How Once Upon a Time
the Fur Traders Came


"From the bottom rose the beavers.,
Silently above the surface
Rose one head and then another,
Till the pond seemed full of beavers
Full of black and shining faces."




OON after Lewis and Clark made known to the world the natural wealth of the country through which they had passed--telling of herds of buffaloes on the plains, beaver, otter and countless other fur bearing animals in forest and stream--many trapping parties mere formed eager to reap the rich harvest.
     Manuel Lisa, an ambitious trader of Spanish parentage, made a trip up the Missouri River in 1807. He returned again and again to St. Louis with his boat laden with furs till he became known as the Fur King. In 1808, Lisa, with the Choteau brothers and others, with a capital of $40,000 organized the Missouri Fur Company,






which at once established friendly relations with the Indians, trading guns, whiskey, cloth, beads and various articles for valuable furs.
     In 1812, a trading post was established at Point Lisa, near old Council Bluffs and about the same time the Missouri Fur Co., was organized. John Jacob Astor of New York, a man of Dutch parentage, endowed with broad foresight and great daring, formed the American Fur company, which meant to control the fur trade of the northwest. In 1810, he fitted out two expeditions, one to go by sea and one by land to far away Oregon.
     The wily Manuel Lisa, jealous of any invasion into his country, no sooner heard of the Astorian expedition starting up the Missouri in 1811 than he gave pursuit, travelling day and night until he overtook it about fifty miles from the present Ft. Pierre. Averting an open conflict, Lisa actually helped the men of the expedition to disembark in Dakota and to start on their long westward journey.
     After months of cold, hunger, hardships and narrow escapes from the attacks of Indians, the Astorian party reached Oregon to find that the supply ship which had been sent round Cape Horn had been wrecked. Many thousands of valuable furs were collected, but sold to the Northwest Fur company for a fraction of their worth, and in 1813, some of the party might have been seen in the valley of the Platte river in Nebraska, wending their way back to St. Louis to tell the story of their failure.






     John Jacob Astor's conception of such a scheme and his daring in undertaking it, distinguish him as one of the great commercial pioneers of the country.
     One hundred years after the organization in 1810 of the Pacific Fur company, the Historical Society of Nebraska erected a monument on College Hill at Bellevue, to commemorate the Astorian expedition, it being unveiled June 23, 1910, by the State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
     The fur trade was, in time, centralized at Bellevue, which it is said, received its name when Manuel Lisa, standing on what is now College Hill, exclaimed "Labelle vue" meaning beautiful view, and here the first permanent settlement was made in territorial Nebraska. Old Bellevue teemed with activity, for here came the Indians to dispose of their furs-trappers and traders carried on their great business without protection of license until the first one was granted by the United States Government in 1825.
     The traders needed protection from the hostile Indians, and the Government established the first military post at Fort Atkinson, near the present site of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. Today the spade and plow reveal bullets, buttons and other trophies, the only reminders of the old fort, the equipment of which was removed to Fort Leavenworth, while the Indian mission was removed to Bellevue.
     Between 1830 and 1840 the American Fur com-






pany purchased the interests of the Missouri Fur company, and Peter Sarpy came up from St. Louis several years later to take charge of it. He and his Indian wife, Nakoma, had great influence over the Indians, and were helpful through the interval separating the territorial government and the early statehood.


Previous page
Next page

© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller