Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

The Fur Traders

There is ever much pride in my heart when I hear it said that all the trails leading from the Missouri River into the Great West were pointed out to the white people by fur buyers, for my father was well known, and in a friendly way, as one of the most successful of the free traders who had their headquarters at St. Louis.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

It is not for me to say, nor for you to believe, that the fur traders were really the first to travel over these trails, for, as a matter of fact, they were marked out in the early days by the countless numbers of buffaloes, deer, and other animals that always took the most direct road from their feeding places to where water could be found.

Then came the Indians, seeking a trail from one part of the country to another, and they followed in the footsteps of the animals, knowing full well that thereby they would not lack for water, the one thing needful to those who go to and fro in the wilderness.

Thus it was that the animals and the Indians combined to mark out the most direct roads that could be made, with due regard to the bodily needs of those who traveled from one part of the Great West to another.

As the traders in furs journeyed from tribe to tribe of the Indians, or sought the most favored places for trapping, they learned how white men could go westward from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean without fear of dying from hunger or thirst.

My father, Pierre Laclede, was, as I have said, a free trader, which means that he went out into the wilderness with his crew of boatmen and trappers, free from any bargains or duties to the great fur trading companies, such as the Hudson's Bay, the Northwest, and the X. Y.

There were regular battles fought between the hunters and trappers of these great companies in the olden days, when St. Louis was under Spanish rule and had become a famous gathering place for the fur traders.

There were many like my father, who, hiring men to help them, carried into the wilderness goods to be exchanged with the Indians for furs, and, failing in this, set about trapping fur-bearing animals throughout the winter season.

Wonderful sport these same traders had, as I know full well, having been more than once with my father over that trail leading from the Missouri River to the Oregon country.

Then there was the home-corning to St. Louis, when every man forgot the days on which he had been cold or hungry, and no longer heeded the half-healed wounds received in Indian attacks, when he had been forced to defend with his life the furs he had gathered.

Once in St. Louis, what rare times of feasting and making merry, while the furs were being shipped to New Orleans, or bartered to the big companies that were ever on the watch for the return of the free traders!