Have you heard of Tom Oar?

Many people dream of leaving civilization behind and going to live in a beautiful forest or nature area, but few have the courage or know-how to actually do so. Tom Oar is one of those people who made the break, and inadvertently became famous due to the History Channel reality TV series he starred in, “Mountain Men”.

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Tom Oar’s upbringing and early career

Tom’s exact birth date is unknown, but we do know he was born in 1943 in northern Illinois, USA, so is now around 77 years old. His parents were Chike Oar and Mary Jane Crellin and he has a brother, Jack Oar. His father worked on the Wild West Shows which ran up to 1920, but like many such participants, retired at an early age. From the time he was a young boy, it was Tom’s dream to ride rodeo.

From the age of 10 he practiced on steers running in the chutes. He also did trick rides and worked with horses until the age of 15, which was about the time his father and brother quit the rodeo circuit. Yet Tom grabbed the bull by its horns and pursued his dream. By his early 20s he was riding the circuit, and went on to make the International Rodeo Finals eight times during the 16 years with the IRA (Interstates Rodeo Association). It was a time he remembers as being a ‘fun life’.

Tom Oar’s family

Tom and his wife, Nancy have been married for around 40 years. They have a son, Chad, and had a daughter, Keelie who was born in 1996, but sadly passed away in 2015 in Florida. From her Facebook page it was apparent that she was proud of her father’s achievements in the TV series and she and her brother, Chad, appeared in episodes from time to time.

Chad is divorced and has two children – his son, Tanner, has also appeared in the show. Chad reconnected with his girlfriend from high school days, Kim Burnette, and the two of them train horses and own Carriage Tours of Ocala, in Marion County, Florida.

How did Tom and Nancy Oar end up in the mountains?

The 25 years of mounting bucking broncs and 18 years of riding bulls took its toll on Tom, with injuries to his legs causing permanent damage, so he had no choice but to quit the circuit.

At that stage, when Tom and Nancy had realized that the rodeo days were done with, the Illinois couple moved to Troy, Montana, where they had made friends while attending summer rodeos. The couple bought one and a half acres of land in the remote Yaak Valley, in the far north-western corner of  Montana, about four miles from the British Columbian border. The Yaak regional centre only has some 280 inhabitants.

Tom Oar

The Oars moved onto their property near the tranquil Yaak River in the middle of the lush green Kootenai National Forest in the early 90s, and lived in a small log cabin while they built their own log house. They had bought a chainsaw in Illinois for the task, and it took them five years to build their home. For the initial 17 years in Montana, they had no electricity, technology or running water. In later years they did get cable TV.

This self-sustaining lifestyle is not for the fainthearted, as there’s a lot of tough work involved in survival. The nearest grocery store is about 50 miles away, and they had to hunt, collect and grow their own food. Every long winter, they battled the harsh mountain elements and predators.

When they moved to Montana, Tom began to teach himself the art of braintanning animal skins, which is an art brought down from the Native American Indians 200 years ago.

The process is difficult and time-consuming, but the end product is far superior as the leather becomes as soft as cloth, prevents sweating as the skin can breathe through it and is far more comfortable to wear than commercially manufactured leathers.

Tom tans the hides and he and Nancy hand-stitch the custom clothing and moccasins throughout the winter. Tom’s work is highly sought-after, and he’s known as one of the most skilled tanners still operating in the US. Tom also makes primitive bows and knives. Come summer, they dress up in their best buckskin apparel and head for town, where they sell their products at rendezvous, reminiscent of the days of the 1840s fur trade.

How Tom Oar became a part of “Mountain Men”

Tom claims that the rugged mountain life is not for everyone, but he and Nancy lived peacefully off the grid, surrounded by natural beauty until their lives took a turn.

Their neighbor, Tim Linehan, hosted the TV show “Trout Unlimited” for six years, and when the Warm Springs Productions company came up with the idea of filming people who lived off the land in remote, rough wilderness terrain, he suggested they approach Tom.

