Albert Lord Belden.

The fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea online

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Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 14 of 34)
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entire satisfaction to every consumer if sold simply, and
correctly, as marten,


The lynx, once quite common throughout the world.

LYNX 243

has become extinct in many places, and is evidently mak-
ing its last stand in force in the wilder sections of Can-
ada, with a trail through the Yukon and terminating in

The Canadian lynx, called Loupcervier by the Can-
adians, is a powerful animal some three feet in length;
has a rather thin or slight body, long stout limbs, short
tail black at the tip, long and sharply pointed ears. In
winter the fur is dark grey on the back, reddish grey on
the sides, lighter on the under parts, and more or less
diffusely marked with spots and dashes of black and
brown. Skins of superior quality are obtained in the
Hudson's Bay district; the collection varies materially
in quantity, and the price of raw skins has shown
marked changes, from three to thirty-five dollars, touch-
ing the latter figure when the demand, though not at the
time really great, exceeded the supply. Lynx fur,
which is long, soft and dense, is a superb article when
dyed a rich, deep lustrous black ; it is also effective dyed
dark brown, and meets with considerable favor made up
natural, either in stoles, collars, capes, muffs or trim-

It is also used natural for these various purposes,
but is most popular when dyed black.


Rash speculation in everything furry, beginning
mildly about 1905 and senselessly increased annually
until checked by war in 19 14, in carrying the price of
all peltries well above "top notch" figures is justly
chargeable with effecting the approximate extermination
of fur-bearers of highest intrinsic value, including the
fisher, and the slaughter of the innocents would doubt-
less have run on to the finish if several million men had
not found in killing each other a freer field for the
exercise of their savage instincts.

The fisher, also called black cat and pekan, is the
largest member of the marten or sable family, and is
found in Canada, the Lake Superior region, northern
part of New York State, and occasionally in Pennsyl-
vania and a little farther south; specimens obtained in
Canada during the proper season are very fine, being
fully furred and of good color ; the animal has a rather
slender body, long head terminating in a pointed muzzle,
short limbs, and long tail quite furry at the base ; the fur
is dense, but shorter than that of the marten. Con-
siderable variations are noticeable in the soft fur of the
fisher, the general hue being blackish, with a greyish
tinge on head and shoulders; some specimens are dark
brown on the back and dingy grey on the sides ; others
are a paler shade of brown, and a few show a white spot



on the throat. Canadian skins rank highest in value,
and of these exceptionally fine specimens are caught
in the Moose River district. The fur of the fisher is
occasionally in fashion in Paris and America, but the
bulk of the collection has usually been marketed in
Russia ; it is used in making costly robes, fine neckwear,
handsome trimmings, and ladies' hats. It is made up

Fisher-tail trimming has at times been popular in

Fisher frequents a very limited range in the Adiron-
dacks, N. Y., making its home in the rocky, mountainous,
and lake regions, chiefly in Hamilton County, and mod-
erately in the eastern section of Herkimer County, and
bordering southern parts of St. Lawrence and Franklin

A comparatively small number are obtained on the
Pacific coast; these rate considerably lower in price.

Fashion determines the value, or rather the price.
In the winter of 1906 when fisher was only moderately
fashionable, dark raw skins brought $6.00 to $10.00;
in 1 910 increasing favor caused the price to advance
to $10.00 to $15.00, and in 191 3 a strong fashionable
demand carried the raw skins to extreme figures, from
$25.00 to $50.00. At the end of 19 16 the price was
$25.00 to $30.00.


Badger, a mottled grey fur, is obtained annually
in moderate quantity, is pleasing in appearance, service-
able, and low in price. It is adapted to various uses, and
either natural or dyed makes good neck pieces, muffs,
linings and an effective trimming. Skins of the badger
are sometimes used for covering trunks.

Dressed pelts are impervious to water.

Coats for automobilists and aviators may be made
of badger skins, and will be found protective and dur-




Though the wolverine is quite common to Europe
and Siberia, it survives in greatest numbers in Canada;
in appearance it resembles a young bear, but is much
more ferocious and voracious, the latter characteristic
having earned for it the name of glutton. The wolverine
varies in length from thirty-six to forty-eight inches,
including the tail which is covered with fur and an
abundance of long, pendant hairs; in winter the short
fur is almost a true black, but at other seasons is brown-
ish-black on the back and rather reddish-brown on the
sides; the muzzle and paws are a clear black. Though
the annual collection is small the fur is popular at times
as a novelty; it is serviceable at all times, and is made



Up natural as a trimming, neck pieces, muffs, and excep-
tionally handsome carriage robes.

