|CHAPTER VII THE FUR TRADERS|
|Beginning of the Fur Trade—The French the Pioneers—Free Traders and Trappers—Influence of the Trader and Trapper on the Developement of the West—The Hudson Bay Company—The North-West Company—The American Fur Company—The Pacific Fur Company—Manuel Lisa—The Missouri Fur Company—Hunt's Expedition—Return of the Astorians—Rocky Mountain Fur Company—Smith, Jackson & Sublette—Sketches of Noted Trappers—Columbia Fur Company—The Mackinaw Company—Trading Posts in Wyoming ... 93|
| When the continent of North America was first discovered by Europeans, that portion of it lying above the thirty-sixth parallel of north latitude was the richest and inost extensive field in the world for collecting fine furs. The Indians used the skins of some of the fur-bearing animals for clothing, or in the construction of their wigwams, unaware of the fact that such skins were of almost fabulous value in the European capitals. When the white man came he brought new wasnts to the savage—wants that could be more easily satisfied by exchanging furs for the white man's goods than in any other way. The fur trade therefore became an inportant factor in the conquest and settlement of Canada and the great Northwest. Lahontan, a French writer, in his "New Voyages," published in 1703, says; "Canada subsists only upon the trade in skins, three-fourths of which come from the people around the Great Lakes.|
The French were the pioneers in the fur trade. Long before the above was written by Lahontan, they were trading with the Indians in the Valley of the St. Lawrence River, with Montreal as the principal market for their peltries. From the St. Lawrence country they gradually worked their way westward, forming treaties of friendship with the new Indian tribes they met, crossed the low portages to the Mississippi Valley and from there by way of the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. The first white men in Wyoming were the fur traders and trappers. In the development of the traffic three plans were pursued. First, and most popular, was the plan of trading with the Indians, giving goods for furs; second, by organizing companies which sent hunters and trappers into the districts where fur-bearing animals were plentiful; and, third, by free hunters and trappers who worked on their own account and sold their furs in the most profitable market. The first plan was the most profitable, because the Indians knew little or nothing of the actual value of their furs, or the goods which they received in exchange, and unscrupulous traders were not slow to take advantage of their ignorance. The plan adopted by the fur companies was more in the nature of a permanent business, but yielded less profits in proportion to the amount of capital invested.
The language of the free traders and trappers was a strange medley of English, French, Spanish and Indian dialect. Their costume was fashioned after that of the Indian—buckskin hunting shirt and leggings—as being better adapted to the rough ways of the wilderness and therefore more serviceable than clothing brought from the "States." The trapper's outfit consisted of a number of traps, a short-handled ax, a hunting knife, a horse and saddle, a few simple cooking utensils, a small stock of provisions often only a sack of flour and a little salt) and the inevitable rifle. If he followed the streams, a canoe took the place of the horse. His dwelling was a rude hut on the bank of some creek or river, but he often slept at night in the open, with a bufifalo robe for a bed, a pack of peltries for a pillow, and the canopy of heaven as his only shelter.
The free trader was a similar character, except in the nature of his outfit, which consisted of a small stock of trinkets, bright colored cloth, etc., which he exchanged with the Indians for their furs. They went where they pleased, were generally well received by the Indians, and traded with all whom they met until their stock of goods was exhausted. Sometimes the free trapper and trader carried their furs to St. Louis, which city was for many years the center of the fur trade, or they were sold to the agent of one of the great fur companies at some trading post. In the latter case they realized less profit, but they saved the time and labor of going all the way to St. Louis.
Scarcely had the United States come into the possession of Louisiana, when a desire arose on the part of many of the citizens to know more of the new acquisition. Hardy, adventurous spirits began to penetrate the remote interior, impatient to learn more of its resources and possibilities. The greatest attraction, and for many years the only one. it offered in a commercial way was its wealth in furs. Hence the roving trapper and trader were the first to venture into the great, unexplored West, where the foot of the white man had never before pressed the soil, bringing back with him the products of his traps or the profits of his traffic with the natives. In fact, these trappers and traders were operating in Louisiana while it was still a Spanish possession. As early as 1795 a Scotchman named McKay had a trading post known as Fort Charles on the west bank of the Missouri River, a few miles above the present city of Omaha, Nebraska. In 1804 Lewis and Clark met trappers returning from the Kansas Valley with a raft loaded with furs, and on their return in September, 1806, they met several small parties wending their way into the heart of the wilderness the explorers had just left. Says Chittenden :
"It was the trader and trapper who first explored and established the routes of travel which are now, and always will be, the avenues of commerce. They were the 'pathfinders' of the West and not those later official explorers whom posterity so recognizes. No feature of western geography was ever 'discovered' by Government explorers after 1840. Everything was already known and had been known for a decade. It is true that many features, like the Yellowstone wonderland, with which these restless rovers were familiar, were afterward forgotten and were rediscovered in later years; but there has never been a time until very recently when the geography of the West was so thoroughly understood as it was by the trader and trapper from 1830 to 1840."
