Below is a long, rambling letter to Robert from one of his best friends, business partner Bill Sublette. Sublette was born in Kentucky and received little if any formal education, but he was an accomplished trapper and trader. Though he readily admits, “…you will excuse this letter and try and make out its contents if you can. It is now late at night, my health is not of the best…” this note to Robert gives the reader a good impression of the politics, logistics and relationships that were necessary to build a successful fur trading company. (Note: This has been edited somewhat for clarity. Sublette used no commas and practically no periods. Good luck.)
Grovent Villiage Sept 25th 1833
Mr. Robt Campbell
I arrive here this Evening and found all well. The Mandans and Grovonlers have just made peace with the Yancklonain, and two hundred Lodges left here today .I shall take Saville down with me to trade with the Yancktonians Mjr. Doughtery has traded upwards of one hundred Robes and nine Beaver. They are in want of copper kettles here and wish you to send all down you think you can spare. Some Chiefs coats say half dozen or fifteen pounds of stone white and blue beads small and 6 doz bright Red handle knives. Some 1 doz 6 inch flat and 3 square files 2 quire of paper, 10 lbs Vermillion some small brass wire and some iron or large brass wire for Wrist bands, some oval blue beads and while if you have them to spare 1 goose, the largest fire steels, a few pair of Striped Blankets. The old man Chaibrno thinks he will want some powder and ball in the Spring. Mr. Dougherty has got all his pickets for the fort and the Indians are determined to have a fort here or they will be much dissatisfied. I think you had better send two more good working hands who understand Rafting down here that they may be getting out timber this winter and have all ready for the Spring. They want a cross-cut saw whip, saw and Plow, if you can have one made they are in great need of a Cart here and I think you had better send down a pair of wheels and two set of harness and they will have hauling to do if you could get a Bull Boat for those things to come down in it will be best. John Ruhan talks of staying here in pontoes place if he does he will fetch you this letter. The Indians appear in fine Spirits and have furnished the men with meat for nothing whilst they were getting out the pickets and say as soon as the timbers are ready they will help down with them. Some of those articles I have written for Saville thinks he will want there were six of the Aspineoumes here a few days since, and after some difficulty they smoke and made a treaty with the Grovonties Mr. McKenzie made a lengthy speech at the Mandans I have been informed and gave out the Big talk as the saying is, they have one trader here he has traded about thirty Robes while Dougherty has nearly tripled him. They gave their goods at the same price we do accepting the ammunion and they give 70 Loads whilst we give 60 I stated above that a skin boat would be best but on reflection those articles I expect will have to come down in a canoe and I can’t see how the cart wheels will be managed which is wanting here worst of any article. Likely they can be arranged on the canoe in some way and you will excuse this letter and try and make out its contents if you can. It is now late at night, my health is not of the best but I am better than when I left you. I have instructed Mr. Dougherty to buy 50 or 60 bushels of corn as you may send down for it soon. I think if you was to send down two more kegs of Powder and Ball it would not be a miss as Saville thinks he will want it as there is some of the Sowones with the Yancktonaies and intend wintering with them and he thinks his supplies will fall short.
I have been thinking if you could send down a Mackinaw Boat here Early in the Spring that is as soon as the ice is out of the river it would be well to take the Robes from this place and those that Saville may have traded down as I think there will be a Mackinaw Boat Load down from those two places if you think best so to do you had better send down word by the Express. Mr. Dougherty thinks if he does not get those articles down this fall his trade will fall much shorter as the Copper kettles are all out. He is scarce of knives also as it takes a great many knives to trade corn you will have to send two or three men down as Ponto have been trying to kill him self and I am forced to take him down and have got VanVulkinburg to stay in his place which is a bad choice. They want a machine for Gulering out posts. Mr. Dougherty is placed here in rather an awkward situation the old man Charbino has become quite childish and has to be humored much which makes it very disagreeable and to turn him off it will offend the Indians as he has much influence and will have much his way in trade and he informed the Indians he was going which made considerable disturbance but I have settled the matter today and we must try and rub out the year with the Old man in some way and likely there can be some changes made next year placing him in one village to himself with some goods. I think Dougherty will do all in his power and I feel in hopes they will make a good trade this year if the Buffalo comes in it would be well for you to come down here when the Yellow Stone returns come down or take a single horse and come down some time in the Spring if possible let them know here if the Mackinaw Boat will be down in the Spring early or so, that Saville may know how to make his arrangements as he will have to purchase some skins of the Indians for a bull Boat three men will fetch the Boat down empty or if you have a few packs to send down in the boat you might do so if they could not take all some might be left here Dougherty will know what Saville has done through the winter. I will write by Mr. McKenzie from the Teton or Little Missouri River.
Old McKenzie has told them here that you brought down the Yellowstone a boatload of whisky and that our men was drunk all that time and that we had been selling it and the news certainly would go below. I am now at the Mandans and the Indains appear much pleased here and talk fair they talk of Brass Kettles and chief coats all the time Dougherty will be in search of knives and a few doz of common ones would do well for to trade corn. I shall propose to McKenzie what was talked of but I think he will not take yet if you should succeed with him try to get a division of the country. Keep your eyes about trading whisky only Wine.
Robe acts Dougherty traded at the Grovonty Villages — 84
Beaver — 11
Down at Mandan Robes — 30
One of Dougherty’s men said Holcom have made application to trap next year. He will hire or take equip or hire for that purpose if you should send the Mackinaw Boat likely you had better send two men with it as I think some of those will wish to stay with Saville and Daugherty will want all with him until the last boat will come down.
Yours with Respect
Wm L. Sublette
Capt. Robt. Campbell
Notation on letter
Wm L Sublette
Sept 25, 26 and 27
Received October 12 1833