Friday, February 10, 2012

Fur Trade Research Paper

Fur Trade Research Paper

Critically analyze the alternative views of rational behavior exhibited by first Nations during the fur trade
One should start by saying that although fur trade was present in many countries around the world to a certain degree, the most prominent continent that witnesses several nations competing for furs on its land was America. The fur trade in North America started as soon as the first European settlers entered the continent and took notice of the abundant resources of wildlife in America. In the following essay I will present a brief description of the most significant events that took place in the 250 year history during which fur trade in America had flourished and disappeared. The fur trade period can be roughly divided into three sections that defined the rational behavior of various first nations during the fur trade.

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The first era was “French Era” which lasted from 1600 till 1760. The second was “British Era” that lasted from 1760 till 1816. The last was the “American Era” that lasted from 1816 till 1850. After 1850, the fur trade had virtually disappeared and the fur trade era in human history on the American Continent ended.

The French Era
In the early 1500, the first European settlers and explorers not only sailed to the banks of North America but also explored the mainland North America. The Europeans traded whatever they had with the native tribes. The main items of trade were knives,  hatchets, beads, mirrors and alcohol. The Indians would in turn present fur and meat. The Indian trappers would bring furs from around St. Lawrence River and trade them for goods brought along with the Europeans. Other goods that Indians would buy were items made of iron, wool blankets, fancy colorful clothes and guns (Kirk, 2002).

In 1608 Samuel Champlain would more into the mainland America with Etiene Brule to live with the Huron Indians, in order to learn their language and trade routines. In 1618, Etiene Brule would move to the eastern part of Lake Superior and continued what was believed to be the route to the Far East. Brule was among the first to search for the North West Passage to the Far East.

Jean Nicolt would travel though the Great Lakes to the Lake Michigan and claimed all possible land there for France (calling the Area new France). In the late 1620s, furs would regularly be brought from New France to Europe.  The primary suppliers of furs were Huron and Ottawa tribes. At the same time the French noted certain blocks of trade in Wisconsin as created by Winnebago tribes.  Ultimately Ottawa and Huron would attack Winnebago and defeat them altogether. At the time new tribes like Sauk, Fox, Ptawatomi, and Ojibwa would move to Wisconsin.

In 1640, Radisson and Grosseiliers would build a trading post on Lake Superior and invite various Indian tribes to move close to the area to supply furs for the French. In 1670, Hudson Bay Company was chartered.  The company would claim that all lands that ultimately drained into Hudson Bay as their trading area.  Hudson Bay company had many trading posts in the area where Indians would bring furs (Innis, 2002).

In the 1670s Dakota Sioux Indians would attack and drive out the western Great Lakes Huron and Ottawa tribes. After that happened many common French would come and trade directly with the Indians.

The major transportation route to the western fur trading area was defined by the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers to reach the Mississippi River.. At the same time Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Luth would reach Minnesota and Mille Lac and claim the given lands for France.  They would ultimately reach the western shore and build a trading post on the Kaministikuai river there.

The Indian tribe of Ojibwa would move to eastern part of lake Superior near Chequamagon and started cooperation with Dakota Sioux Indians to better trade goods with the Europeans.

La Salle would the same year reach the Mississippi delta and claim all the lands to France. In 1689 when the war between England and France took place the trade was certainly interrupted and after just a few years all western fur trade posts of France were closed by royal edict from the king of France. The fur trade was abandoned for the next 25 years. Still, the edict was not properly enforced and numerous illegal traders continued their business. In early 1700s, the war with the Fox Indians would take place and ultimately disrupt the fur trade further. No post was open in upper Mississippi river or Wisconsin Rivers (Mattes, 2001).

After 15 years of war with Fox Indians when the French almost eradicated the Fox Tribe, the trade was restored and the middlemen were eliminated. Now the French would trade through licensed traders and bring the furs back to Europe directly from the Indians.

In 1740 the war between Ojibwa and Dakota tribes had led to the success of Ojibwa that started to possess full access to the needed lands rich in furs.

The French and Indian war started in 1755 and drastically depressed the fur trade. Most of the French traders and voyageurs would join the French Army to fight the British and that ultimately collapsed the French fur trade that never got restored.

