Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872

Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872

Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872

Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872

Synopsis

The son of French immigrants who settled in Maryland, Charles Larpenteur was so eager to see the real American West that he talked himself into a job with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1833. When William Sublette and Robert Campbell sold out to the American Fur Company a year later they recommended the steady and sober young Larpenteur to Kenneth McKenzie, who hired him as a clerk. For forty years, as a company man and as an independent agent, the Frenchman would ply the fur trade on the upper Missouri River. Based on Larpenteur's daily journals, this memoir is unparalleled in describing the business side and social milieu of the fur trade conducted from wintering houses and subposts in the Indian country. As Paul L. Hedren notes in his introduction, Larpenteur moved comfortably among Indians and all levels of the trade's hierarchy. But he lived during a time of transition and decline in the business, and his vivid recital of his personal affairs often seems to bear out his feeling that he was "born for misfortune." His lasting legacy is this book, which is reprinted from the one-volume Lakeside Classics edition of 1933.

Excerpt

Close associates remembered fur trader Charles Larpenteur (1807-1872) as intelligent, vivacious, unusually well informed, and well read. Superiors appreciated his honesty and aggressive handling of company business. Detractors thought of him as vain and cynical, as one capable of bearing a timeless grudge. Modern historians applaud his "roving eye" that captured in journals and a reminiscence the drama, personalities, and complexities of the Upper Missouri fur trade.

Although Charles Larpenteur embodied many admirable personal qualities, it is clear from his writings and from the views of contemporaries that he barely rose beyond middle-management responsibilities in the fur trade. In his 1843 history of Fort Union, bourgeois Edwin Denig referred to Larpenteur simply as the retail storekeeper. John James Audubon visited Fort Union in 1843 and noted in passing that Larpenteur "opens the gates when the bell rings at sunrise." Audubon's travel mate Edward Harris offered a comparable glimpse of an ordinary man, observing but not elaborating on a quick trip "north of the fort to search for shells and impressions of leaves." We gain the impression that Larpenteur carried out decisions but seldom made them.

Larpenteur's middle-level stature becomes one of the more appealing aspects of his legacy. He was neither an . . .

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