- The exciting story of the fur trade is a preface to the history of the
development and civilization of the country west of the Mississippi River,
the Rocky Mountain region, and the Northwest.
The fur traders, or "mountain men," were
a race apart. They were venturesome and fearless, and many operated
alone, penetrating sections of Indian country no white man had ever seen
before. Some married indian women, lived with Indian tribes, and
later became traders and established settlements.
The great fur companies, such as Hudson's
Bay Company, the Northwest Company, the american Fur Company, and the Missouri
Fur Company, served to open up much of the West and Northwest. Their
forts later became towns and cities, the portages where their canoes were
claimed overland between bodies of water became canals, and the paths they
cut through the wilderness became highways.
Furs in the old days were used as money
for barter and exchange. In the north, "one skin" that of the full
grown land otter or beaver - was the basic unit of trade. (Today
the white man's slang for a dollar bill is a "skin.") Indians in
the fur country counted their wealth in skins, just as those of the plains
counted theirs in ponies.
The fur trade established in history such
picturesque characters as John jacob Astor, Kit Carson, Joe Meek, William
and Milton Sublette, Jedediah Smith, David Jackson, and Jim Bridger.
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