Tag Archives: Fur Trade

Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Tour

By Andy Hahn

A few weeks ago Camp­bell House docent Tom Gron­s­ki and I returned from a 2,500 mile trip West, vis­it­ing the impor­tant sites of Robert Camp­bell and Rocky Moun­tain fur trade.

Red Rocks Canyon on the road up to the South Pass through the Wind Riv­er Range of the Rockies.

We fol­lowed the route of the Ore­gon Trail, which had been blazed by Camp­bell and oth­er moun­tain men and fur traders dur­ing the 1820s and 30s. Our first stop was at the Joslyn Art Muse­um in Oma­ha, Nebras­ka. The Joslyn holds one of the most impor­tant col­lec­tions of art of the Amer­i­can West, includ­ing works by Karl Bod­merAlfred Jacob Miller and George Catlin.

Fol­low­ing a 500-mile dri­ve along the Plat­te Riv­er through Nebras­ka we arrived at Fort Laramie, where we met Alan McFar­land, Robert Camp­bel­l’s g‑g-g-grand nephew, fresh off the plane from his home in North­ern Ire­land. Alan has a spe­cial inter­est in his uncle’s career in the fur trade and has made numer­ous research trips to Amer­i­ca. Fort Laramie was the per­fect place for our meet­ing because Camp­bell and his part­ner Bill Sub­lette found­ed Fort Laramie (orig­i­nal­ly called Fort William) in 1834. At this Nation­al His­toric Site we were able to view an authen­tic fur trade encamp­ment recre­at­ed by mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Moun­tain Men. The group lat­er cre­at­ed tableau vivant from one of Alfred Jacob Miller’s art­works depict­ing a fur trade camp.

A lit­tle fur­ther west we fol­lowed the Sweet­wa­ter Riv­er across Wyoming towards the Wind Riv­er Moun­tain Range and the South Pass. Bill Sub­lette was the first per­son to take a wag­on this far into the Rocky Moun­tains in 1830, set­ting a course for thou­sands that would fol­low the Ore­gon and Mor­mon Trails. The next few days were spent in the vicin­i­ty of Jack­son, Wyoming where we vis­it­ed most all of the sites of the Rocky Moun­tain Ren­dezvous. The high­lights includ­ed vis­its to the Muse­um of the Moun­tain Man where we were able to see some orig­i­nal Camp­bell let­ters and Pier­re’s Hole, site of the 1832 Ren­dezvous and sub­se­quent bat­tle.  Camp­bell hero­ical­ly saved his friend Bill Sub­let­te’s life dur­ing the bat­tle as recount­ed by Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing in the Adven­tures of Cap­tain Bon­neville. Our trip end­ed with vis­its to oth­er Ren­dezvous sites at Bear Lake, Cache Val­ley and final­ly Fort Bridger.

Enjoy the pic­tures and fol­low us West!

This Week in History: July 14–20

Green Riv­er, Rocky Moun­tains, July 20, 1833.
DEAR BROTHER.-I am now on my route from the head of Co-
lum­bia riv­er, to the mouth of the Yel­low Stone, where it empties
into the Mis­souri. You can have no idea of the anx­i­ety and toil
of such a march. With “returns” of some val­ue, our par­ty are
tra­vers­ing a coun­try fre­quent­ed by bands of Indi­ans, whose
friend­ship can only be depend­ed on, when our vig­i­lance and
strength sets hos­til­i­ty at defi­ance. From our point of destination,
we will send our beaver, &c. by water to St. Louis,-and I will
prob­a­bly build a fort, and estab­lish a trad­ing sta­tion in the vicinity.
Yes­ter­day I met a par­ty of the Shoshonee9 or Snake Indians,
with their prin­ci­pal chief “^he Iron Wrist­band.” We had a smoke
and talk, as is usu­al on such occa­sions; in the course of which I
dis­cov­ered that my new friend wished to employ me in the capacity
of ambas­sador extra­or­di­nary and min­is­ter plenipo­ten­tiary, on a
mis­sion to the Crow Indi­ans; through whose coun­try I intend to
pass. Much as I have been accus­tomed to the tact and shrewdness
of Indi­an chiefs, I have sel­dom seen stronger proofs of political
cun­ning, than on this occasion.
The Iron Wrist­band had late­ly suc­ceed­ed his father “Pet­ti­coat,”
as chief of the nation. It seems that a mis­un­der­stand­ing had arisen
between the Snakes and Crows,-not so seri­ous as to lead to
imme­di­ate open hostilities,-yet suf­fi­cient to ren­der it doubtful
whether they could meet as friends. To ascer­tain the views of the
Crows; and if hos­tile, to deliv­er a suit­able defi­ance, were to be the
objects of my mis­sion. After some pre­lim­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion, the chief made me a speech,
in which were con­densed his final instruc­tions. I took notes of it at
the time, and here­with give you the sub­stance. The sententious
brevi­ty and emphat­ic point, would have put some of your long
wind­ed ora­tors to the blush;-and few of them could con­vey their
mean­ing with more accuracy.
“Write a let­ter,” said he “to the Crows. Let it be in two parts.
Tell them my peo­ple wish to know their Inten­tions. We are anxious
to go to war with the Black Feet Indi­ans (com­mon ene­mies to the
Crows and Snakes). We do not wish to fight with our for­mer friends
and allies-the Crows;-nor to divide our strength by keeping
some war par­ties at home to pro­tect our squaws. No,-we wish to
be friends with the Crows; we wish to join them, against the Black
Feet;-we wish to smoke, trade and inter­mar­ry with their people.
If they will agree to this, we will be happy;-we will love them as
neigh­bours-as friends-as allies.
“Should the Crow Indi­ans reject these offers of peace, then the
Snakes hurl defi­ance at them. Let them come. There are many
heroes among us, who have nev­er known fear. We will meet them
with as much feroc­i­ty as ene­mies as we could have cor­dial­ly greeted
them as friends. We are not afraid. We will call on our friends the
Shi­ans, Ari­pa­hoes, Utaws and Nava­hoes, before the snow comes,
and will grind them to death!
“Let this be your let­ter. Divide it into two parts. If the offer of
peace be accept­ed, then destroy the oth­er. If not, then give them
our defi­ance, and tell them to come on.”
“Eight years ago, when we first saw the long knife (Gen. A–y)”
there had been war between us and the Crows. We had killed many
of them. They were as chil­dren in our hands. Your friend, the Long
Knife, offered to make peace. He gave us large presents. We con-
sent­ed; and since then, the tom­a­hawk has been buried. Our wish
is still for peace. Let their answer be frank and can­did. Peace or
war, is the same to us;-only let them say which they prefer.”
I lis­tened with much atten­tion, and no small share of admiration
to this brief harangue. Were you famil­iar with the posi­tion of the
par­ties, you would see in every sen­tence, evi­dence of deep policy,
and con­sum­mate polit­i­cal skill. The Snakes were deeply appre-
hen­sive of the effects if a war with the Crows; for they could not
wage war with that nation, and the Black Feet: yet an Indian
well knows the dan­ger of admit­ting weak­ness; or ask­ing as a boon,
what he knows can only be held by his rifle.
On part­ing, I promised the chief to write and deliv­er the letter
“in two parts” accord­ing to his wishes;-and hope to suc­ceed in
estab­lish­ing peace between those nations.
Yours, &c. &c.