The British Era 
In as early as 1760, the New France area had been conquered and occupied by the British troops. Everything including trading rights, routes and privileges would become British. The furs obtained in the area would be channeled to London rather than Paris while the majority of traded goods demanded by the Indians was brought by the British/London trade agents.

After the war France would cede all of its lands west of the Mississippi  river to Spain and  drastically reduced its presence on the North American continent.  In 1763 Britain would establish various arrangements to monopolize fur trade from imperial control, limiting rights to only 5-6 posts to exclusive licensing. Still, the country did not have enough resources to enforce the edicts and thus many illegal traders would effectively operate in the area (Gowens, 2003).

In 1765, Alexander Henry with his partner Jean Baptist Cadotte would restore the trading post at Chequamagon and trade on Lake Superior. The same year Johnathon Carver would travel west in search of north Western Passage to the Far East.

In another few years Britain would instill the same regulations on its colonies and prohibit exclusive licenses. After the trade became unregulated one would notice increased consumption and trade of alcohol in the Indian tribes (Clyman, 2001).

In 1774, the Quebec act was enforced. The western part of Great Lakes and all land north of Ohio river would become a part of Quebec. Green bay and Prairie du Chein that were independent trading posts would become interior trading centers of Quebec (Ford, 2001). The regions northwest of Quebec were also explored yet increased competition cut on the profit margins and put many trades out of business. One would then witness the creation of various small cartels or partnerships to stem the competition. The American Revolution would cause many traders to avoid Southern areas and places west of the Great Lakes. On the contrary these traders would go north and west searching for attractive areas rich in furs.

In 1778 various partnerships would end up in a first north American joint stock company called North West Company that would engage in furs trade.  The large trading posts started to monopolize the industry and offered much higher rates than the small trading posts. As a result smaller posts started to lose their significance while large posts would ultimately take control of trade in the area. In 1783, many Indian tribes including Dakota and Ojibwa suffered small pox epidemics and lost villages in the St. Anthony Falls area. The treaty of Versailles would end the American Revolution yet would split the New West company into several smaller companies (Brown, 2001). 

The creation of Beaver Club improved the fur trade in the area since it was a special social organization of males who enjoyed beaver and other fur hunt. At that time there were several conflicts between the Hudson Bay Company and North West Company that started to cover the same areas for hunting.

The year of 1789 was famous for the creation of various smaller fur trading companies that were originally formed as partnerships.  Ten years later the Jay’s Treaty would give reciprocal trading rights to American and British traders in the area, where each trade was allowed to freely cross the border and engage in trading whenever needed. Improved trade contributed to the creation of New York as an important shipment post of furs to Europe from Detroit. In 1795, Alexander Mckenzie would ultimately break from the North west company he had created because of quarrels with McTavish and formed XY company. McTavish ordered all his departments to undersell XY traders and that in turn contributed to the drastic fall of prices of furs on the market (Laycock, 2003).

