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O. Ned Eddins
Early North America history centers around the European fur trade. North of present day Mexico, the vast territory which would become the United States and Canada was explored, wars were fought, and Indian cultures destroyed in the pursuit of the Mountain Man Indian Fur Trade. Canadian fur traders and Mountain Men in search of beaver were the major explorers of North America. In addition to the economic benefits of the fur trade, the Mountain Man Indian Fur Trade was a major factor in determining the present boundaries of the United States, especially the Pacific Northwest. Fur traders from the Mountain Man-Indian Fur Trade era not only discovered the Oregon Trail, they provided the guides for America's western expansion over the Oregon Trail.
For easier navigation, the
Mountain Man Indian Fur Trade article is divided into eight parts:
Native American Indians were the major source of beaver pelts and buffalo hides, for the Canadian, Great Lakes, and upper Missouri River fur trade from the late 17th to the early 19th century. During most of this period, Native Americans used nets, snares, deadfalls, clubs, etc. to obtain beaver pelts.
By the late seventeen hundreds, the Plains Indians were exchanging beaver pelts and horses to the Hudson’s Bay and North West fur traders for European goods. These trade fairs were held at the villages of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara on the Missouri River. The major items exchanged at these trade fairs were garden products (beans, squash, corn, etc.) raised at the Missouri River villages, horses, furs, and hides from the Plains Indians, and whiskey, guns, iron goods, trade beads, and a few beaver traps from the Northeast traders. By the mid-eighteen hundreds buffalo hides dominated the Indian fur trade. The demise of the large buffalo herds is often blamed on the white man, but Indians contributed a great deal to it as well.
Despite the European fur trade encompassing a wide variety of fur bearing animals, mountain men and the mountain man rendezvous are virtually synonymous with beaver. For well over two centuries in Britain and Western Europe the beaver hat defined style. From the early 1600s to the mid-1830s, if it was not a beaver, it was not a hat--but merely something that covered one's head (Neander97).
The glamour of the mountain man rendezvous and the search for beaver pelts by the mountain men of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Era has obscured the “bread and butter” of the fur trade. The staples of the fur trade were the muskrat, raccoon, fox, deer hides, and later buffalo robes. At a New York fur auction, John Jacob Astor sold upwards of half a million muskrat pelts in one day. Mountaineers, Indians, and the early settlers traded these furs and hides by the millions.
For many colonial settlers, the only source of "cash money” was furs and hides. An early frontiersmen, Daniel Boone was known as a long hunter. The principal goal of the Long Hunters was deerskin. Depending on its size and quality, a doe hide was worth fifty cents or more. The skin of a buck brought a dollar and up, hence the term "buck" as slang for currency. Small bands of hunters could bring back "several hundred, sometimes even a thousand, skins in a season. By the end of the War of 1812, the American tanning industry was a twelve million dollars business (Lavender).
Please Note: There have been several emails against the trapping of fur bearing animals. If the people who sent those emails read the articles, they would know this site is not about trapping. The Mountain Man Indian Fur Trade site is concerned with the history of the fur trade. Still, the trapping of fur bearing animals was key to the mountain man and played a significant role in America's western expansion.
The topography of Canada and the United States west of Lake Superior and north of the forty-second parallel was basically determined between 1793 and 1812. With the exception of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, fur traders from the American and Canadian fur trading companies did all of the early exploration. These fur traders were either accompanied by Native Americans or Native Americans told them about the major passes and routes through the Rocky Mountains.
In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie, a North West Company partner, explored the Mackenzie River from its source to the Arctic Ocean. Four years later, Mackenzie made the first successful crossing of North America. Accompanied by Alexander McKay, six French Canadians, two Indians, and a Newfoundland dog, Mackenzie left Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca in 1793. The fur traders followed the Peace River to the Parsnip River, and then up the Parsnip to the Continental Divide. After an eight hundred and forty-step portage to a lake, Mackenzie believed he had reached the headwaters of the Columbia River; actually it was the Frazier River. A couple of hundred miles downriver, cataracts and falls made the waterway impassable.
Carrier Indians told Mackenzie the river could not be traveled by canoe, and when two Carrier Indians offered to serve as guides, the expedition headed cross-country toward the Pacific Ocean. Reaching the Bella Colla River, the expedition followed it to the Pacific coastline. While waiting at Dean’s Inlet for a clear day to determine the longitude and latitude, Mackenzie used vermilion in melted grease to write on the rock.
After his return from the Pacific, Mackenzie suggested to Simon McTavish, head of the North West Company, if the Hudson’s Bay and North West joined forces they could control the fur trade of the Northwest Country above Spanish California. Rebuffed by McTavish, Mackenzie went to England to talk with leaders of the Hudson’s Bay Company. While in England, King George III knighted Alexander Mackenzie. Before returning to Canada, Sir Mackenzie wrote a book on his travels titled, Voyages from Montreal on the River St. Laurence. Mackenzie's book was eagerly read by President Jefferson and speeded up the timetable for the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery to the mouth of the Columbia River .
President Jefferson's instructed Lewis and Clark to make note of fur-bearing animals, the attitude of Indians to the fur trade, and to determine a practical water course across the continent. President Jefferson hoped this route would serve as a more practical route for the western fur trade than any the British could establish to the north.
When David Thompson arrived on the shores of Hudson Bay in 1784, the interior of North America was basically unknown. By the time David Thompson, a fur trader and a surveyor for Hudson’s Bay and then the North West Company, left the Northwest country in 1812, he had accurately plotted the main routes of travel and delineated the physical features of approximately 2.3 million square miles of Canada and the northern area of the American territories west of Lake Superior.
John Jacob Astor was behind the next group of men to cross the continent. Many historians and Internet writers infer John Jacob Astor and his Pacific Fur Company was a dismal failure. In a two- and a half-year period, the Pacific Fur Company lost sixty-one men, the Tonquin, and thousands of dollars on the sell of Fort Astoria to the North West Company in November of 1813. If this is all you consider, it was a dismal failure, but in terms of the United States northern boundary, it was a resounding success. Within in a two-year period, the Astorians established trading posts on the Columbia, Willamette, Okanogan, Spokane, and Snake rivers. These fur trading posts, especially Okanogan, were a major factor in the State of Washington being part of the United States. The Pacific Fur Company also had a profound affect on America’s western expansion and Manifest Destiny. Except for a detour in western Wyoming, the trail of Robert Stuart and six Astorians over South Pass to St. Louis was the basic route used by Americans to reach the Oregon Territory. The "dismal failure” of the Astorians provided the Oregon Trail leading to America’s Manifest Destiny for several hundred thousand Oregon and Mormon pioneers, and the California gold seekers.
From 1818 to 1821, Donald Mackenzie, a brigade leader for the Canadian North West Company and a former Astorian, led yearlong trapping expeditions from Fort Nez Perce at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers into the upper Snake River country.
Dr. Dale Morgan wrote:
Approaching from the west, Canadian trappers of the Snake River Brigade named three distinctive peaks the Trois Tetons (three breasts)...the Teton Range can be regarded as the geographical center of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade.
There is evidence at least some of North West brigade trappers may have entered the thermal areas of Yellowstone (Mattes).
The North West Company's Snake River Brigade led by Donald Mackenzie trapped the Green River Valley of Wyoming three years before Jedediah Smith and the Ashley trappers arrived there (Morgan). After the amalgamation of the North West and the Hudson’s Bay Companies, the headquarters for the Snake River Brigades was moved to Flathead House near Thompson Falls, Montana. During the period of 1822 to 1824, Michel Bourdon, Finian McDonald, and Alexander Ross led large brigades of Hudson's Bay trappers from Flathead House into the central Rockies. These Canadian fur trade brigades trapped as far south as the Bear River area of Idaho and Utah.