Brigham Young's selection of the Salt Lake Valley as a home for the Mormons was largely due to the information he received from trappers and traders who had visited that region. Emigration to the Pacific coast passed over trails that were first traversed by the trappers and traders. They acted as guides to Government expeditions, and the influence of the Santa Fe Trail and trade made an easy conquest of the Southwest at the time of the Mexican war. True, they carried corrupting vices and certain infectious diseases to the Indian, but they also carried to him his first lessons in the life he was to lead in his contact with the white man. Many of the trappers married Indian women, learned the Indian language, lived according to Indian customs, and treated the red man as a brother except when business rivalry compelled them to adopt a different course. Says A. F. Chamberlain, of Clark University: "The method of the great fur companies, which had no dreams of empire over a solid white population, rather favored amalgamation with the Indians as the best means of exploiting the country in a material way. Manitoba. Minnesota and Wisconsin owe much of their early development to the trader and the mixed-blood."
What is true of Manitoba, Minnesota and Wisconsin is also true to a greater or less degree of every northwestern state. The fur trade as carried on by the French was conducted by individuals or firms, some of whom were operating in the country about the Great Lakes as early as the middle of the Seventeenth Century. The English were not far behind the French, and they were the first to organize and equip one of the great fur companies mentioned by Professor Chamberlain.
|THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY|
|On May 2, 1670, this company was granted a charter by the English authorities and it was the first of the great trading associations. It was given absolute proprietorship over a region of indefinite extent, with greater privileges than any English corporation had ever received up to that time. Its agents or factors were mostly English and Scotch, though a few Frenchmen entered its employ. As the name of the company indicates, its principal field of operation was in the country about Hudson's Bay, though it gradually extended its trade farther to the westward and for many years it was the leading power in the trade with the Indians. This great monopoly was opposed by the French traders and the Canadian authorities, who claimed much of the territory included in the company's charter. There is no positive proof that the agents of the Hudson's Bay Company ever traded in what is now the State of Wyoming, though some writers state that its trappers were at one time operating in the valley about the Great Salt Lake.|
|THE NORTH-WEST COMPANY|
|The Treaty of Paris in 1763, which ended the French and Indian war, left the English in undisputed possession of North America, except that portion west of the Mississippi River and extending to the Pacific coast. During that war the French fur trade suffered greatly and at the close of the war the greater portion of the trade in the country about Lake Superior and farther to the west was controlled by some Scotch merchants of Montreal. These merchants took steps to revive the trade and by 1780 it had reached a considerable volume. In their competition with the Hudson's Bay Company they had learned the advantages of cooperation, which induced them to organize the North-West Company in the winter of 1783-84. Alexander McKenzie, one of the leading members of the company, made extensive explorations west of the Mississippi and in 1793 reached the Columbia Valley on the Pacific slope.|
In 1801 this McKenzie, Simon McTavish and a few others seceded from the company and organized the new North-West Company (widely known as the "XY Company"), which in a short time became a formidable rival of the Hudson's Bay Company. This rivalry was made still more formidable in 1804, when McTavish died and a coalition was formed between the old and new North-West companies. In October, 1814, the company bought the trading posts of the American Fur Company at Astoria. About this time the relations between the North-West and Hudson's Bay companies grew more strained than ever before, owing to the fact that in 1811 the former had granted to the Earl of Selkirk a large tract of land in the Red River Valley, between the United States boundary and Lake Winnipeg, one of the most profitable trapping fields of the North-West Company. In 1816 actual war broke out between the trappers and the Selkirk colonists, in which lives were lost on both sides, though the latter were the greatest sufferers. Three years of litigation then followed, in which over half a million dollars were expended, and in 1819 the question of the rights of the two companies came before the British Parliament. While it was pending the matter was settled by the consolidation of the two companies, a remedy that had been proposed by Alexander McKenzie twenty years before.
|THE AMERICAN FUR COMPANY|
|On April 6, 1808, John Jacob Astor was granted a charter by the State of Now York under the name of the American Fur Company, with liberal powers to engage in the fur trade with the Indians. Astor began business as a fur dealer in Montreal in 1784. After the purchase of Louisiana by the United States, he was quick to see the advantages offered for engagin'g in the fur trade in the new purchase and removed to New York. The charter has been called a "pleasing fiction," as Mr. Astor was in reality the company, the charter merely giving him the power to conduct his business along lines similar to those of the other great fur companies. It was not long, however, until the American Fur Company controlled by far the larger part of the fur trade of the Upper Missouri Valley and the Northwest. When a free trader could not be driven from the country by open competition, Mr. Astor would buy him out and then give him a lucrative position as agent or factor. By this method he associated with him such experienced traders as Ramsay Crooks, Robert McLellan, Duncan McDougall, Alexander McKay, Pierre Chouteau, Jr., Kenneth McKenzie, William Laidlaw, Alexander Culbertson, David Mitchell, John P. Cabanne, Daniel Lamont, Lucien Fontenelle, Andrew Drips. Joseph Robidoux, Thomas L. and Peter A. Sarpy, and a number of others, all of whom were well known to the Indians in the region where the company operated.|
For the Northwest trade Mr. Astor adopted the name of the Pacific Fur Company, which Chittenden says was "in reality only the American Fur Company with a specific name applied to a specific locality." Articles of agreement for this company were entered into on June 23, 1810, though active work was not commenced until the following spring. Besides Mr. Astor, the active members of the Pacific Fur Company were: Wilson P. Hunt, Donald McKenzie, Joseph Miller, David and Robert Stuart, and John Clarke, all experienced in the fur trade. Ramsay Crooks and Robert McLellan had been free traders before becoming associated with the Astor interests, having established a post on the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Platte, as early as 1807.
Next to Mr. Astor himself, Ramsay Crooks was the strongest man in the American Fur Company. He was born in Greenock, Scotland. January 2, 1787, and came to America when about sixteen years of age. For several years he was employed by Montreal fur traders. Next he was a clerk in the trading house of Robert Dickson at Mackinaw, and from there he went to St. Louis, where he met Robert McLellan and in 1807 formed the partnership with him, which lasted until both joined the American Fur Company. When the company established its western department, with headquarters at St. Louis, in 1822. Mr. Crooks was the virtual head of that department for twelve years. In 1834 he purchased the northern department and became president. He continued in the fur trade until the profits grew so small that there was no inducement to remain in it longer.
|In order that the reader may better understand the history of the American Fur Company, it is necessary to go back a few years and note the conditions of the fur trade about St. Louis and along the Missouri River. One of the first to engage in the trade in this section, after Louisiana became the property of the United States, was Manuel Lisa, who was born in Cuba in September, 1772, but came with his Spanish parents to New Orleans in his childhood. About 1790 he went up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, where he entered the employ of some fur traders, learning the business in all its details. Ten years later he obtained from the Spanish authorities of Louisiana the exclusive right to trade with the Osage Indians living along the Osage River. For some twenty years this trade had been controlled by the Chouteaus. but Lisa understood the Indian character and quickly won the Osage to his side. In i8c2 he organized a company to trade in competition with the Chouteaus in other sections of the country, but the members could not agree and it was soon disbanded. Lisa then formed the firm of Lisa, Menard & Morrison, composed of himself, Pierre Menard and William Morrison, for the purpose of trading with the Indians on the Upper Missouri River. In 1807 he ascended the Missouri to the mouth of the Big Horn River, where he established a trading post. The next year he returned to St. Louis and was the moving spirit in the formation of the Missouri Fur Company. He continued in the fur trade until a short time before his death on August 12, 1820.|
|THE MISSOURI FUR COMPANY|
|In the spring of 1808 Manuel Lisa and the other fur traders of St. Louis saw that if they were to compete successfully with the British traders of the Hudson's Bay Company, the French and Scotch representatives of the North-West Company, and the newly organized America Fur Company, some system of cooperation was necessary. The result was the formation of the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company in August, 1808, though the "St. Louis" part of the name was dropped soon after the company commenced business. The original members of the company were Manuel Lisa, Benjamin Wilkinson, Pierre and Auguste Chouteau, Reuben Lewis, William Clark and Sylvester Labadie, of St. Louis; Pierre Menard and William Morrison, of Kaskaskia; Andrew Henry, of Louisiana, Mo.; and Dennis Fitz Hugh, of Louisville, Ky.|
The original capital stock of the company was only $17,000, a sum entirely insufficient for successful competition with the larger companies, a fact that the projectors were to learn at some cost a few years later. The company succeeded to the business of Lisa, Menard & Morrison and began trading with the Indians of the Upper Missouri country, with Lisa's post at the mouth of the Big Horn as the center of operations. It did not take Lisa long to ascertain that the trade in this section was not likely to be as profitable as had been anticipated and at his suggestion the company withdrew the posts on the upper river and concentrated the trade at Fort Lisa. This post was established in 1811. It was located a few miles above the present City of Omaha and commanded the trade of the Omaha, Otoe, Pawnee and other Indian tribes. From the time of its establishment until about 1823 it was the most important trading post on the Missouri River.
On January 24, 1812, the company was reorganized and the capital stock was increased to $40,000. A few weeks later another increase was made in the capital stock to $50,000. At that time Mr. Astor tried to purchase an interest, but was denied the privilege. Another reorganization was effected in 1819, with Manuel Lisa as president and the following stockholders: Joshua Pilcher, Andrew Drips, Robert Jones, John B. Zenoni, Andrew Woods, Joseph Perkins and Moses Carson. With the exception of Lisa not one of the original founders remained in the company, and Lisa, Pilcher and Drips were the only ones who had any experience in the Indian trade. When Lisa died in 1820, Pilcher became the head of the company, which continued in business until 1830, when it was disbanded.