Tom’s audition comprised of a day being followed around by a film crew, at the end of which they considered him a good match for the reality series.

“Mountain Men” premiered on the History channel on 31st May 2012, with Tom, Eustace Conway who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Marty Meierotto from Two Rivers in Alaska. Later the show included Rich Lewis, a mountain lion hunter residing in Ruby Valley in Montana, Morgan Beasley who lives in the Alaska Range, Jason Hawk who is in the Ozarks, Arkansas, and others joining in subsequent seasons.

Tom, the soft-spoken, rugged looking, white-bearded mountain man with his cowboy hat and sharp, light-blue/green eyes, seems to be one of the most popular cast members, and has received a lot of positive feedback from viewers. Since its launch until the last season finished in May 2019, Tom has appeared in more than 110 episodes.

Film crews would descend on Tom’s property one week a month, every six months of the year. He claims that nothing much changed as he would continue doing what he normally does while they filmed him. However, the buckskin clothing and primitive weapons he made became so highly popular that it was impossible to keep up with the orders. The film crews had some tough times such as the three-day hunt they followed Tom on while carrying their heavy camera equipment.

The reality series featured Tom in his old Dodge pickup, fishing in his canoe, or riding his snowmobile through deep snow, setting traps and getting on with his daily activities. Nancy often featured on the show too. At times Tom was seen performing perilous actions such as driving dangerous wolves away from his property, hunting caribou, tackling threatening grizzly bears, and fighting off fires that could have ravaged their home. One of the toughest challenges for the Oars was battling to survive the long, freezing cold, relentless winters.

His co-star, Eustace Conway, was the subject of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book published in 2002, “The Last American Man”.

Eustace called his property Turtle Island and hosts guests whom he teaches basic survival skills and attempts to inspire them to give up their material lifestyles and return to a natural life.

Tom Oar’s net worth

In the early years of Tom’s mountain life, he made a living trapping and selling tanned hides so when the fur industry dwindled, the Oars were struggling to make ends meet. Even though their lifestyle was simple, they benefited from the income they accrued from “Mountain Men”. They additionally earned up to $4,000 at each rendezvous, and then Tom also made money selling his custom-made knives and bows. According to valid sources, Tom’s skill, resilience and TV appearances have earned him a net worth of over $200,000.

What happened to Tom Oar?

He retreated to the mountains to escape modern life so it’s not surprising that he is not found on social media and does not have a website.

While Tom’s daughter, Keelie, was alive, she would try and convince her parents to move to Florida. In fact, in one of the early episodes, Tom and Nancy go and check out a retirement village in Florida, but at that stage decide that that lifestyle was not for them.

However, as the years went on, the threatening wolf packs were becoming more of a problem, and Nancy would worry about Tom checking the trap lines; inevitably his age was making it difficult to keep up the merciless lifestyle. Tom had also complained about how, since the show had gained popularity, their privacy was constantly being invaded by trespassing visitors who wanted to meet them and take photos.

When History Channel launched the eighth season and Tom did not feature, rumors flew that Tom had retired, but then he appeared in the second and some of the subsequent episodes, so it was obvious that he was choosing to take longer breaks from the series.

Tom Oar spends his life doing what he loves.SHARE if you dream of doing the same. #MountainMen

Posted by Mountain Men on Friday, September 20, 2013

He had admitted, “We can’t keep doing this forever” and that “Florida is a much better alternative”. He had also said that, even if they moved to Florida for the winters, he would not want to get rid of their home in Montana, and that they would visit there in summer. It would also appear that Tom values his fans, and would actually like to retain some of his celebrity status. He has made some public appearances such as in February 2019 when he did a meet-and-greet at the Western Virginia Sport Show in Fishersville, Virginia.

The latest information is that the ninth season will be launched in early June 2020, and the information is that Tom will be a part of it, so that he and Nancy haven’t opted to live a quiet life removed from the rigors of winter mountain life and reality TV, but are maybe a little bored with their (supposedly) quiet life.

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