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Fur Trade

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.

Questions

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?


 

Answers

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 estate.

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 traders.

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.

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