Beads of the Bison Robe Trade
Between 1968 and 1972, four seasons of archeological investigations were conducted at the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, North Dakota and Montana. The fort served as the major outpost of the American Fur Company on the Upper Missouri River between 1829 and 1865. In 1865, it was acquired by Hubble, Hawley and Co. (also known as the Northwest Fur Co.) and operated by that firm for one trade season. Between 1864 and 1866, the U.S. Army utilized the fort facilities as a base of operations against the Northern Plains Indians. In 1867, it was sold to the U.S. Army who tore the fort down the following year for materials to be used in the construction of Fort Buford.
The excavations were conducted at the fort in order to obtain structural information for reconstruction. These investigations recovered several varieties of trade beads, including glass, bone, and shell beads. The glass trade beads represent a major atrifact assemblage from the mid-nineteenth century when glass beads had replaced the traditional quillwork of the Plains Indians. Five methods of glass bead manufacture are represented among the Fort Union glass beads: 1) hollow-cane, 2) wire-wound, 3) mandrel-pressed, 4) molded wire-wound, and 5) blown. Bone and shell beads were produced for the trade to supplement the existing native trade in these items.