Agnes C. (Agnes Christina) Laut.

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THE LIBRARY
OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



THE FUR TRADE OF AMERICA



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK BOSTON CHICAGO DALLAS
ATLANTA SAN FRANCISCO

MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED

LONDON BOMBAY CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.

TORONTO





American Museum of Natural History.




BY



AGNES C. LAUT

PATHFINDERS OF THE WEST," " VIKINGS OF THE
PACIFIC," "CONQUEST OF GREAT NORTH-
WEST," "LORDS OF NORTH," ETC.



Nefo ff otfe

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
1921

All right* reserved



COPYRIGHT, 1931,
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.



Set up and electrotyped. Published February, 1921.



J. 8. Gushing Co. Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



College
Library

HB



ftaU



FOREWORD



Is fur trading founded on cruelty ?

For the past few years, there has been a campaign waged in
the United States, which almost charges any one wearing a piece
of fur with murder.

When that question is asked me, I feel like answering by asking
another set of questions Is child birth cruel ? Is any type of
birth for animals or humans painless ? Should we abolish all birth
and strive for the Nirvana of Nothingness because all birth is at-
tended with even greater pain than death ? Should we cease to
fight for right and award honor to the heroes of war, because the
triumph of right must necessarily entail death to those who fight
for wrong ?

But I do not hurl back this bombardment of counter questions ;
for I realize they are founded on misconceptions ; and I love the
creatures of the wilds feathered and furred with a passion
that has taken me to the open every year of my life and keeps me
to-day by preference a resident of the country rather than a deni-
zen of the town. As a girl, I learned to shoot. As a woman, I
have never fired a shot at a wild creature, except in the air to scare
husky dogs away from molesting the ham and bacon stored in our
camp kit ; and if I hadn't, they would have eaten our boots. The
people, who have accused the fur trade of being founded on cruelty,
I notice eat game birds and ham and bacon and roast beef and fresh
lamb ; but that inconsistency apart, let us face the question without
any side issues or inconsistencies Is fur trading founded on
cruelty ?

And I answer unhesitatingly It is not. It is not because
the very existence of the fur trade depends on protecting wild life



962173



vi FOREWORD

and conserving the fur bearers. I am not talking of game hogs,
who shoot for the love of slaughter, or lust of killing. I am speak-
ing of the fur trade as it is operated to-day in the three greatest
fur preserves of the world Alaska and the United States, Northern
Canada and Siberia.

You have to go to the wilds and go only once to realize that
natural life is crueler by far than the most careless, thoughtless
fur hunter.

In the first place, there is no such thing as a natural death in
the wilds.

The rabbits fall victims to the weasel, to the wolf, to the bear,
to the lynx, to the marten; and if they didn't they would and do
multiply with such terrific rapidity they would and do fall victims
to a pest of disease once in six or seven years. Otherwise, they
would do what they have done in Australia become so prolific
they perish of starvation.

Each creature in the animal world preys on the creature one de-
gree smaller or weaker than itself. That failing, they eat their
own young like rats, or disembowel their mates as the wolves and
minks do.

There is next the consideration of the superfluous male. Some
animals like the fox mate for life and are monogamous; but the
most of the fur bearers fight for a harem; and in that fight, the
young are killed and torn, the mothers are injured, and the "bache-
lors" being the stronger, left in the majority to prey on one another.
Seal life is one of the most terrible examples of this. Bad as the
cruelties of the poachers were which have been stopped in order
to conserve fur life they never caused the loss of life among seals
that fights for the harem caused every spring in pup life and in-
juries to the mothers. The story of this will be found in the chap-
ter on seals.

Now the fur trader's prosperity being dependent on the con-
tinuance of fur life, his buyer will buy only furs (i) taken prime,
that is, taken in the short season of two or three months, when the



FOREWORD vii

fur is perfect, when the mothers are not bearing young, and when
the young are full grown ; (2) taken by such forms of trapping as
do not fever the animal with needless pain; for a fevered animal
turns bluish in its skin ; and a bluish skin sheds its hairs just as a
fevered human patient loses his hair. Hunting with dogs is dis-
couraged and in many fur districts prohibited by law. Poisoned
bait is also being prohibited ; for fear a mother with young should
get it. The long range gun or rifle is a less painful death than to
be slowly eaten by a wolf, or to have the blood sucked out alive by
a mink or a marten ; but the present tendency is to use only the rifle
for such big dangerous game as wolf or bear; and use box traps,
or deadfall, which kills instantly, for fox, fisher, marten. Game
wardens supervise the opening of the box traps. If the
prisoner is a lady, the tail is scissored in a ring and she is let go;
and if any trapper sends through the mails, or tries to sell a pelt
so scissored, his furs are subject to confiscation and he to a fine of
$500. A young fox caught is treated in the same way. So is a
fox whose fur would not bring a good price. He is given another
year to grow. If the superfluous males were not taken, they would
fight among themselves, as the story of blue and white Arctic fox
tells in full.

It was not the fur trade exterminated the buffalo. It was
the barb wire fence of the settlers ; and it was the fur trade saved
the buffalo from total extermination and brought it back, as beaver
have also been brought back, and Alaska Seal. For the exter-
mination of the Sea Otter, I have no excuses to offer. If the fur
trade had had command of the Sea Otter haunts, the Sea Otter to-
day would be restored as the Alaska Seal is. What exterminated
the Sea Otter was a race of Aleutian Indians crazed with Russian
vodka; and that crime was perpetrated when the fur trade was
in its infancy and in the hands of savage criminals.

But the greatest triumph of the modern fur trade is in fur farm-
ing, as the American Government has carried it out in Alaska Seal
and blue fox, and Canadian ranchers in Prince Edward Island. In



viii FOREWORD

ten years more than 1000 fur ranches have sprung up in Canada
and the United States ; and this is only the beginning of a movement
destined to transform the fur trade and do for it what domestic care
has done for the race horse, or the pure blood Holstein. Pure blood,
registered silver fox fur bearers to-day sell for from $10,000 to $3 5,000
a pair ; and when each pup may yield a pelt worth $1200 to $2000, it
doesn't need telling that the pups get the care of millionnaire babies ;
and the greater the care, the finer the fur and the higher the price.

But why kill these pups at all ?

Read the story of the fox if you want to know ! Because of
the "superfluous male" and his ardent desire to scratch the eyes
out of a rival and eat his entrails.

But how about the best Persian lamb from unborn kids ? That
charge is a plain unvarnished lie. Fur farms are to-day supplying
the fur trade with the lamb skins ; and as I was penning these words
was handed to me a set of Dr. Young's pictures of his famous kara-
kul ranches in California. Can you conceive of any fur farmer,
who has imported ewes and rams from Bokhara at a cost of thousands
and can resell his breeding stock at from $500 to $10,000 a pair,
killing "the goose that lays the golden egg" ? If so, where would
the lambs for next year's supply come from ? The charge is too
ridiculous to require refutation. When lambs are born prematurely,
which happens in the best regulated families, the pelt is saved, of
course, which is the sole ground for the charge.

The chapters of this volume consist in part of articles, which
have from time to time in the last ten years appeared in magazines,
to which I am indebted for permission to use with such corrections
and additions as the changes in the trade necessitated.

I emphasize the word "corrections"; for figures that were
correct in the fur trade even four years ago are obsolete to-day.
In no American industry has the pace gone so fast, and shifted so
completely. The War hastened but did not cause this. It was
inevitable that America the biggest buyer of raw furs in the
world would ultimately become the market centre of the fur



FOREWORD ix

world ; so we witness fur auctions held three times a year in Amer-
ican centres Montreal, New York, St. Louis whose aggre-
gate exceeds the famous fur auctions of London. It was inevitable
that America would some day stop shipping her raw furs to London
and Germany to be dressed and dyed and manufactured would
some day stop re-importing her own furs at enhanced prices, and
would take over the selling, dressing and dyeing and manufacturing
of her own raw products.

The War practically stopped the dye industry in Europe; and
Americans and Canadians were not slow to transfer that dye in-
dustry to this continent. Perfections in dye processes, that read
like miracles, followed faster than manufacturers could erect works
and train the highly specialized workers needed for the most highly
specialized and highly technical industry in the world. This page
of the history of the modern fur trade reads as romantically as any
story of the hunter on the open field.

When the American Government took over Alaska Sealing,
sales were held in St. Louis. That was the beginning of the great
sales on this continent. When the War interrupted shipment of
fur consignments from Asia to London and Germany, they began
coming to this continent in huge volume through Vancouver, San
Francisco and Seattle. Money was plentiful in America. It was
scarce in Europe. The trade here called for furs. American buyers
began scouting for raw fur markets of Asia, South America, Canada,
even war-torn Europe. They paid in many cases foolishly high
prices. The fashion of summer furs came in a veritable craze.
The market became a maw that could not be satiated ; and all
this swelled the furs pouring into the new sales centres of this coun-
try. The fur trade doubled, then quadrupled. Prices jumped
and jumped yet again in one case from 90^ to $90 a skin in six
years, in another case from lOff to $7 a skin, in yet another from
$200 to $1800 a skin. Just at this conjunction of the stars came
the spectacular successes in fur farming silver fox, Persian lamb,
minkeries. Alaska Seal, Beavers, Buffalo which had been al-



x FOREWORD

most exterminated under reckless methods came back to a
plethora of supplies ; but still the supplies could not satisfy the de-
mands for furs. People were buying furs who had never bought
or worn furs before; and new dye processes were placing good
furs within the reach of moderate means in a way new to the
trade.

By the time the War was over, America had taken over at least
the American part of the world fur trade ; and hundreds of thou-
sands of skilled workmen were employed in the industry, where only
hundreds had been employed before.

This story is told in Part I of this volume.

It was also inevitable when prices began to ascend with light-
ning swiftness that shoestring gamblers should jump in the new
game ; but the game is too chancy and technical for gamblers,
who bought reckless of fashions or quality on the hunting field ;
and these gentry will be shortly shaken out of the fur trade, richer
in experience of what is prime fur and what isn't, but poorer in
money ; and the fur trade will settle down to normal progress in
the hands of experienced men.

The fur trade is in the shaking-down process in America now ;
but it is in America to stay, however prices may be slashed and
profits sacrificed in Europe to get the great world trade back.

Part II consists of the Story of the Trapper Afield, whose habi-
tat I know almost as well as I do my own garden, from travel from
Labrador to the Arctic Circle and life on the fur field, when a child.

An Appendix gives the fur laws of all the States and all the
Canadian Provinces, all of which are now wakening up to the value
of fur as a national asset. Only one set of figures need be given to
affirm such values. Alaska cost the United States $7,200,000 in
1867. Up to 1918, Alaska had exported $80,000,000 of furs.

And again, I emphasize the word "corrections."

Though I have written the technical part of this volume under
the tutelage of such authorities as Mr. White of the Canadian Con-
servation Committee; under such authorities on the field as Hud-



FOREWORD xi

son's Bay men, Colonel Cornwall, the free trader of Edmonton,
Revillons of Paris; such buyers as Gottlieb, or Funstens of St.
Louis, and a dozen others ; the dye chapters practically in some of
the big dye works ; though I have consulted such authorities as
Hornaday on natural life, and Elliot on seals, and followed Brass
as to totals, and checked Brass' totals with the sales record of Lon-
don fur brokers for a hundred years ; and though I spent six months
going over line by line all the Minutes of the Hudson's Bay Com-
pany from 1871 only the most ignorant quack would aver that
the fur figures available to-day could be correct.

The reason for this is self-evident. When prices drop, or the
whim of fashion shifts, furs shipped this year may be withheld from
the market and not sold for four years, when they will be sold as
the output of that year; and the practice works the other way as
well. When prices jump, furs stored for years come out of storage
and are sold. There is no way of checking what furs come from
what centres. Undressed furs are free of duty as they should be.
The trapper may post them from Athabasca to St. Louis, or from
Wisconsin to Montreal. Northern furs always sell at highest prices,
other things being equal. A little local buyer, or agent, may post
those furs so received by mail as from one trapping field when they
are from another ; and buyers may declare they know a skin's habi-
tat from a life experience in buying. They may in many cases ;
but only this year, it was found 12 million pounds of rabbit from
Australia were sold as Canadian, when they had come in by Van-
couver. I defy you to tell an Alaskan mink from a British Colum-
bia mink, or a Prince Edward Island silver fox from a Labrador or
Athabasca one. Game laws, wardens' stamps, breeders' trade
marks are correcting all this ; but to the present, the confusion dis-
counts any dependence on figures.

Also the shift of animal life defies scientific tabulation. Ten
years ago, I prepared a fur-trade map on America for a leading
magazine. We made it as accurate as it could be made from Bio-
logical Reports from Washington and Government Reports and



xii FOREWORD

Hudson's Bay Company Reports on Canada. It has been copied
and re-copied, stolen and re-stolen ; and yet to-day, owing to the
increase of animal life in some sections, the extermination in other
sections, it is no longer correct. The map I present to-day has been
revised and to be correct, will have to be re-revised again to-morrow.

And even the most experienced naturalists disagree, as you will
see if you follow Coues and Hornaday, or Dr. Young on Persian
Lamb and the Biological Reports of the U. S. Government. I had
a funny experience of this, when I first told the Story of the Trapper
years ago. I met a lifelong independent dealer on Peace River.

"Say," he said, "you are dead wrong. Whoever put that fake
over on you about ermine ? Trappers never in all time caught an
ermine by smearing an axe with grease."

I had the story from a chief factor born on MacKenzie River,
and from his daughter, who played with Indian children on Mac-
Kenzie River. I think I told it first in the Youth's Companion and
later in Outing. We fought it out and parted good friends, but in
revising this book, I had decided to take that paragraph out as
doubtful, when I met my same friend.

"Say," he said, "do you know those people were right? I saw

the Indians' kids doing that very thing last winter down ," he

mentioned some MacKenzie River point I have forgotten.

And so while I wish to express my deep gratitude to all helpers
and informants of facts, I wish to take on my own shoulders any re-
sponsibility for inaccuracies, knowing well the older I grow how little
we all know of the secrets of animal life and fur-bearing denizens of
the wilds. Only the study-chair naturalist has a monopoly to abso-
lute accuracy in knowledge of the fur bearer's life; and I have
not written this volume as either a naturalist, or a fur trader, but
only a passionate lover of the great outdoors, who regards the fur
trade as one of the best untold stories of American adventure in the
wilds and in industry. The adventures and romance are just as
fascinating in the trade as on the hunting field.

A. C. L.



CONTENTS

PART I

CHAPTER PAGE

I. Is THE WORLD FACING A PERMANENT SHORTAGE OF FURS? IN-
CREASE IN VALUES, ENORMOUS INCREASES IN NUMBERS OF
SKINS SOLD AND TRANSFER OF FUR CENTRES FROM EUROPE