| Immediately after the organization of the Pacific Fur Company in June, 1810, Mr. Astor planned two expeditions to the Pacific coast. One of these, under the leadership of David and Robert Stuart, Alexander McKay and Donald Mc-Kenzie, was to go on the ship Tonquin around Cape Horn with men and materials for establishing a settlement at the mouth of the Columbia River. As this expedition has nothing to do with the history of Wyoming, it is not deemed necessary to follow its movements.|
The other expedition, under Wilson Price Hunt, was to go by land up the Missouri River, following the route of Lewis and Clark over the Rocky Mountains until it reached the sources of the Columbia River. One of the principal objects of this expedition was to select sites for trading posts. Hunt reached St. Louis on September 3, 1810, and began his preparations. Later in the autumn he left that city with three boats, but upon reaching the mouth of the Nodaway River, near the northwest corner of the State of Missouri, the season being far advanced, he decided to go into winter quarters. Here another boat was added during the winter and early in the spring of 1811 the expedition, consisting of sixty men, started up the Missouri.
In the meantime the Missouri Fur Company was watching Hunt's movements and nineteen days after he broke camp at the mouth of the Nodaway, Manuel Lisa set out from St. Charles, ostensibly to find Andrew Henry and bring back the winter's collection of furs, but really to keep an eye on Hunt and see that he established no trading posts in the territory claimed by the Missouri Fur Company. Lisa had a long keel boat—one of the best on the Missouri River—twenty-six picked men, well armed, and a swivel gun in the bow of his boat. He gained steadily on Hunt and upon reaching Council Blufi:'s was near enough to send a messenger to the latter asking him to wait, as it would be safer for the two expeditions to pass through the Indian country together. Hunt sent back word that he would wait, but instead of doing so pushed forward with all possible speed. Lisa also redoubled his efforts and overtook Hunt on June 2, 1811, a short distance above the mouth of the Niobrara River. In this race Lisa broke all previous records for keel boat navigation on the Missouri River, having averaged over eighteen miles a day for sixty days. After overtaking Hunt, the two traveled together through the Sioux country, arriving at the Arikara villages, not far from the present City of Pierre, S. D., on the 12th of June, where they parted company.
Hunt's original plan was to ascend the Yellowstone River, but upon leaving the Arikara villages on June 18, 1811, he altered his course to avoid the Blackfeet Indians and traveled in a southwesterly direction. About the first of August he struck the Little Powder River and crossed the northern boundary of the present State of Wyoming. From this point it is difficult to trace his course, but from the best authorities available it is believed he moved westward through what are now Campbell and Johnson counties and arrived at the Big Horn Mountains almost due west of the City of Buffalo. Here he turned southward, seeking a pass through the mountains, until he reached the middle fork of the Powder River. Ascending this stream to its source, he found a way through the range and struck the headwaters of the No Wood Creek. Following this creek to its junction with the Big Horn River, he ascended the latter until he came to the Wind River, near the present Village of Riverton in Fremont County.
Considerable speculation has been indulged in regarding the movements of the expedition. It is reasonable to believe, however, that Hunt knew the general direction he wanted to pursue to reach the sources of the Columbia River, and, finding the Wind River coming from the northwest, decided to ascend that stream. There are abundant evidences that the party encamped for a short time near the present Village of Dubois, in the northwestern part of Fremont County. Then passing through the Wind River Range he struck the upper reaches of the Green River, where he halted for several days to take advantage of the excellent pasturage for his horses and procure a supply of dried buffalo meat. Crossing over to the Snake River he followed down that stream for some distance, then turned northward and finally reached the post known as Fort Henry, which had been established by Andrew Henry, on Henry's Fork of the Snake River the year before. At this point Hunt made the mistake of abandoning his horses and undertaking the remainder of his journey in canoes. After struggling with the difficulties of mountain river navigation, dodging rocks and shooting rapids, for a distance of 340 miles, the canoes were discarded and the journey was continued on f oot. On the last day of January, 1812, the party arrived at the Falls of the Columbia and on the 15th of February reached Astoria, having spent six months in a wilderness never before explored by white men.
|RETURN OF THE ASTORIANS|
|On June 29, 1812, a party of about sixty men left Astoria for the purpose of establishing trading posts in the Indian country. On the 28th of July Robert Stuart, Ramsay Crooks, Robert McLellan, Benjamin Jones, Andri Vallar and Francis Le Clerc separated from the main party in the Walla Walla Valley and set out for St. Louis, from which place they intended to go to New York. They followed in the main the course of Hunt's expedition. While passing up the Snake River they met John Hoback, Joseph Miller, Jacob Rezner and a man named Robinson, who had been dropped from Hunt's party the year before and had been engaged in trapping along the Beaver River. These four men reported that they had taken a large quantity of furs, but that they had been robbed only a short time before by a party of Arapaho Indians, losing not only the furs they had accumulated, but also their stock of provisions. They were provided with food and a new outfit and remained in the wilderness, where they passed the remainder of their lives. Whether they were killed by Indians or died natural deaths is not known, but they were never again seen by white men.|
On the first of October, Stuart and his party arrived at the Grand Tetons, which they called the "Pilot Knobs," this name having been given to them by Hunt the preceding year. Here Robert McLellan left the others and went on alone. On October nth the party came upon his trail and the next day found him on a tributary of the Green River, sick, exhausted and without food. About this time Ramsay Crooks also fell ill. The condition of McLellan and Crooks necessitated a delay of several days, during which time the supply of provisions ran out. Le Clerc suggested that they cast lots to see which one should be killed to provide food for the others, but Robert Stuart threatened "to blow his brains out" if he persisted in advocating such a course. Not long after this one of the men killed a buffalo and the starving men had a feast. A few days later they came upon a camp of friendly Snake Indians, who furnished them with a supply of provisions sufficient for five days, and also sold them an old horse to carry their food and camp outfit.
