town they lived in near Rock River: ‘When my brother and I turned 7 years old, my father taught us how to trick ride, which is doing tricks on the back of a running horse’.
Used to rough environments and lifestyle, Tom’s acquired taste for adrenaline led him to become a rodeo rider when he was 15 years old.
Despite being a dangerous occupation, his mother supported his decision: ‘My mother drove me to the edge of town, dropped me off with my bull rope and my rigging bag, and I hitchhiked to Ohio, and I hired on to ride bulls and bucking horses’.
Tom Oar dedicated his adulthood to a rodeo career, riding bulls and bucking horses for 18 and 25 years respectively. In an interview with American Cowboy, Tom recalls how he entered the International Rodeo Association (IRA), an organization in which he climbed the ranks to become one of its top ten riders: ‘I worked the saddle bronc riding and the bull riding.
In 1961 we had to make a choice if we were going to go to IRA or RCA (Real Cowboy Association) rodeos. There were more IRA rodeos in the Midwest and East, so I was a member of the IRA for 16 or 17 years. It was a fun life.’
On 14 February 1978, Tom’s luck ended when his hand stuck in the rope that perched him to bull Woolly Bugger. This was Tom’s closest encounter with death, as his body was violently tossed by the raging animal for two minutes. He remained unconscious for three hours, but not even the concussion he obtained from the nearly fatal meeting impeded his return to the arena a month later.
His success in rodeo riding was never the same though; six years later Tom rode his last saddle bronc, but at 41 years of age: ‘It was time for me to quit, you know, so I did’.
Life in Montana
During his time as rodeo rider, Tom and his wife Nancy frequently visited and stayed at friends’ house in Troy, Montana. Already used to the region’s lifestyle, they decided to move there when Tom’s career in the arena ended: ‘There came a point in our life where we figured the majority of rodeoing was over, and we wanted to move to Montana and build a log house. So we bought a chainsaw in Illinois to build a house with when we got here. We bought an acre-and-a-half that had a little two-room log cabin on it and we lived in that while we built the house. It took us five years to build it. We’ve lived here for 34 years now.’
The couple’s first year living in Yaak River was the toughest, having to face harsh cold temperatures, and travelling 50 miles to buy groceries. However, they found a way to sustain themselves hunting and ‘living off the land’ in their home in Kootenai National Forest.
Hunt and Craftsmanship
Tom Oar describes himself as a man ‘born 150 or 200 years too late’: ‘I always thought of the past and history. I’ve kind of relived it in a modern way’.
Passionate about traditions, and searching for ways to make a living in his new house, he started working independently as a trapper, selling and trading furs in wintertime inspired by 1800’s fur traders such as Joseph Meek and Jim Bridger: ‘The West was really settled by the people who created the fur trade.
They were scouts for the Army and the ones who showed the settlers how to get over the mountains. It’s a lost past, I guess.’
Tom also found himself a hobby in brain tanning, which consists of converting fur from raw to leather using deers’ brains. Although the intensive labor is a Native American tradition, its origin goes back to the Stone Age, and extended to every continent.
Despite it being a winter hobby at the start, Oar found himself selling tanned fur-skin frequently, including custom-created clothes. In summer Tom and his wife continued with their business, selling their creations in town: ‘We got in to goin’ to rendezvous, black powder rendezvous, and at these rendezvous, the best dress to be wearing is buckskin clothing, and so for years, we’ve tanned buckskin.’
Black-powder rendezvous are re-enactments of 1800’s fur trades and events. Arms, clothes and liquors of the period can be found at these meetings, which are of help to local craftsman who sell their original goods. Tom Oar has declared he usually made from $3,000 to $4,000 per event.
Mountain Men – TV Debut
In 2012, Tom joined the first season of History Channel’s “Mountain Men”, reality TV show centered on the life of various hunters, naturalists and adventurers in the US.
In 2019 it was speculated that Oar, who had become the most loveable star of the series, was leaving the show to retire to Florida. Said rumors were unfounded though, as Tom was only vacationing for the winter: ‘We love Montana! We are not going anywhere!’ declared Tom’s wife Nancy to Montanian in June.
Nowadays, “Mountain Men” is still on air, and Tom a part of it.
Tom married Jan David in the early ‘60’s. The couple welcomed two children together: Chad, who appeared in “Mountain Men” alongside his father, and daughter Keelie who died in 2015. The couple filed for divorce in the 70’s for unknown reasons.
Tom married a second time to Nancy Oar, and the pair has remained happily together for over four decades. Meanwhile, Tom’s ex-wife Jan married Dave Frazer, and together they had one son named Matt.
Tom’s only grand-child is Chad’s son, Tanner Oar.
As a result of his work in buckskin tanning and fur trading, along with his earnings from appearing in “Mountain Man”, Tom Oar has an estimated net worth of $200.000, as of mid-2020.
Tom Oar is a man of white ethnicity, whose height and weight are unknown. He has a bushy beard and grey hair, though in his youth he sported short dark brown hair, accompanied by a moustache.
Tom’s father Chike Oar used to perform in US Wild West Shows.
Tom’s grandchild Tanner has appeared various times in “Mountain Men”.
Although Tom has kept active in his business and doesn’t plan to retire yet, he has warned his wife about the dangers of his old age: ‘We can’t keep doing this forever. I keep telling Nancy, ‘one of these days you’ll probably just find me stretched out dead over the fleshing block’.’
Tom describes his life as ‘amazing’, and looks back on the past with joy: ‘I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. And as long as I can still do it, hell, I’m gonna do it.’
Our #MCM goes out to Tom Oar for his rugged charm and amazing vests. #MountainMen
Posted by Mountain Men on Monday, April 13, 2015
Tom and Nancy Oar were contacted by History Channel through a friend of theirs who worked as a producer representative: ‘Their friend, who operates Linehan Outfitting Co. based in Troy, Mont., guides hunters and fishermen and owns cabins near where the Oars live’
Woolly Bugger, the bull which almost killed Tom in his youth, died two weeks after his encounter with Oar: ‘I think I gave him a concussion, too’ declared the former rodeo rider.
Tom’s appearances in “Mountain Men” have increased the success of Oar’s tanning business, given the extra exposure it brings.
Oar deeply appreciates his fans: ‘(They) are real important to me, and that’s really neat to meet all the different people and talk to ‘em. There’s always somethin’ of interest, and there’s always interesting people to meet.’