Update October 2022. Unfortunately, ‘How the Wild was Won’ isn’t currently on BBC iPlayer, although that could change at any time.
There’s a great documentary series that’s just re-appeared on the BBC iPlayer archive and I think Amazon Prime too. It’s called How the Wild West Was Won and is presented by one of my favourite presenters – the survival specialist Ray Mears. Not sure what it is about him, but he has a relaxed and genuine manner of presenting his shows which makes them very accessible to all. What’s more his specialist area of survivals skills is especially suited to these extreme tales of battling against the odds in the North American outdoors. He’s been on some of the UK’s commercial channels recently including ITV, however he’s made this series for the BBC.
Here’s the trailer, which should give you an idea about the show –
The first episode (which is just under an hour) is about the early pioneers’ wagon trails which took them through three huge mountain ranges – Appalachians, Rockies and Sierra Nevada. At each point he illustrates his tales by meeting an individual with specialist knowledge of these events.
We learnt about fur trappers and some of the most tragic tales particularly from the awful winter of 1846. Including a rather awful tale of suspected cannibalism from a large party trapped by the huge snowfall. This tale illustrates the huge dangers that were faced by the earliest colonist and prospectors.
The next two episodes cover the Great Plains and Deserts of North America. In the Great Plains episode Ray will meet with natives from the Blackfeet Indian Nation and learn about buffalo and their importance to the native Americans.
There’s only three episodes, but they’re all nearly an hour long and of course has no adverts on the BBC. You can stream them directly from the BBC iPlayer site or download and watch them later. They’re all free but of course you will need to use a VPN like this if you’re located outside the United Kingdom. However, they’re also currently on Amazon Prime in the UK so it’s worth checking there as well if you’ve got a subscription. The programmes should be available for twelve months on BBC iPlayer if they follow their standard broadcasting guidelines. You should check directly on the site though as these sometime fluctuate due to external licensing issues.
It’s definitely worth watching though, Ray Mears is a great host on these sorts of shows. He has a genuine interest in the subjects and people he meets, plus of course his own background matches many of the skills needed by the earliest settlers of North America. Most of all though the star is without doubt the stunning scenery and magnificent backdrop to all these tales. They take the time to stop and view the grandiose beauty of North America without trying to cram too much into each episode. It’s a delight to watch and well worth catching on whatever channel you have access too.