Fur Trade In Minnesota - District 279
Transcript Fur Trade In Minnesota - District 279
Fur Trade In Minnesota
Review of Mr. Beckman’s Voyageur
Fur Trade time period 1770-1840
The fur trade began because of men’s
fashions in Europe. Men were wearing top
hats made of beaver fur. These hats cost the
average worker 6 months of their wages, so
only the rich purchased new beaver top hats.
The main company in Minnesota was the
Northwest company with it’s headquarters in
Montreal. Grand Portage Minnesota was the
meeting place each July.
Because Minnesota has only 5 months of ice free
water it was necessary to use a two voyageur
system. Each April canoe men leave Montreal
with canoes of trade goods and the North men
leave their post in the interior with their canoes of
furs. They each paddle and portage until they
reach Grand Portage around July to exchange
goods and furs for another year of trading.
The Upper Class
The fur trader was the man in charge. He was called
the “Bourgeois” by his workers. He risked his money
in hopes of turning a large profit. He hired all the
workers, bore the responsibility of the business by
doing the actual trading. He needed to balance his
gifts to the Native Americans with the goods used to
barter for the furs. He also served as a doctor even
though traders rarely had any medical skill. His
assistant was known as a “commis” or clerk. The
trader would have a clerk at each of his posts to keep
accounts and carry on the trade there.
The North man is the experienced voyageur. He is
an expert woodsman and canoeist. He is a laborer
as well, building the fur post, carrying messages,
delivering goods, encouraging the Native
Americans to hunt, fixing canoes, and maintaining
the post. He sees himself as superior to the canoe
men. A “capote” is the type of coat he wears,
made from a blanket. His hat is called a “toque”.
After crossing into the “Northwest” he is allowed
to wear a red feather in his hat and was refered to
as a “Nor’wester”from then on.
The canoe men’s job is to paddle the canoes of
goods from Montreal to Grand Portage and back.
Where the river is too dangerous he must
“portage” or carry the goods and canoes to safe
water. To support his back and stomach muscles
he wears a sash, a symbol of the voyageur. He
paddles 16 to 18 hours a day and survives on 2
meals a day usually of peas and pork fat, hence
the nick name,”Pork Eater”.
Native American Man
The Native American mans main job is to hunt and
gather the furs. His trapping skills and knowledge
of the forest make him the best person for the job.
He may also be the hunter for a fur post. This
means he supplies the post with meat. Since there
is not much in the way of preserving meat he
needs to supply the post with fresh meat daily. He
also may serve as a guide or interpreter.
Native American Woman
The Native American woman has a very
important role. She cleans and prepares the pelts.
If she doesn’t do a good job the fur is worthless.
She also may be a guide, interpreter, cook,
seamstress or canoe builder. She may marry a fur
trader or clerk and become a more respected
member of the community and have a better
selection of goods. This also means everyone in
her village will bring all the furs to her husbands
Native American Trade Goods
The Native Americans brought furs of many kinds
to trade, beaver being the most valuable. All other
furs and goods were valued in beaver skins. Other
furs brought in were fisher, otter, mink, bear, deer,
fox, muskrat, badger, raccoon, rabbit and even
skunk! Other items the Native American brought
to trade were the meat from the animals, wild rice,
gum gum and spruce roots for canoe repair, snow
shoes, leather goods and canoes.
European Trade Goods
European traders brought many things the Native
Americans desired. Things such as, metal
cookware, wool blankets, traps, metal axes, files,
knives, silver jewelry, glass beads, cotton calico
cloth, flint and steel, muskets, shot and powder.
Some of the trade goods caused problems for the
Native Americans such as, tobacco, and alcohol.
Rum or high wines became as the expected way
to seal the deal.
Types of Canoes
There were 3 main sizes of canoes used in the fur
trade. The smallest was called the Ojibway
canoe. It was 10 to 12 feet long, paddled by 1 or
2 people and used on small lakes and rivers.
The most common canoe was the North Canoe. It
was 24 to 36 feet long and was used on larger
lakes and rivers, had between 6 to 10 paddlers
and could handle 3000 lbs. of cargo. The
Montreal canoe was used on the Great Lakes. It
was 36 to 48 ft long, carried 5000 lbs. of cargo. If
empty it could have up to 20 people on board.
3 sizes of paddles were used in fur trade canoes.
All types were made from cedar. The bowman or
“avant” was in charge of the canoe. He used a
long paddle on average about 5 ft. In the back of
the canoe was the steersman or “governail” who
used a 7 ft. long paddle to steer the canoe. In the
middle were the middle men or”milieux” they
used paddles as short as 3 ft. with 3 inch wide
blades and took almost a stroke a second. The
paddles were light weight and prized possessions.
The End of the Fur Trade
By 1840 there were several factors that lead to
end of the fur trade. Settlers were moving into
Minnesota and forcing out the fur gathering
Native Americans. Secondly there was some
depletion in the number of fur bearing animals.
Finally there was a change in fashion. Men’s top
hats were now being made of silk. Fur trading
still continues today but not on the scale of the