After the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company were forced to merge in 1821, the head of the Hudson’s Bay Company, George Simpson, instituted a "scorched earth policy”. Simpson reasoned if there were no beaver, there would be no reason for Americans to come to the Oregon Country. The Hudson's Bay fur trapping brigades succeeded in the "scorched earth policy" to the point beaver become nearly extinct on the Snake River drainage system. This “scorched earth policy” was not the customary policy of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Normally, the Company practiced strict conservation policies. Trapping brigades were prohibited from returning to a stream for a two- to three-year period after the area had been trapped. Modern studies have shown if disease or habitat destruction is not a factor, beaver can repopulate a depleted watershed within a three- to five-year period (Neander97).
Dissatisfied with the results of the Snake River brigades, George Simpson placed Peter Skene Ogden in charge of the fur trapping expeditions of 1825. Under Ogden and then John Work, the Snake River brigades departed from Fort Vancouver, Fort Nez Perce, or Flathead House early each fall with approximately one hundred men and three hundred horses. Many of the Iroquois and Delaware trappers in the brigades took their families with them.
The colonial fur trade, and later the mountain man fur trade, had a pronounced effect on Native American Indians. The federal government tried to protect the American Indians from land speculators, fur traders, and eventually the mountain men and the suppliers of the mountain man rendezvous through the Trade and Intercourse Acts. These acts are often referred to as the non-Intercourse acts. Beginning in 1790, Congress passed a series of laws to regulate the purchase of Indian lands and the Mountain Man-Indian Fur Trade. These laws were renewed every two years until 1802 when they were made permanent. The basic outline of the Federal Indian Policy were formed by these Trade and Intercourse Acts (Avalon Project).
This last provision of the Trade and Intercourse Acts instituted the Factory System of government trading houses. These posts were established to supply quality merchandise at a fair price in exchange for Indian furs. An unstated goal of the factory system was to make the Indians dependent upon the United States government. In other words make it easier for the government to acquire Indian lands.
President Jefferson proposed placing restriction on the Mountain Man-Indian liquor trade, and a law prohibiting the sale, or trade, of liquor to Native Americans was passed on March 30, 1802. The law of 1802 did not have the desired effect and a stronger law was passed in 1822. Neither of these laws prevented the fur traders from carrying whiskey for the use of boatmen going to the mountain man rendezvous. Finally in 1832, Congress bluntly declared: No ardent spirits shall be hereafter introduced, under any pretence, into the Indian country.
This was all well and good, but who was going to enforce any kind of laws on the fur traders and mountain men at the mountain man rendezvous. Supplying Indians with alcohol was not the only laws broken at the mountain man rendezvous. Mountain men were trespassing on Indian Territory, which was prohibited by the Trade and Intercourse Acts, and the first five mountain man rendezvous in the Rocky Mountains were held south of the forty-second parallel in Mexican territory.
Three great river systems...the Missouri, the Snake and the Colorado...drain the major fur trade area of the Rocky Mountains. The territories drained by these rivers had a direct bearing on the territorial expansion of the United States. The Missouri River and its tributaries established the upper Louisiana Territory as being below the forty-ninth parallel. Settlement of the Oregon Territory boundary in 1846, gave the United States the watershed of the lower Columbia and the Snake rivers. Besides California, a major portion of the 1847 cession from Mexico was in the valleys and tributaries of the Colorado River.
The largest tributary of the Colorado, Columbia, and Missouri rivers head within a sixty-eight mile radius of the Grand Teton peak on the western Wyoming border. Another circle with a radius of one hundred and ninety-one miles covers all of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous sites and the Three Forks area of Montana. With the Grand Teton at its center, this area covers the richest beaver country in the Rocky Mountains.
Manuel Lisa, field trader of Lisa, Menard, and Morrison Fur Company, established a fur trading post at the junction of the Bighorn and Yellowstone rivers in November of 1807. This was the first organized trading and trapping expedition to ascend the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains (Oglesby). Located on the left bank of the Bighorn River, Fort Raymond (Fort Ramon, Manuel’s Fort) was the first American trading post built in the Rocky Mountains.