In 1803, Louisiana was purchased from the French and Lewis and Clark started expedition west in search of a good passage to the Pacific Coast and good trading areas. Later one witnessed consolidation of certain companies like American furs company and North West Company into South West company. Ultimately the war of 1812 between England and the USA depressed the trade all across the American Continent. The North west company in order to survive would move operations to the Columbia River. After the end of the war in 1815, the USA prohibited any foreign trade to operate on the territory of the USA. That dismantled the North West Company and gave American the exclusive trading rights in furs (Chittenden, 2001).
The American Era
As noted earlier in 1816, foreigners were prohibited to trade on the US soil. The American Fur Company would still hire former North West Traders and use their services in trapping furs. Then, one witnessed the tensions between North West Company and American Fur company for the scarce territory.
In 1820s The North West Company and Hudson Bay company would merge to form Hudson Bay company. The majority of goods of Hudson Bay company were thus shipped via internal posts. The tensions between American fur Company and Hudson Bay company continued until American Fur company agreed to withdraw from certain lands in exchange of annual compensations.
In the late 1920s, one would observe declining trade in many areas because wildlife used in furs had been mercilessly eliminated. Many Christian missionaries would actively move in the areas preaching and converting people. As a matter of fact, their activities would prevent many people from fur trade and turn them into farmers as it had been in the case with many Indian tribes who chose to adopt Christianity (Weber, 2002).
In the 1840s the population of St.Louis would increase drastically and most investments would be channeled to banking, lumbering or general merchandising rather than fur trade.  Gradually it became more profitable to engage in other activities rather than continue fur trade. In 1850 the beaver hat was out of fashion in Europe and that meant no demand for beaver whatsoever and ultimately the end of fur trade (Martin 2001).
In the 1850s one would witness the creation of various reservations and new states. In the mid 1860s Canadian confederation was formed and that in turn contributed to business activities other than fur trade.
In conclusion, I would like to note that fur trade had ultimately collapsed. It appeared that the fur trade could work only when the Indians had control of the land rich in furs. The whites apparently depleted the natural resources so rapidly that no sustained industry could be maintained. Still fur trade did not disappear because of lack of furs. One can assume that certain furs were hard to find even during the fur trade era, yet the fur trade still continued. One of the major reasons was the lack of Indians willing to assist with trapping. The need to have a well developed and maintained trading system was not met and that also contributed to the collapse of the fur trade in North America. Ultimately the change of fashion from beaver hats to silk hats in Europe was the last straw that broke camel’s back. The fur trade could not be recovered after it had been abandoned.
As already noted, with the end of the fur trade era in North America, many former fur traders would change profession and become successful in real estate (speculation), lumbering, mining or railroading. Many former traders would continue maintaining their own stores in Indian communities selling Indians the things they were willing to buy.
Taking a look back to the first fur trade posts as created by the French one can see that the fur trade was formed as an industry in which demand for furs existed. European vogue indeed was imperative in fur trade and many people would sail overseas to get employed in a profitable fur business. The fur trade was not only attractive by the sale of furs. It was also very profitable because of cooperation with the native tribes that were willing to trade precious furs for alcohol, guns or items made of iron. As long as such cooperation was profitable for the white man, fur trade flourished among the French. The government apparently supported the fur trade and apparently enjoyed stable supply of furs into Paris. In both cases with the French and British their fur trade in America was ended by the war. During the French-Indian war it was the French that abandoned the fur industry and rather chose to send soldiers to war than to find beaver. It was after the American revolution that the British fur traders were forced out/expelled from the area that was offered only for American traders. As one could later track in the essay, the fur trade in America had blossomed rather quickly and many companies and partnerships were formed to compete in a harsh market. Ultimately, strong competition reduced the prices of furs and drove many companies out of business as it was in the case with American Furs Company.

Industrial or technological changes were also imperative in fur trade. In the early years when people wore what the mother nature was willing to provide them with, they chose furs and thus maintained a stable demand for it. Ultimately one understands that as the major trading posts turned into cities and there were many other job opportunities in industries like banking, insurance, construction, mining, lumbering etc, many people abandoned the fur trade for these other professions that offered lucrative salaries and a different employment. There was not longer a need to spend time outside the town in search of animals or Indians willing to sell ready furs. One could ultimately sit in an office and earn money that way, too. The change in fashion in Europe drastically lowered the demand for furs and now it was pointless to send furs to Europe. The only point of selling alcohol and other items to the native tribes was also meaningless: Indians did not have much money and in the past would exchange furs in to iron items, guns whatever.
The White traders apparently were not environmentally friendly and their trade and hunting/trapping activities ultimately would deplete wildlife in the area making it unsuitable for fur trade. Only the areas originaly occupied by the Indians were maintained in a manner necessary to maintain the optimal populaiton of wildlife suffising for trade.
The last but not least was the evolutional change in technology that contriuted to the creation of other industries as demanded by the industrialized societies of England, France and America. The creation of the railroad from coast to coast of the USA, the demand for coal and iron as demanded by the steam engine opened absolutely different opportunities for many former traders. Other industries competed effectively for the human labor in the USA and fur trade was not strong enough to retain the best individuals. The USA lacked labor force greatly and one can remember that it was the primary reason why many Chinese were invited to visit the USA and work there. As one can understand many factors that took place throughout the history brought to a logical end the fur industry that existed in the USA for more than 250 years.
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