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The Rocky Mountain Trapping System


The Rocky Mountain Trapping System Chapter 5, Section 2 William Ashley s System ... From Beaver to Bison The Bison Trade Bison robes and hides now became popular. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Rocky Mountain Trapping System

The Rocky Mountain Trapping System
  • Chapter 5, Section 2

William Ashleys System - 1822
  • Hundreds of men volunteered to join William
    Ashley on a fur-trapping journey into Montana in
  • This group included famous mountain men Jim
    Bridger, Jedediah Smith and Daniel T. Potts.
  • Some of these men operated in brigades like
    earlier trappers.

The Free Trapper
  • Others chose to be free trappers.
  • Free trappers did not work in brigades. Instead
    they trapped by themselves or with a couple
  • They later became known as mountain men.

The Free Trapper
  • Free trappers traveled Indian trails, built
    cabins, stockpiled as many furs as they could and
    usually married native women.
  • Instead of sweeping through a territory as
    brigade trappers did, free trappers lived and
    trapped in one spot for at least a year.
  • Because they were solitary and did not live in
    forts, these trappers were rarely killed by
    hostile tribes.

  • Instead of bringing their goods to forts, Ashley
    arranged for the trappers to meet once a year at
    gatherings called rendezvous. (French for
  • Fur traders, mountain men and Indians met at
    summer rendezvous to exchange furs for money and
  • Rendezvous were like fairs, with exciting
    competitions, food, singing, dancing and

  • Fur companies liked the rendezvous system because
    it required no permanent forts, which were often
  • They lasted only a few weeks, then the companies
    took thousands of dollars in furs back east.

The American Fur Company
  • While traveling to America from Germany at the
    age of 20, John Jacob Astor heard of the riches
    made from the fur trade.
  • That night he decided he would start a fur
    company that would dominate the American fur

The American Fur Company
  • Astors American Fur Company gained a monopoly
    over the fur trade of the Upper Missouri.
  • Monopoly means complete control.
  • Astors plan included control of all aspects of
    the fur trade.

The American Fur Company
  • The AFC built Astoria, a shipping port on the
    Oregon coast.
  • Astor then bought a fleet of ships to carry furs
    across the world.
  • None Astors American competitors could match his
    resources they were forced out of business.

The American Fur Company
  • The American Fur Co. also built Fort Union at the
    confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone
  • All of the eastward flowing rivers in Montana met
    at the fort.
  • Astors rival, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company,
    often bribed tribes to take sides in the fur
    trade. The competition sometimes became violent.

Steamboats Expand the Fur Trade
  • In 1832, the steamboat Yellowstone paddled up to
    Fort Union the farthest a steamboat had gone up
    the Missouri. More boats quickly followed.
  • Steamboats allowed fur companies to ship beaver
    pelts to market faster than ever.

The Blackfeet
  • The American Fur Company moved further up the
    Missouri into Blackfeet country.
  • An AFC trader named Alexander Culbertson
    developed ties with the tribe and married a
    Blackfeet woman, Natawista.
  • The Blackfeet tolerated Culbertson, but when he
    left on a trip, the tribe burned his fort down.

The Blackfeet
  • The Blackfeet tightly controlled the fur trade in
    their territory, but after waves of disease made
    them weak they were forced to change their
  • In 1846, the Blackfeet allowed the American Fur
    Company to build Fort Benton right in the heart
    of their territory.

The Trapping Way of Life
  • By the 1830s, there were hundreds of free
    trappers in the Rocky Mountains.
  • Most were young men in search of adventure and
  • When their trapping years were over, many became
    gold miners, farmers, guides, or bison hunters.

Women of the Fur Trade
  • Women were also important in the success of the
    fur trade.
  • The women prepared food, clothing and furs, and
    tanned hides.
  • The women of the fur trade often fended for
    themselves, carried heavy loads and negotiated
    with tribes.

From Beaver to Bison
  • It took only 30 years for trappers to nearly
    exterminate Montanas beaver population.
  • Luckily for the beaver, fur hats became unpopular
    by the 1830s and pelts lost most of their value.
  • Fur buyers held their last rendezvous in 1839.
    After that, the trade dwindled.

The Bison Trade
  • Bison robes and hides now became popular.
  • Fur collectors no longer needed to wait for their
    traps to fill.
  • Bison hunting was done by a new kind of hunter
    keen marksmen could shoot hundreds of bison a day.

Wasteful Hunting
  • Only bison robes and tongues were valuable in the
  • Bison tongue was considered a delicacy.
  • Bison meat was not worth the cost of carrying it
    back east, so hunters left the carcasses to rot
    across the plains.

Tribes Join the Trade
  • Most tribes joined the trade too, usually trading
    the tongue and hide while using the rest of the
  • However, when demand for robes increased, Indian
    hunters also became more wasteful. Tribes
    continued to participate in the trade because
    their economies depended on it.
  • The shrinking bison herds threatened the very
    center of Plains Indian life.

Close to Extinction
  • By the 1870s, 1.5 million bison were being
    killed a year.
  • At the same time, many herds were weakened by
    brucellosis (an infectious disease that spreads
    from cattle to bison.)
  • Railroads blocked migration routes and cattle ate
    up grasses that bison grazed on. Bison were
    headed for extinction.

A New Way of Life
  • By 1883, every bison herd in the country had been
    wiped out.
  • Without bison, Indians had little to eat or
    trade. They lost their traditional lifestyle and
    many of their cultural practices. Most were
    forced to became sedentary farmers instead.

The Impact of the Fur Trade
  • The fur trade in Montana lasted nearly 100 years
    (1800-1880s) and had a huge impact on the state.
  • The fur trade brought many Indians and whites
    together for the first time. It also made tribes
    more dependent on trade goods.

The Impact of the Fur Trade
  • The fur trade could not have succeeded without
    Native Americans, but the partnership with
    traders was not an equal one.
  • Indians were pressured to collect fur instead of
    working for the good of the tribe. Some fur
    companies even caused trouble for Indians so that
    they would depend more on the companies.

The Impact of the Fur Trade
  • The fur trade also began an ugly cycle of
    extracting resources from Montana.
  • The money that fur companies made in Montana was
    spent in far-off places not spent on improving
    life here.
  • This would be the nature of capitalism in Montana
    for the next hundred years.
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