TO AMERICA i

II. WHAT BROUGHT THE FUR MARKETS OF THE WORLD TO AMERICA ? 16

III. THINGS EVERY WOMAN, WHO BUYS FURS, SHOULD KNOW . . 25

IV. FALSE FURS AND FAKE TRADE NAMES . . ... .42

V. FUR FARMING TO SUPPLY THE WORLD DEMAND FOR FURS SILVER

Fox .1. . 50

VI. FUR FARMING FOR BROADTAIL, PERSIAN LAMB, ASTRA CHAN AND

KRIMMER 66

VII. THE DYEING AND THE DRESSING OF THE FURS .... 78

VIII. FARMING MUSKRAT FOR FUR 90

IX. THE RARE FURS OF THE WEASEL FAMILY 97

X. SEA OTTER AND LAND OTTER 109

XI. BEAVER AND NUTRIA ' . . 118

XII. CONCERNING FUR SEALS 125

XIII. THE OTHER GREAT STAPLE FURS. SKUNK, RACCOON, BADGER,
WOLVERINE, CAT, COUGAR, LYNX, RED AND WHITE Fox, BEAR,
WOLF, ERMINE, CHINCHILLA, MOLE, RABBIT, FITCH, OPOSSUM 134

APPENDIX TO PART I 151

LAWS OF UNITED STATES AND CANADIAN PROVINCES REVISED
TO DATE ON SEASONS FOR DIFFERENT FURS. LAWS TO PRE-
SERVE GAME FUR FARMS LICENSES AND ROYALTIES TO
GAME WARDENS



xiv CONTENTS

PART II

CHAPTER PAGE

I. THE TAKING OF THE BEAVER 189

II. THE MAKING OF THE MOCCASINS 201

III. THE INDIAN TRAPPER 210

IV. BA'TISTE, THE BEAR HUNTER 223

V. JOHN COLTER FREE TRAPPER 236

VI. THE GREATEST FUR COMPANY OF THE WORLD .... 253

VII. KOOT AND THE BOB-CAT 273

VIII. OTHER LITTLE ANIMALS BESIDES WAHBOOS THE RABBIT BEING
AN ACCOUNT OF MUSQUASH THE MUSKRAT, SIKAK THE SKUNK,

WENUSK THE BADGER, AND OTHERS 286

IX. THE RARE FURS How THE TRAPPER TAKES SAKWASEW THE
MINK, NEKIK THE OTTER, WUCHAK THE FISHER, AND WAPISTAN

THE MARTEN 300

X. UNDER THE NORTH STAR WHERE Fox AND ERMINE RUN . . 314

XI. WHAT THE TRAPPER STANDS FOR 327

APPENDIX TO PART II 332



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

American Museum of Natural History Frontispiece

FACING PAGE

A Trapper Tepee i

Sorting Furs in St. Louis before a Scale 16

Note the Depth of Beaver Compared to Nutria . . . . . 17

Hudson Seal with Skunk and Bear Trimming 32

Real and Imitation Silver Fox 33

Dyed Red Fox Showing Method of Gluing in the Badger Hairs ... 48

Two Types of Imitation Silver Fox 49

Types of Badger and Lynx and Wolf Skin Effects 64

Very Fine Coon Coat 65

Nutria 80

Beaver : Small Specimen 80

Fisher Skins a Fur that Defies Imitation 81

Red Fox Dyed for Silver Fox 96

Fur Farming in Prince Edward Island 97

Blue Fox of Pribilofs, Alaska 112

Karakul Lamb on Dr. Young's Ranch, Kerman, California . . . .113

Muskrat Raw and Plucked 128

Stretching Boards with Centre Wedge 129

Marten Front and Back 144

Mink : . 145

Marten 160

Otter 161

Alaska Fur Seal Group 176

Fur Seal Rookery, Pribilof Island, Alaska 177

Polar White Fox and Arctic Hare 192

Wolverine 193

Very Fine Gray Squirrel . . . 208

Polar Ermine with His Victim 209

Very Fine Bunch of Mink 224

Badger 225

Ba'tiste a Fur Hunter of Cumberland Lake 240

Getting into Light Rapids 241




A Trapper's Tepee Dog on Guard.



THE FUR TRADE OF AMERICA



CHAPTER I

IS THE WORLD FACING A PERMANENT SHORTAGE OF FURS ? IN-
CREASE IN VALUES, ENORMOUS INCREASES IN NUMBERS OF
SKINS SOLD AND TRANSFER OF FUR CENTRES FROM EUROPE TO
AMERICA

Is the world facing a permanent shortage of furs ?

