Mile 1804 — Cache Valley
William Henry Ashley, the head of Robert’s expedition, was the first to realize that this system of fixed trading posts was inefficient. Ashley established the rendezvous system in order to allow his fur company access to remote areas of the mountains, where trappers could come down to resupply without having to travel as far, and without Ashley having to incur the costs of building a trading post. These rendezvous were typically held in July or August when the beaver’s fur was in too poor of quality to trap. At their height, these rendezvous attracted up to 1,000 people. Fur companies, Native communities, and trapping parties would setup smaller camps all around the central site, as early as two months in advance. The atmosphere of the rendezvous was that of a raucous party. There was dancing, signing, wrestling, gambling, fighting, and plenty of drinking. After all, for most of these mountain men, this would be the most interaction they would have with the outside world for a year.
Supplies were outrageously expensive at these rendezvous, Robert writes that a pint of flour would cost you $1, or over $22 today! All those drunken men? Well, you can imagine that they were spending a large portion of their earnings from their pelts just to get their fill! Beaver furs were the only way that the trappers were coming out on top, one pound of beaver fur cost $3 in 1826, or over $62 in 2019. However, these trappers were not coming to market with just one or two furs! They would bundle furs together, typically more than 60 pounds in one pack!
Robert and his party did not stay at the rendezvous long, only a couple of weeks according to his narrative. This would be the first of many trips Robert would take into the American West. He made connections during this trip and others that would influence the rest of his life, and set him up to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in 19th century Saint Louis.
Thank you all for being a part of this journey, tracing the footsteps of Robert Campbell, I hope that you could put yourself in the shoes of this young, mild-mannered Irish immigrant who was heading out into the rugged American West for the first time. Taking in the natural wonders, and engaging with cultures that were vastly different than his own.