Not long after arriving at the mouth of the Bighorn River, Manuel Lisa dispatched three men to visit the Crow Indian villages: John Colter to the Stinkingwater (Shoshone) and Wind river villages; George Drouillard to the Bighorn and Powder river villages; Edward Rose to the Tongue River villages. The fur trappers carried word of a trading post at the mouth of the Bighorn River for the Crow Indians spring fur and hide trade. During his travels, John Colter entered what would be Yellowstone National Park, but the mountain men did not refer to the Yellowstone area as Colter's Hell. The mountain man's Colter's Hell was a thermal mud pot area at the junction of the North and South Stinkingwater rivers near Cody, Wyoming...not Yellowstone National Park.
Lisa, Menard, and Morrison took on new partners and become the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company in 1809, and in 1812, the name was changed to the Missouri Fur Company. The Missouri Fur Company and John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, founded in 1808, confined their activities to the Missouri River watershed. The War of 1812 and the following economic depression put a damper on the fur trade for the next ten years.
Andrew Henry was a partner in the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company. Henry went upriver with Pierre Menard in 1810 to the Three Forks area of Montana. A few weeks after arriving there, Blackfeet warriors forced Menard to take most of the men back to Fort Raymond. Andrew Henry with sixty trappers remained at the Three Forks. Constant harassment by Blackfeet Indians forced Henry and his trappers to leave the area. In late July of 1810, Andrew Henry and his trappers went up the Madison River. Crow Indians stole the majority of Henry’s horses near Reynolds Pass on the Continental Divide. Without packhorses horses, Henry and his men reached the Snake River area with little more than what they could carry on their backs. Neither Andrew Henry, nor any of his men, left a description of the winter at Fort Henry, however, an article in the October 16, 1811, issue of the Missouri Gazette stated:
...The group [Henry’s party] wintered on what has since been called “Henry’s Fork” of the Snake River, a beautiful country, well stocked with beaver, but had the misfortunes to be involved in a most severe winter, with deep snow and bitter cold keeping game from the area, ultimately forcing the men to subsist a large part of the time on roots...
During a winter as described by the Missouri Gazette, veteran mountain men would camp in a protected area with beaver and game, not on the windblown plains of the upper Snake River Valley. The winter encampment of Henry's men is referred to as Fort Henry. Fort Henry is credited as being the first American post west of the Continental Divide. History places the fort near Elgin, Idaho, on the Henry's Fort of Snake River. There is evidence Henry and his men were on Conant Creek rather than Henry's Fork. Sixteen miles east of the currently proposed site of Fort Henry is three inscribed boulders.
Log and brush shelters, as well as, shallow caves along the bank of Conant Creek offered Henry and his men enough protection to survive a severe winter. A former owner of the Conant Creek site told the author, that when he was a boy, dugout caves were visible along the creek bank.
As soon as the mountain passes were crossable in the spring of 1811, Henry's disheartened, starving men split off in different directions. A deranged Archibald Pelton wandered in the mountains two years before Astorians found and took Pelton to Fort Astoria. Some of the Henry men headed for Spanish settlements thought to be a few weeks journey to the south. Three of Henry’s trappers, John Hoback, Jacob Rezner, and Edward Robinson went into Jackson Hole then over Togwotee Pass to the head of the Wind River. From the Wind River, the three trappers crossed the Owl Creek Mountains to the Bighorn River. The three trappers followed the Bighorn to the Yellowstone River and down it to the Missouri River.
Andrew Henry with a few men retrieved the beaver pelts from caches in the Three Forks area and then floated the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers to Fort Manuel near the Mandan villages. Andrew Henry returned to St. Louis in the fall of 1811. The return of Henry ended any attempt by the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company to establish trading posts on the upper Missouri River.
1822 was a pivotal year in the Rocky Mountain fur trade: John Jacob Astor established the western department of the American Fur Company in St. Louis; Congress discontinued the Factory System; William Henry Ashley advertised for young men to trap the Missouri River to its source.
This ad appeared in the Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser Feb. 13, 1822 and in the St. Louis Enquirer two weeks later.
TO: Enterprising Young Men
Some of the best-known names in the annals of the fur trade responded to General Ashley's advertisement i.e. Jedediah Smith, David Jackson, Hugh Glass, Daniel T. Potts, Jim Bridger, and the trio Mike Fink, Talbot, and Carpenter. Three men often credited with being among the original Ashley men are Thomas Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, and Etienne Provost. Thomas Fitzpatrick and William Sublette did not go West with Ashley until 1823, and Provost was never one of Ashley's men. When Ashley reached the mountains in 1825, he met Etienne Provost in southeastern Utah. Provost and his men were Taos, New Mexico trappers.
The Ashley-Henry Company sent two keelboats up the Missouri River in the spring of 1822. One of the boats under the command of Daniel Moore sank with ten thousand dollars worth of provisions on it. Ashley equipped another boat and reached Andrew Henry at the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers where Henry and his men had started to build Fort Henry. Ashley returned to St. Louis after more supplies for the next year.
The following year, 1823, the William Ashley Expedition was attacked by the Arikara (Rees) Indians near the North and South Dakota border. Ashley lost fifteen men before withdrawing to the mouth of the Cheyenne River. Jedediah Smith had come downriver with a request from Henry for more horses, and Ashley sent him back upriver to get Henry and his men. Several of the William Ashley men had had enough of the Indian fur trade, and on the way back to St. Louis, they carried word of the attack to Colonel Leavenworth at Ft. Atkinson.
Colonel Henry Leavenworth responded with six companies of soldiers. Besides the military, there was Joshua Pilcher and some of his men from of the Missouri Fur Company, and six hundred Sioux warriors. After several days of military indecisiveness, the Sioux left in disgust. While the fur traders stood helplessly by, Colonel Leavenworth negotiated a peace treaty with the Arikara. An angry Joshua Pilcher, head of the Missouri Fur Company, declared Leavenworth’s ineffectual action to teach the Indians a lesson would destroy commerce on the Missouri River for years to come. Joshua Pilcher wrote a letter to the War Department:
After the Arikara battle, William Ashley dispatched Jedediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, James Clyman, Thomas Eddie, Edward Rose, Stone, Branch, and two other men whose names have been lost to history overland to the Rocky Mountains. Andrew Henry returned upriver and sent another company of trappers under John H. Weber to the same area. In February of 1824, Jedediah Smith and his party crossed the Continental Divide through South Pass to reach the valley of the Sis-kee-dee (Prairie Hen River, Fat River)...the Green River Valley of Wyoming. The re-discovery of South Pass was soon widely heralded as an easy wagon route to the mouth of the Columbia, whereas the Astorians discovery in 1812 had been for the most part forgotten.
In the fall of 1824, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Stone, and Branch returned to Ft. Atkinson; the trappers had crossed South Pass and then down the North Platte River. On hearing the mountains were rich with beaver, William Ashley outfitted a supply train, and in November 1824, struck out for the mountains. Ashley followed the Platte River and then the South Platte River to the Front Range in Colorado. Indians told Ashley there was better feed for his pack animals along the South Platte than the North Platte River. Reaching the Front Range in Colorado, Ashley turned northwest and crossed the mountains into the Green River Valley.
William Ashley divided his men into four groups. Three of the parties were to trap, while he and several other men floated down the Green River. Ashley told the men he would make a cache of his good about one hundred miles downstream where a general rendezvous would be held on or about July 10.
Ashley’s new plan of operation differed from the trade conducted by the early fur traders on the Upper Missouri. Ashley did not depend on trading posts or Indian trappers. With his men trapping and the exchange of supplies for beaver pelts at a rendezvous, there was no need for trading posts.
The fact several Congressional Trade and Intercourse Acts starting in 1790 made it illegal to trespass on Indian lands, sell alcohol to Indians, or the fact the 1825 and 1826 rendezvous were on Mexican soil did not bother General William H. Ashley, the Lieutenant Governor and future Missouri Congressman, one bit...one constant in history is politician change little with time.
Ashley is credited with the innovation of the Rendezvous System, and in terms of the Rocky Mountains, this is true. However, Ashley was not the first to use a rendezvous for the exchange of pelts and to re-supply the trappers. The North West Company had held an annually rendezvous at Grand Portage and later at Fort William since 1783.
The Rocky Mountain fur trade is often referred to as the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Over the fur trade period there were several fur trade companies, but the only time one was actually named the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was between 1830 and 1833.
The Rocky Mountain fur traders centered their operations in the Green River Valley and from there to the headwaters of the Missouri, Colorado, Snake, Columbia, and the northeastern section of the Great Basin. The Canadian Fur traders in the northwest trapped the watershed of Columbia, its major tributary the Snake River, part of the Great Basin, and into the Green River Valley. The Taos fur traders trapped the Arkansas and Rio Grande valleys of Colorado and the Salt and Gila rivers of the Southwest. The areas trapped by the various fur companies overlapped and on occasion led to conflict between the fur trappers.
Spring and fall were the season for prime beaver pelts. Mountain men frequently traveled to the areas selected for the hunt in brigades of thirty to forty trappers. Once there, the trappers set out in parties of two to four to set their traps in the streams. If it was a party of four, there would usually be two trappers and two camp tenders.
The beaver traps were checked night and morning. Once the beaver was caught, it was skinned, dried on a hoop, and then folded in half with the fur to the inside. Sixty pelts were pressed into a bundle weighing about ninety pounds for hauling back to St. Louis. On average, a dried beaver plew weighed one and a half pounds. Sixty beaver pelts, pressed and tied together, weighed ninety pounds--the standard beaver pack.
Osborne Russell in his book, Journal of a Trapper, gave a description of the typical mountain man.
Joe Meek gave this account of the mountain man's winter quarters.
Meek's description is a little over done. Hunting elk in weather like pictured above is not "joyous". On several occasions, mountain man winter camps were moved because of extreme cold and lack of game in the area.
The price of trade goods were normally marked up at the rendezvous several hundred percent. In 1826, a prime beaver plew in the mountains had an approximate value of $3.00, by 1833 the value was $3.50, and by 1840, the value was $2.00 (Wishart). These values demonstrate why the trade good suppliers to the rendezvous made the money in the fur trade, not the trappers.
The origin and destination of furs is shown on the fur trade map below. This map has been altered from the original by Mike White...some of the names were removed and others were enlarged.
During the early Indian fur trade period, the major articles traded to Indians for various furs and horses were: guns and ammunition, trade blankets, vermillion, silver, mirrors, knives, axes, beads, ribbons. thimbles, awls, cloth, copper kettles, sugar, and various pieces of horse tack. With the advent of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, the various trade articles brought to the rendezvous supplied both the Mountain Man and the Indians.
The 1826 agreement between William Ashley and the new firm of Smith Jackson and Sublette stipulated...Ashley or his agent would deliver to Smith Jackson and Sublette or to their agent at or near the west end of the little Lake of Bear River...the following items:
North West Fuzils [trade gun] -
twenty-four dollars each
The Hudson's Bay Company used the "made beaver" as the unit of currency during the fur trade period. A made beaver was a prime beaver skin, flesh removed, stretched, and dried. The value of all trade goods was based on made beaver plews or pelts. The value of other furs, i.e. otter, fox, rabbit, martin, were valued in terms of made beaver. Eventually, the Hudson's Bay and the North West companies issued tokens. The token value was based on the value of the made beaver.
Hudson's Bay Company's bead value
for a made beaver:
Thirty beaver pelts = 1 keg of rum [diluted]
One Ordinary Riding Horse
Fine race horse = 10 guns
One Buffalo Robe
Ten ermine pelts = 100 elk teeth...during the summer the ermine's color is brown with a yellow belly and is called a weasel.
Hudson's Bay Point Blanket:
The Hudson's Bay blanket was first introduced into the fur trade in 1780. The Witney weavers of Oxfordshire, England were the principal suppliers of Hudson's Bay Blankets. The wool has always been a blend of varieties from England, Wales, New Zealand and India. The wool is selected for qualities to make the blanket water resistant, soft, warm and strong. Hudson's bay blankets came in a variety of colors and patterns.
A point system is used to grade each blanket as to weight and size. The number of points were identified by five inch lines woven into the side of each blanket. The number of points represented the overall finished size of the blanket, not its value in terms of beaver pelts. Points ranged from one to six depending upon the size and weight of the blanket. The standard measurements for one point blanket was: eight feet. in length, two feet and eight inches wide, and weighed three pounds and one ounce.
Richard J. Fehrman did a statistical evaluation of the 292 biographical sketches from mountain man journals and letters. The sketches appeared in the ten volume Mountain Man Series edited by LeRoy Hafen and published by the Arthur H. Clark Company.
Of the 249 known birthplaces, four areas accounted for 53% of the trappers: Canada 38, Missouri 34, Kentucky 31, and Virginia 29. Thirty-one percent (78) were foreign born of these close to half were Canadians with the remaining coming from Europe or the British Isles. The average year of birth was 1805.
41% or 118 were free agents, or as many as with the first six leading companies combined. The term "free agents" signified although he might be carried on a company roll, he could' trap where he chose, either in a regular expedition or alone, but usually sold his furs to the company.
As to the marital status of the Mountain Men, there were 268 men whose status is known. Those who were married totaled 226, or 84% combined for a total of 304 known marriages. A further breakdown indicates 140 or 62% married whites only; 63 or 28% married Indians only; and 23 or 10% married both whites and Indians. As near as can be determined about 34% of the white women taken as wives were of Mexican extraction. The majority of the children born to Mountain Men were born in wedlock. Of the 226 married trappers, 169 or 75% fathered 880 children, or an average of nearly four children per married subject.
The great majority - 134 or 58% of the known cases of these Mountain Men - died of old age or associated physical illnesses. Only 25, or 11%, of the subjects were murdered by Indians, while another 7% were killed by others than Indians. (If the study included all men who went to the mountains, the percentage killed by Indians would be greater. Regarding many of those who were killed, so little is known no biographical sketches could be written - Dr. Hafen) Disease and illness accounted for the death of 38 or 16%, while eight or 3.5% were accidental deaths. The remaining 4.5% were due to suicide, alcoholism, and miscellaneous causes. Loss of life from the grizzly bear was minimal. Non-violent deaths accounted for about 77% of the cases.
Composite picture of the average Mountain Man:
He was born in Canada in 1805, and was educated enough to be able to read and write. He left for the mountains in 1828 from St. Louis, and arrived at some point in the Rocky Mountains in 1830.
He traveled around the west, usually with his family, using horse or mule, or sometimes a bullboat. His wife cared for their three children as well as helping with many aspects of the trapping and fur preparation procedures.
When our man left the mountains in 1845, he turned to a career of farming or ranching. After leading a full life for 64 years, he passed away in 1869 as the result of old age or an associated illness. He was then laid to rest in the parts of the West where he had spent much of his life - Missouri and California.
The beaver fur trade did not end with the collapse of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, fourteen years later, Hudson's Bay auctioned off five hundred thousand beaver pelts in London. Hudson’s Bay Company records show that from 1853 to 1877 the company sold some three million beaver pelts.
With the end of the Mountain Man-Indian Fur Trade in the Rocky Mountains, the emphasis shifted to the Indian buffalo robe trade. In 1840 the American Fur Company sent sixty-seven thousand buffalo robes to St. Louis, and in 1848, one hundred and ten thousand robes and other skins along with twenty-five thousand buffalo tongues and great quantities of tallow (Chittenden).
This article was written by O. Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming. Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.
Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Mountainsofstone.com. Afton, Wyoming. 2002.