From the Snake Indians Stuart learned something of the direction he was to pursue and on the 26th the party reached the Sweetwater River. Here Ben Jones was fortunate enough to trap a beaver and kill two buffalo bulls, which provided an addition to their food supplv. Passing on down the Sweetwater, three more buffaloes were killed, and on the 30th they came to the North Platte River, but as the stream at this point flows in a northeasterly direction they failed to recognize it. They thought it was the Cheyenne, the Niobrara, or some other stream, and after following it for a day or two decided they had lost their way. This uncertainty as to their whereabouts, and the fact that winter was approaching, decided them to go into winter quarters. On November 2, 1812, they began the construction of a cabin "upon a fine bend of the river with a beautiful wooded bottom, which afforded protection against storms, with abundant promise of game."
This cabin, which stood opposite the mouth of Poison Spider Creek, about twelve miles above the City of Casper, is believed to have been the first house built by white men in the present State of Wyoming. As soon as it was finished the men turned their attention to providing a supply of meat to last them through the winter, and within a few days over thirty buffaloes were killed. About a month later a party of Arapaho Indians on a war expedition against the Crow tribe visited the cabin. They made no hostile demonstrations, but lingered in the neighborhood for two days, during which time they managed to get the greater portion of the buffalo meat. As soon as they were gone, Ramsay and Crooks advised moving on to some place farther away from the Arapaho country. The advice was accepted and on December 13th the party left the cabin and proceeded on down the Platte.
Two weeks later, after having traveled a distance they estimated at over three hundred miles, they encountered a severe snow storm which made walking laborious. They were now out of the timber and knew they were on the Platte River, but the season was too far advanced for them to reach St. Louis. They therefore retraced their steps for about seventy-five miles and established a second winter camp. This camp was not far from the present Town of Haig, Neb. While located here they occuppied their time in hunting and making canoes, intending to continue their journey by water as soon as the ice was out of the river.
On March 8, 1813, they launched their canoes, but had not gone many miles until they found the sandbars in the Platte River too numerous for safe and easy navigation and the canoes were abandoned. When they reached Grand Island they were entertained for a few days at an Otoe Indian village, where they met two traders–Dornin and Roi–from St. Louis, from whom they learned that the United States was at war with England. Dornin provided the Astorians with a large boat made of elk skin stretched on a pole frame, with which they were able to navigate the Platte, and without further mishap or adventure they arrived at St. Louis on the last day of April, 1813.
|ROCKY MOUNTAIN FUR COMPANY|
| The Rocky Mountain Fur Company began with the following advertisement, which appeared in the Missouri Republican of St. Louis on March 20, 1822:|
"To Enterprising Young Men:—The subscriber wishes to engage one hundred young men to ascend the Missouri River to its source, there to be employed for one, two or three years. For particulars enquire of Major Andrew Henry, near the lead mines in the County of Washington, who will ascend with and command the party, or of the subscriber, near St. Louis.
"William H. Ashley."
William Henry Ashley, the founder of the company, was born in Powhatan County, Virginia, in 1778. He came to St. Louis in 1802, but his early career in that city is not well known, further than that he was engaged for some time in the real estate business and about the time of the War of 1812 was a manufacturer of gunpowder. He was next interested in mining operations, where he formed the acquaintance of Andrew Henry, with whom he afterward was associated in the fur trade. Mr. Ashley was active in the organization and development of the Missouri militia. In 1813 he was commissioned a captain; was promoted to colonel in 1819, and in 1822 was made major-general. He was the first lieutenant-governor of Missouri, when the state was admitted into the Union in 1820, and in 1824 was defeated for governor. In 1831 he was elected to Congress to fill the unexpired term of Spencer Pettis, who was killed in a duel on August 27, 1831, with Thomas Biddle, and was afterward twice reelected. General Ashley died at St. Louis on March 26, 1838.
Andrew Henry, the other active organizer of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, was a native of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and was about three years older than General Ashley. He went west before the United States purchased the Province of Louisiana and in 1808 he was one of the organizers of the Missouri Fur Company. Two years later he was engaged in a fight with the Black feet Indians at the Three Forks of the Missouri. He then crossed the divide and built Fort Henry on the stream that is still known as the Henry Fork of the Snake River. It is quite probable that his account of his adventures as a fur trader influenced General Ashley to engage in the trade. Major Henry died on January 10, 1832.
