Missouri River Fur Trade

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MISSOURI RIVER FUR TRADE. The fur trade was the principal form of commerce in the early days of European migration to the West, and it was able to develop to such a great extent because of the Missouri River. Although the Missouri was difficult to navigate, it was the most dependable medium of transportation for furs. Late eighteenth-century expeditions by such men as Sieur de La Vérendrye, Pierre Menard, and Jean Truteau demonstrated its usefulness in this regard.

The river and its tributaries constituted one of the three great river systems of importance to the fur trader and trapper. First, the Spanish Commercial Company and Saint Louis Missouri Fur Company, and later, the Missouri Fur Company, the Columbia Fur Company, the American Fur Company, and, to a limited extent, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, all operated in the Missouri and Mississippi watersheds.

These fur companies established some of the earliest European settlements in this region. The most important early post was that of the Saint Louis Missouri Fur Company. Known as Fort Lisa, it was located in Nebraska, near Council Bluffs, Iowa. Other early posts included Truteau's Post, erected in 1794, and Cedar Post, established in 1800, thirty-five miles south of the present site of Pierre, South Dakota.

The Missouri River also made Saint Louis the greatest center of the fur trade in the nineteenth century. All the early expeditions were outfitted and started from this point, and, by 1843, its tributary reached 150 fur trading posts, a great majority of which lay along the Missouri River.


Chittenden, Hiram M. The American Fur Trade of the Far West: A History of the Pioneer Trading Posts and EarlFur Companies of the Missouri Valley and the Rocky Mountains and the Overland Commerce with Santa Fe. New York: Harper, 1902; New York: Press of the Pioneers, 1935; New York: Wilson, 1936; Stanford, Calif: Academic Reprints, 1954; Fairfield, N.J.: Kelley, 1976; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Hafen, LeRoy R., ed. Fur Traders, Trappers, and Mountain Men of the Upper Missouri. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Sunder, John E. The Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri, 1840–1865. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965, 1993.

Stella M.Drumm/t. d.

See alsoFrench Frontier Forts ; Fur Companies ; Fur Trade and Trapping ; Western Exploration .

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Missouri River Fur Trade