Lovers of the wild life say it is. Fur dealers say it is not ; and
both present cogent reasons for their arguments.

It is the oldest industry in the world, fur hunting, fur trading.
The cave man, who slew a beast with a club to take a pelt for his
own covering, was the world's first manufacturer ; and his discovery
that a pelt would make clothes for himself and his family led far
afield to the exploration of half the world. It was the little beaver
led discoverers up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, and from
the Great Lakes down North to Hudson Bay and down South from
the Mississippi to the Rio Grande, and down the Mackenzie to the
Arctic, and across the mountains down the Columbia to the Pacific.,
It was the little beaver led Peter Skene Ogden's fur brigade from
the mouth of the Columbia across what are now the States of
Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Northern
California.

And it was the little sable led the Cossacks across Russia to
what is now Kamchatka ; and it was the sea otter that led the
Russians, Americans, Spaniards and Englishmen around the world
in crazy little cockle-shell sail boats to explore the Pacific Coast
from the Golden Gate to Bering Sea.



2 THE FUR TRADE OF AMERICA

It is a page of romance unequalled in all history.

The canoe brigade pushing North to new hunting grounds
shunned followers and poachers in their preserve more than a
diplomat shuns a modern newspaper reporter. If the fur hunters
found fine new fields, where beaver and otter and silver fox and
fisher and muskrat and marten and sable were plentiful, they were
not going to tell it to rival traders, not they. They were not going
to be followed by rivals ; and when they came out, either down to
St. Louis, or down to Montreal, or over the mountains down the
Columbia, they were not going to tell they had made a new find
of a fine hunting ground, that would attract other hunters the next
year. They even concealed the number of their packs and shipped
them out by different ports so the world would not know what
was coming from where.

Just as elusive and secretive were the individual trappers out
on the ground going the rounds of their traps. If they came on
beaver and otter and mink and fisher signs, do you think they were
going to advertise the fact to brother trappers ? Not they ! Ask
them about the hunt ; and they would answer invariably, then as
now "Poor, very poor, getting scarcer every year."

The very same elusiveness marked the latest development of
fur trading in fur farming. Fur farming really began back in the
i88o's, in Prince Edward Island ; but it was less than ten years ago
that the facts came out to the world. The first farmer of silver
foxes had been expressing and posting skins from half a dozen post
offices before his nearest neighbors knew he was succeeding ; and
by the time his bank deposits in a dozen different banks had totalled
$225,000 he was selling breeding stock for other silver fox farms
up to $10,000 and $30,000 a pair. In the twinkling of an eye
$26,000,000 was invested in silver fox farming in Prince Edward
Island. Wild bush lands had jumped to higher values than farm
lands ; and the thing became a mania like oil, or gold. Then came
the War ; and prices slumped. Pelts would not sell at all in London ;
and breeding stock dropped to $100 and $200 and $400 a pair. The



TRANSFER FROM EUROPE TO AMERICA 3

pessimists shrieked with glee. "Didn't we tell you it was a soap
bubble due to burst ?" "You can never raise wild animals in captiv-
ity" and so on and on and on; the usual chorus of a gloria when
an untried venture goes to smash.

But, presto, barely was the War over, when fashion went fox
skin mad ; and silver fox skins sold at the fur auctions of Montreal
and St. Louis and New York in the spring of 1920 at $1200 a skin
for a single neck piece ; and one fox farm of Prince Edward Island,
consisting of 220 acres and 66 foxes, sold for $100,000.

Doesn't look as if fox farming had come to such a bad smash
after all, does it ?

But if the fur traders and the fur trappers and the fur farmers
are secretive and elusive, their secrecy is as an open book compared



Online LibraryAgnes C. (Agnes Christina) LautThe fur trade of America → online text (page 1 of 29)