Ashley and Henry both received license on April 11, 1822, to trade on the Upper Missouri. By that time the one hundred young men advertised for some three weeks before had been engaged, and on the 15th the "Rocky Mountain Fur Company,"' which was the name adopted by Ashley, sent its first expedition up the Missouri River. It was accompanied by General Ashley as far as the mouth of the Yellowstone, where a trading post was established. The next year he accompanied another expedition up the river to the Arikara villages, and that summer a post was established at the mouth of the Big Horn.
In 1824 Ashley led a company to the Green River Valley and the next spring he made the first attempt ever made by a white man to navigate that stream. From the beginning the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was prosperous and in five years its founders accumulated a fortune. By 1824 the "Ashley Beaver" became widely known among fur dealers as the finest skins in the market. During the summer of 1825 Ashley explored a large part of the states of Colorado and Utah and established a trading post on Utah Lake. By that time the company had almost abandoned the Upper Missouri trade and was operating chiefly in what are now the states of Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.
|SMITH, JACKSON & SUBLETTE|
| On July 18, 1826, Ashley and Henry sold out to Jedediah S. Smith, David E. Jackson and William L. Sublette, who had been associated with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company from the beginning, and who continued the business under the old name. Although Jedediah S. Smith was really the promoter of the new firm, William L. Sublette soon became the controlling spirit. He was one of four brothers–Andrew, Solomon P., Milton G. and William L.–of Kentucky stock and all engaged in the fur trade. Andrew, William L. and Milton G. answered Ashley's advertisement in the spring of 1822 and became associated with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company from the time of its organization Andrew was killed by the Black feet Indians in 1828, Milton died at Fort Laramie on December 19, 1836, after two amputations of his leg on account of an injury, and William L. died at Pittsburgh on July 21, 1845, while on his way to Washington, after having accumulated a fortune in the fur trade.|
On August 22, 1826, "Jed" Smith, as he was commonly called, set out with his rifle and Bible to explore Southwestern Utah and Colorado, going from there to California. Sublette and Jackson divided their employees into several small companies, led by Robert Campbell, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Moses Harris, James Bridger and James Beckwourth. Three of these men–Campbell, Bridger and Beckwourth–are deserving of more than pasing mention, on account of the prominent part each took in the work of the fur companies and the development of the Great West.
Robert Campbell was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1804 and came to St. Louis when he was not quite twenty years of age. In 1825 he experienced some trouble with his lungs and decided to go to the mountains. He therefore joined Ashley's men and within twelve months had completely regained his health. Major Henry once remarked that "Bob Campbell takes to the Indian trade lika a young duck takes to the water," which must have been true, as he became one of the lieutenants of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company before he had been with it two years. After returning to St. Louis he became one of the city's leading business men ; was president of the old State Bank, which was afterward reorganized as the Merchants National Bank, of which he was also president for several years; was United States commissioner to negotiate several treaties with the Indians, and was influential in many ways in promoting the industrial interests of St. Louis. He died in that city on October 16, 1879, aged seventy-five years.
James Bridger, who has been called the "Daniel Boone of the West," was born in Richmond, Virginia, March 17, 1804, and went to St. Louis when he was eight years old. At the age of thirteen he was apprenticed to a blacksmith, which occupation he followed until he joined General Ashley's trappers in 1822. He quickly developed into a skilful trapper, learned the Indian customs just as quickly, was a dead shot with the rifle, paid more attention to the geography of the country than did most of the others, all of which had a tendency to increase General Ashley's confidence in him, and the two men became firm friends.
Bridger had very little book learning, but he completed the course of study in the broader school of Nature. Army officers and Government explorers always found him reliable as a guide and he probably knew more of the West in his day than any other living man. For several years after the firm of Smith. Jackson & Sublette was dissolved he was associated with Benito Vasquez in trapping for the American Fur Company. In 1843 he built Fort Bridger, in what is now LTinta County, Wyoming, and continued trapping for several years. In 1856 he bought a farm near Kansas City, Mo., and expressed his intention to settle down and pass the remainder of his life in quiet pursuits. But the "call of the wild" was too strong, and, although more than fifty years of age. he was soon back at Fort Laramie. He was then employed by the United States Government as guide, which occupation he continued to follow until he grew too old to stand the hardships of plains life, when he retired to his farm and died there on July 17, 1881.
James Beckwourth, one of Ashley's first company, came to the mountains in 1822. He was born in Fredericksburg, Va., in April, 1798. He was always fond of boasting that his father had been a major in the Revolutionary war, but of his mother he said little, because she was a negro slave. When Ashley sold out to Smith, Jackson & Sublette, Beckwourth went with the new company. Thomas Fitzpatrick sent him to open up a trade with the Blackfoot Indians, which up to that time had not been a success, but Beckwourth married a daughter of the chief and for some time did a thriving business with the tribe in consequence. He then joined the Crow nation and was made a chief. Some of the trappers charged him with instigating the Indians to steal the traps, furs and horses of the fur companies, but he always claimed that he was innocent of the charge.
