The principal commercial goal was to find an efficient route to connect
American goods and natural resources with Asian markets, and perhaps to
find a means of blocking the growth of British fur trading companies into
the Oregon territory. Asian merchants were already buying sea otter pelts
from Pacific coast traders for Chinese customers. An expansion of inland
fur trading was also anticipated.
Westward Expansion with this quiz.
1. Who was one of the early entrepreneurs looking to make their fortune
with expanding the West?
2. What happened during the War of 1812?
3. What was the company that held British interest in the West?
4. As the frontier moved westward, who moved ahead of settlers?
5. In the beginning, how was the fur trade handled?
6. What was the new brigade-rendezvous system?
7. What changed the demand for the American fur trade?
1. With news spreading of the expedition�s findings, entrepreneurs like
John Jacob Astor immediately seized the opportunity and expanded fur trading
operations into the Pacific Northwest. Astor�s �Astoria� (later Fort
George), at the mouth of the Columbia River, became the first permanent white
settlement in that area.
2. During the War of 1812, the rival North West Company (a British-Canadian
company) bought the camp from Astor�s agents as they feared the British would
destroy an American camp. Astor�s fur business suffered. But he rebounded by
1820, took over independent traders to create a powerful monopoly, and left the
business as a multi-millionaire in 1834, reinvesting his money in Manhattan real
3. The quest for furs was the primary commercial reason for the exploration
and colonizing of North America by the Dutch, French, and English. The Hudson's
Bay Company, promoting British interests, often competed with French traders who
had arrived earlier and had been already trading with indigenous tribes in the
northern border region of the colonies. This competition was one of the
contributing factors to the French and Indian War in 1763. British victory in
the war led to the expulsion of the French from the American colonies. French
trading continued, however, based in Montreal. Astor�s move into the Northwest
was a major American attempt to compete with the established French and English
4. As the frontier moved westward, trappers and hunters moved ahead of
settlers, searching out new supplies of beaver and other skins for shipment to
Europe. The hunters preceded and followed Lewis and Clark to the Upper Missouri
and the Oregon territory; they formed the first working relationships with the
Native Americans in the West. They also added extensive knowledge of the
Northwest terrain, including the important South Pass through the central Rocky
Mountains. Discovered about 1812, it later became a major route for settlers to
Oregon and Washington.
5. Indians caught the animals, skinned them, and brought the furs to trading
posts such as Fort Lisa and Fontenelle's Post, where trappers sent the goods
down river to St. Louis. In exchange for the furs, Indians typically received
calico cloth, knives, tomahawks, awls, beads, rifles, ammunition, animal traps,
rum, whiskey, and salt pork.
6. The new �brigade-rendezvous� system, however, sent company men in �brigades�
cross-country on long expeditions, bypassing Indian tribes. It also encouraged
�free trappers� to explore new regions on their own. At the end of the
gathering season, the trappers would �rendezvous� and turn in their goods
for pay at river ports along the Green River, the Upper Missouri, and the Upper
Mississippi. St. Louis was the largest of the rendezvous towns. An early
chronicle described the gathering as �one continued scene of drunkenness,
gambling, and brawling and fighting, as long as the money and the credit of the
trappers last.� Trappers competed in wrestling and shooting matches. When they
would gamble away all their furs, horses, and their equipment, they would
lament, �There goes hos and beaver�.
7. By 1830, fashions changed in Europe and beaver hats were replaced by silk
hats, sharply reducing the need for American furs. Thus ended the era of the �Mountain
men�, trappers and scouts such as Jedediah Smith (who had traveled through
more unexplored western land than any non-Indian and was the first American to
reach California overland). The trade in beaver fur virtually ceased by 1845.