Utah's History

By Thomas G. Alexander; Eugene E. Campbell et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The Fur Trade and The Mountain Men

David E. Miller

During the half-century prior to the migration of the Mormons to the Salt Lake Valley, many fur companies and individual trappers played important roles in opening up the area that eventually became the state of Utah. Reports of a possibly rich booty in furs first attracted significant numbers of white men to this region. Fur hunters discovered the trails and mountain passes that became the major highways to the West. All the wagons that eventually brought settlers to the Great Basin traveled routes known decades earlier by mountain men. The pony express, stage coach, and telegraph followed the same paths. Trading posts along the way became resting, repairing, and recruiting stations: Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, Fort Hall. The mountain men, who knew more about the West than anyone else, often served as guides for migrating, exploring, and military groups. They were the first experts on Utah geography.


International Rivalry and the Cold Fur War

The story of fur trade begins late in the eighteenth century, when events occurred on the distant northwest coast of North America that would have a tremendous impact on the history of Utah and the United States.

Long before Domínguez and Escalante shepherded their small party into the Great Basin in 1776, Russian explorers had discovered Alaska, found the adjacent waters teeming with sea otter, and development a thriving maritime fur trade with China. Gradually news of this lucrative business filtered back from Canton to western Europe, where merchants and statesmen from several nations

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