While living with the Crow Indians he had about a dozen wives. When Fremont passed through the Platte Valley in 1842, he found at Chabonard's ranch a Spanish woman who claimed to be the wife of Jim Beckwourth. After several years with the Crow nation, Beckwourth went to California, where he opened a hotel. His house was suspected of being the headquarters of a band of horse thieves and he was compelled to leave California to save his life. Returning to Wyoming, he remained there a short time and then went to Denver, where he engaged in the mercantile business, built a good house and married the daughter of a negro washerwoman. He never took the trouble to contradict the report of his numerous marriages. About 1867 he visited the Crow tribe, where he was given a cordial reception and a great feast. When the Indians learned that it was his intention to go back to Denver, they poisoned him rather than have him again desert them. Beckwourth was given to magnifying his exploits, and one of his biographers speaks of him as the "Baron Alunchausen of the Plains." Notwithstanding this and other faults, he was a brave man. a successful trapper, knew the country well and was a reliable guide, in which capacity he was frequently employed.
In 1827 the firm of Smith, Jackson & Sublette, or the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, had about four hundred men engaged in trapping in Wyoming, Northern Colorado and Utah. This year the rendezvous was at the mouth of Horse Creek, near the line between Lincoln and Fremont counties, in Wyoming. Jed Smith returned to the Pacific coast, Sublette remained in the country until fall, when he went to St. Louis to dispose of the season's furs and obtain a new supply of goods, and Jackson spent the winter in the valley south of Yellowstone National Park. When Sublette found him there in the spring of 1828, he named the valley "Jackson's Hole," and the lake there he called "Jackson's Lake," in honor of his partner. These names still apply to the locality.
The rendezvous of 1829 was near the mouth of the Popo-Agie River. This year the supplies for the trappers and goods for the Indian trade were brought to the rendezvous in wagons drawn by mules. These were the first wagons ever brought to Wyoming. They came up the Platte and Sweetwater valleys, and returned to St. Louis loaded with furs.
On .August 4, 1830, Smith. Jackson & Sublette sold out to a new company composed of Milton G. Sublette, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Henry Fraeb. Jean Baptiste Gervais and James Bridger, who continued the business under the old name of Rocky Mountain Fur Company. The old partners then engaged in the Santa Fe trade until Jed Smith was killed by the Indians in Southwestern Kansas in 1831. Jackson then formed a partnership with David E. Waldo and went to California, and William L. Sublette went to St. Louis, where for some time he furnished the supplies to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and marketed their furs.
| The Rocky Mountain Fur Company came to an end in 1834. The next year Thomas Fitzpatrick, Milton G. Sublette and James Bridger formed a partnership, bought the post that had been built by Sublette & Campbell on the Laramie River, and entered the service of the American Fur Company. This firm was dissolved by the death of Milton G. Sublette in 1836. Bridger, Fitzpatrick, Henry Fraeb and Benito Vasquez then associated themselves in the fur trade and continued in business together for several years. Associated with them as an employee was the well known scout, trapper and guide, James Baker.|
Jim Baker, as he was familiarly called, was born at Belleville, 111., December 18, 1818. When he was about twenty years of age he joined a company of ninety recruits for the American Fur Company and came to Wyoming. The rendezvous that year (1838) was at the mouth of the Popo-Agie River. Baker's first trip as a trapper was up the Big Wind River to Jackson's Hole. After nine years with the American Fur Company he entered the employ of Bridger, Fitzpatrick, Vasquez & Fraeb, with whom he remained until the firm wound up its affairs. He was in Wyoming during the cold winter of 1845-46, when many of the wild animals froze to death. In 1857 he was guide to Colonel Johnston's Utah expedition, and later was chief of scouts under Gen. William S. Harney. In 1859 he built a home on Clear Creek, near Denver, where he lived until 1873, when he removed to a farm near Dixon, Wyo., in the southwestern part of Carbon County. His death occurred there in the spring of 1898, he having passed sixty years upon the western frontier.
By the act of February 13, 1917, the Wyoming Legislature appropriated the sum of $750 to remove the "Jim Baker cabin" from section 13, township 12, range 90, in Carbon County, to a suitable site at or near Cheyenne, where it might be preserved as "a relic of public interest." Later in the same year the cabin was taken down, the logs carefully numbered and moved to Cheyenne, where the cabin was rebuilt exactly in its original form in the grounds of Frontier Park, near the main entrance, where it stands as an interesting monument to the memory of the brave old frontiersman.
