Strangers in blood : fur trade company families in Indian country
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The fur trade in Montana was a major period in the area's economic history from about to the s. It also represents the initial meeting of cultures between indigenous peoples and those of European ancestry. British and Canadian traders approached the area from the north and northeast focusing on trading with the indigenous people, who often did the trapping of beavers and other animals themselves. American traders moved gradually up the Missouri River seeking to beat British and Canadian traders to the profitable Upper Missouri River region.
Indigenous peoples reacted to fur traders in a variety of ways, usually seeking to further their own interests in these economic dealings. The best example of conflict on the Upper Missouri was between American fur traders and trappers and the Blackfeetparticularly the Blood. Misunderstanding of indigenous peoples' interests by American traders inevitably led to violence and conflict.
Ultimately, the fur trade brought increased interactions between indigenous peoples and people of American and European ancestry. A capitalistic economic system was introduced to indigenous peoples impacting their cultures, along with deadly diseases that took a heavy toll in lives. The beaver population, and later the bisonwere significantly diminished in the area that became the territory of, and subsequently, the state of Montana.
At the start of the 19th century, the North American fur trade was expanding toward present-day Montana from two directions. Representatives of British and Canadian fur trade companies, primarily the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Companypushed west and south from their stronghold on the Saskatchewan Riverwhile American trappers and traders followed the trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition up the Missouri River from their base in St.
These traders competed not only in trapping fur-bearing animals, particularly the American beaverbut also in arranging trade relations with the many indigenous groups in the region, hoping to corner the market on these rich resources. For their part, the region's indigenous groups — particularly the Piegan often called "Blackfeet" in the USAthe Crowand the Salish and Kootenai — struggled to maintain control of their own lands and resources which supported their people and way of life.
Each group interacted in the fur trade in different ways and to differing extents, yet all were changed by the important trading relations that developed from about through the s. Over time, as a distinct fur trade society evolved around company-operated outposts, cross-cultural sexual relationships and marriages became commonplace between Euro-American men and women from various tribal communities.
The North West Company's efforts to establish themselves west of the Continental Divide proved far more successful. Largely avoiding lands known to be within the Louisiana Purchase, the Nor'Westers, led by the Welsh-born geographer, David Thompsonworked their way to the headwaters of the Saskatchewan River and then turned southwestward into the headwaters of the Columbia Riverthe western boundary of the Columbia District of the British fur trade.
Thompson's men came into present-day northwestern Montana in and founded a post on the Kootenai River near present-day Libby, Montana to trade with the Native Americans of the same name. In NovemberThompson himself established the most important post in the area, Saleesh Houseon the Clark Fork River near present-day Thompson Falls, Montananamed for the explorer. American fur traders quickly moved up the Missouri River following the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark's exploration.
The first American fur post established in the region now known as Montana was completed in Novemberand located at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Big Horn rivers by Manuel Lisa and his party of traders. From this post Lisa hoped to build a small empire for his fledgling Missouri Fur Company.
His dream did not last, as he and his men were the first of many American fur traders to be attacked by groups of Piegan, Bloodand Gros Ventre. Taking game in Indian country by non-indigenous parties was against Federal law, but Federal officials were willing to turn a blind eye to the practice in order to encourage American occupation of the frontier and drive out the British.
Ashley formed a partnership to enter the fur trade,  and obtained a license "to carry on trade with the Indians up the Missouri," but their strategy was to rely predominantly on non-indigenous contract trappers and depend less on direct, formal trade with Native Americans. Henry and Ashley established operations on the upper Missouri River at Fort Henryand most of the men stayed there through the winter of They retreated to Fort Henry  but soon abandoned it and established a post two miles up the Yellowstone from the old Fort Remon near present-day Custer, Montana  to trade with the more amicable Crow.
He picked up the winter's harvest of furs and made it back to St. Louis with half of them, then retired from the fur business. Upon Henry's retirement, Ashley abandoned the idea of trading posts and initiated the free trapping and rendezvous system intaking on Smith as a partner. The hunt was successful, but another attempt the next year was foiled by the Crows running off their horses.
By they arrived in the upper Missouri River region. Scotsman Kenneth McKenzieintent on breaking into the Upper Missouri—the elusive prize of the Western fur trade—established what became Fort Union near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. The Piegan were surprisingly ready to trade with the AFC. In McKenzie negotiated an agreement with a Piegan band, and sent James Kipp to the mouth of the Marias River in to organize a trading post on Piegan lands. Inthe paddle steamer Yellowstone was the first to reach Fort Union.
Steamboats, being able to haul larger loads, provided a decided transportation advantage to the AFC thereafter. Astor's company dominated the trade in the entire Missouri River region, wresting the lucrative Upper Missouri trade from the Hudson's Bay Company traders to the north who had traded with the Piegan for decades.
The coming of the fur trade to Montana brought several substantial results. First of all, the land and its resources became better known, maps were filled in and became more accurate. Ross Toole put it, "Before the emigrant's wagon ever rolled a mile, before the miner found his first color, before the government authorized a single road or trail, this inhospitable land had been traversed and mapped.
A negative consequence of the trade was its impact on fur-bearing animals, initially the beaver and later the American bison or buffalo, whose populations were pushed to the brink. The worst consequence physically was the ravages of European diseases such as smallpox being increasingly spread to Native Americans by traders and trappers.
Finally, for those indigenous peoples who survived, the fur trade intensified the introduction of Western European ideals of commerce and religionsince the beaver trade was an extension of global capitalism and also indirectly led to the spread of Roman Catholic Christianity to some of the tribes. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Andrew Henry fur traderWilliam H. Ashleyand Jedediah Smith. The Red and the White: A Family Saga of the American West. Strangers in the Blood: University of British Columbia Press.
The Montana Magazine of History. Alexander Culbertson and Natoyist-Siksina among the Blackfeet. University of Oklahoma Press.