Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

VANGUARDS
OF THE FRONTIER

CHAPTER I
THE GREAT FUR COMPANIES

AS EARLY as George Washington's administration, white men had begun in an organized way to exploit the rich fur resources of the Upper Mississippi and Missouri valleys. The British had taken over the French interests in the Upper Mississippi Valley, and the Spanish had made beginnings on the Missouri River. Nevertheless the phenomenal development in the golden harvest of furs came under American leadership. Immediately following the Lewis and Clark expedition, daring fur-traders began to farther and farther penetrate the Upper Missouri. For some years following 1800 the British influence on the Upper Mississippi was strong, but a law of 1816 excluded foreign companies and made possible the great growth of the American Fur Company. John Jacob Astor bought out the interests of the British company, reorganized the American Fur Company, and began operations in 1817. The law of 1816 was interpreted as not to exclude foreign employees, and the Americans enlisted the services of a large number of the former employees of the British. These brought with them the system that came from the old French companies.

In the early days of the fur trade a peculiar type of organization developed which in a modified form continued through the years in the Upper Mississippi Valley. The chief trader, who held a license from the government, was known as the bourgeois. He was all powerful, a little dictator in his domain. Immediately under

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