|COLUMBIA FUR COMPANY|
|When the Hudson's Bay and North-West companies were consolidated in 1821, a number of employees were dropped from each force. One of these was Joseph Renville, an experienced trader, who invited a number of the best men thus discharged to join him in forming a new company. Among those who accepted the invitation were Kenneth McKenzie and Williarn Laidlaw. The result was the organization of the Columbia Fur Company, with Kenneth McKenzie as president. This company established its headquarters on Lake Traverse, in what is now the State of Minnesota, and in a short time became a strong competitor of the older companies. Under the act of Congress, approved on April 29. 1816, foreigners were not permitted to engage in the fur trade within the limits of the United States, chiefly for the reason that they were accustomed to sell liquor to the Indians in exchange for furs. The Columbia Company, which was composed chiefly of foreigners, evaded this law by persuading Daniel Lamont and other citizens of the United States to become stockholders. These citizens acted as a subsidiary company under the name of "Tilton & Company." Their agents visited the upper Missouri and Yellowstone valleys, and possibly operated to some extent in Wyoming. In July, 1827, the Columbia Company was merged with the American Fur Company, Laidlaw, McKenzie and others going with the latter.|
|THE MACKINAW COMPANY|
|This company was organized early in the Nineteenth Century by Fraser, Dickson, Cameron and Roulette, for the purpose of trading with the Indians about the Great Lakes. Gradually it extended its field of operations westward, and at the time the Hudson's Bay and North-West companies were united it was firmly established in the country west of the Great Lakes as far as the Mississippi River. Not long after that Astor and certain former members of the North-West Company purchased the interests of the Mackinaw Company and changed the name to the Southwest Fur Company. The object in changing the name was to make it correspond with the section to which it was intended to extend the trade, but when an effort was made to engage in the trade in Wyoming, Colorado and LTtah. Ashley and others were found to be so firmly entrenched that the project was given up and the Southwest Company was disbanded.|
|TRADING POSTS IN WYOMING|
|One of the earliest (perhaps the first) trading establishments within the limits of the present State of Wyoming was located near the junction of the north and south forks of the Powder River, in the southern part of Johnson County. Capt. W. F. Raynolds, who explored this part of the country in 1859-60, with Jim Bridger as guide, gives the following account of this post in his report: "On September 26, 1859, after a ride of about fifteen miles, we came to the ruins of some old trading posts known as the 'Portuguese Houses,' from the fact that many years ago they were erected by a Portuguese trader named Antonio Mateo. They are now badly dilapidated and only one side of the pickets remains standing. These, however, are of hewn logs, and from their character it is evident that the structures were originally very strongly built. Bridger recounted a tradition that at one time this post was besieged by the Sioux for forty days, resisting successfully to the last, alike, the strength and the ingenuity of their assaults, and the appearance of the ruins renders the story not only credible, but also probable."|
Fort William, so named for William L. Sublette, was built at the confluence of the Platte and Laramie rivers by the firm of Smith, Jackson & Sublette in 1834. The following year it was sold to Fitzpatrick, Sublette & Bridger, and after the death of Milton G. Sublette became a post of the American Fur Company. This was the first trading post in Wyoming built by a citizen of the United States.
Fraeb's Post, established about 1837 or 1838, was built by Henry Fraeb and James Bridger on St. Vrain's fork of the Elkhead River, a short distance west of the Medicine Bow Mountains. Fraeb was killed by Sioux Indians in August, 1841, and the post was soon afterward abandoned. At the time Fraeb was killed the post was attacked by a large war party of Sioux. In the action the Indians lost ten killed and a number wounded, and the whites lost five. The post stood almost on the line between Wyoming and Colorado.
Fort John, a post of the American Fur Company, was built not far from Fort William in 1839 and was named for John B. Sarpy, an agent of the company. The name was subsequently changed to Fort Laramie. The post was abandoned and the buildings demolished about 1846.
Fort Platte, situated on the right bank of the Platte River, on the tongue of land between that stream and the Laramie River, was built about 1840. Two years later, when Fremont passed through Wyoming on his way to the Rocky Mountains, he mentioned this fort in his report as a post of Sabille, Adams & Company. A year later it passed into the hands of Pratt, Cabanne & Company and a few years later was torn down.
Fort Bridger, one of the best known and most enduring of the early posts, was built by James Bridger and Benito Vasquez in the fall of 1843. On December 10, 1843, Bridger wrote to Pierre Chouteau, Jr., at St. Louis, ordering certain goods for the Indian and emigrant trade, and in the letter said:
"I have established a small fort with a blacksmith shop and a supply of iron in the road of the emigrants, on Black's Fork of the Green River, which promises fairly. They, in coming out, are generally well supplied with money, but by the time they get here are in want of all kinds of supplies. Horses, provisions, smith work, etc., bring ready cash from them, and should I receive the goods hereby ordered I will do a considerable business in that way with them. The same establishment trades with the Indians in the neighborhood, who have mostly a good number of beaver among them."
Bridger evidently received the goods, as he remained at the fort for several years after that time, and the post became a landmark to guide emigrants on their way westward. The fort afterward became a military post of the United States.
Fort Davy Crockett and Fort LTintah, just across the line in Colorado, were posts that commanded a goodly share of the Wyoming fur trade, and Fort Bonneville, near the headwaters of the Green River, was another early post, but it was abandoned almost as soon as it was completed. An account of it will be found in the chapter on Explorers and Explorations.