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

CHAPTER II
THE MOUNTAIN MEN

THE WHITE MEN were not content to allow the red men to have a monopoly of fur gathering, and Yankee ingenuity came forth with more systematic exploitation of the fur-bearing creatures than that employed by the irresolute aborigines. There were two general classes of white trappers, those who signed a contract to hunt for a firm or person, and those who hunted on their own responsibility.

All the fur companies hired hunters and trappers to kill buffalo, trap beaver, and take such other furs as were worth taking. They worked at a fixed wage which was usually paid in goods at an advance in the mountains of about 600 per cent upon their cost. The wage of a trapper was about $400 a year, and that of a camp-tender $200 a year. With average success each trapper would take a hundred and twenty beaver skins during this time, worth in New York about a thousand dollars. With a group of twenty hunters there were ten camp-tenders. Horses were worth four dollars in goods at the Boston cost. With due allowance for expenses, an outlay of $2,000 would net in the neighborhood of $15,000.1

The leader of company trappers was called the "booshway," which was the corrupted French bourgeois. When they were on the march, the booshway rode at the head of the column. Near him was the lead mule on which was packed the company's books, papers, and articles of agreement with the men. Then followed the pack-animals in charge of the camp-tenders. Behind them came

____________________
1
Hiram Martin Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West ( New York, 1902), Vol. I, p. 6.

-37-

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