Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri 1840-1865

Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri 1840-1865

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By John E. Sunder

"By beginning where the standard works leave off and carrying the story up to its logical conclusion in 1865, this book fills a definite void in the history of the fur trade in the American West. Set in the upper Missouri country, which was bypassed by settlement until the 1860s, it focuses primarily upon the St. Louis firm of Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Company, usually known as the American Fur Company....This is not the distorted and romanticized approach so typical of much of the literature on the earlier fur trade. Drama is inherent, but it is sound, well-conceived, carefully documented history."-American Historical Review

 

From the Foreward by Paul Hedren:

At the heart of Sunder’s story are the men and posts of Pierre Chouteau, Jr.’s American Fur Company, part successors to John Jacob Astor’s pioneering enterprise and thieves of his corporate name.

From Chouteau’s vast chain of forts, including Pierre, Clark, Berthold, Union, Benton, and dozens between, Company agents marketed some 100,000 bison robes annually during the heyday of the Upper Missouri trade, cementing enormous profits and a firm American hold on the northern-most reaches of its continental realm. As well, Sunder chronicles the story of Chouteau’s numerous undercapitalized rivals and the ceaseless jousting for profits; the American Fur Company’s support of missionaries and scientists; its later dependence upon government Indian and transportation contracts; and the vicissitudes of the trade.

Sunder (…) was the first historian to delve deeply into the story of the Upper Missouri fur trade, and he did so in gritty detail. In blindly dismissing the book, one reviewer even labeled his characters a “colorless lot and their environment unusually drab.” Astoundingly, Sunder’s “colorless lot” included such men as Chardon, Larpenteur, Culbertson, Meldrum, Dawson, and a host of others including, of course, the Chouteaus and Campbells of Saint Louis. This prestigious circle was anything but dull. Likewise, the environment of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and its associated traders’ forts is anything but drab, a fact proven repeatedly with today’s occasional unearthing of aged, cargo-laden steamboats; the fascinating archaeological excavations continuing on the old sites; and the recent, dramatic reconstruction of Chouteau’s Fort Union, capturing its architectural resplendence of 1851.

The majority of Sunder’s reviewers rightly saw The Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri as filling a void by exploring a previously neglected saga of trade in an equally ignored region of continental America.