Esquimaux use pieces of wolverine fur, when they
can get it, to ornament their rather plain and peculiar
fur garments.

The wolverine is a fierce and forever hungry enemy
of other fur-bearers, and in the course of the year de-
vours many beavers and muskrats, its preferred food,
catching them in the open and digging them out of their
houses, and on account of this wasteful habit trappers
would gladly witness the death of the last member of
the tribe.

The wolverine has strong, sharp snowy-white claws
which are highly prized as trophies by Indian captors
of the savage creature.

By keeping well within the bounds of its only dis-
covered habitat, secluded, hilly and rocky districts of
limited area in extreme northern sections of North
America and the Hudson's Bay Country, the musk ox
has survived to the present time, but is found only in
small herds of from half a dozen to thirty individuals;
it is a heavily built, broad-backed animal, thirty to forty
inches in height, having horns, rather large in circum-
ference, radiating from the center of the forehead out-
ward to the sides of the head, then downward and thence
upward to the tips. The general color of the male is
brown, usually quite dark; the female is much darker,
or nearly black; the hair on the neck and between the
shoulders is long, and on the sides of very great length,



reaching nearly to the ground; the under fur is soft,
and greyish in color. The small annual collection
usually sells readily; it is one of the few articles that
has advanced one hundred per cent at a single sale in
London. The fur of the musk ox is made up natural,
and is quite attractive. Three hundred and twenty skins
were obtained in Canada in 191 5.



Foxes abound everywhere, but whether their sur-
vival in present large numbers is due to their proverbial
cunning, or exceptional proficiency in procuring neces-
sary food, remains to be determined by naturalists after
mature deliberation a few centuries hence.

Foxes, though showing no difference in form, vary
more pronouncedly in size and color than any other
animal, not excepting man, who is numerically next as a
varient in both particulars; but for o' a that, extending
the comparison, a fox is a fox the world over, a fact
which sometimes leads to trouble in the trade, as, for
instance, when best red fox skins in the raw are rated
at five dollars each trapper thinks the fox skin he
caught, being a fox, should rank in the five-dollar grade.

In size foxes vary from eight to forty-two inches in
length from tip to tip, and from six to sixteen inches in
height; the caudal appendage, ranging up to fifteen
inches in length is a showy "tip," being extremely bushy
or well furred, always showy whether adorning its
owner by birth or purchase, or as the "brush," or trophy,
of the red-coated huntsman first in at the kill — ^by

Foxes inhabiting very cold districts have coats of
long, dense, downy fur and over-hair of exquisite fineness
and beauty, and in instances of great value, the price



being graded according to the color, quality, and size of
each pelt, in the order here given ; all of the very valuable
classes are found in Canada, and on that account are
noted in this section.

Black Fox. The black fox is found in Siberia,
vicinity of Hudson's Bay, Alaska, and in rare instances
at other places ; only a few skins are procured annually,
and these command high prices; the fur is very soft,
glossy and abundant, and is a rich black on all parts of
the animal except the tip of the tail, which is pure white.

Silver Fox. The silver fox ranks next in value to
the pure black, and is more numerous; fine specimens
are procured in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and occa-
sionally in the United States near the Canadian border ;
the fur is mainly black interspersed with white on parts
of the body, chiefly on the back near the shoulders and
rump ; these white hairs vary in quantity, in some speci-
mens being scattered and moderate in amount, and in
others appearing in splashes and patches of considerable

Blue Fox. The color of the fine, soft fur of the
blue fox is not a distinct blue, but is a smoky hue, or a
whitish-brown on the surface; the under fur, however,


shows a bluish tinge. The blue fox is found in Yukon
Territory, on the mainland and islands of Alaska, in
Greenland and Iceland; the annual collection is not
large ; at times when the article is in fashionable request,
imitations are freely produced in dyed skins of lower

Cross Fox. This specimen, which is of good size,
is handsomely marked, and its name is due to a dark
transverse stripe over the shoulders, which is particu-
larly effective when the fur is made up into a large muff.
As a whole the fur is irregular in color, being in part
grey, brown, sandy and nearly black; these tones vary
in depth in individual specimens. The animal is found
in Canada, northern New York, Michigan and Wis-
consin; the annual collection, from three to seven thou-
sand, is comparatively small.

White Fox. The white or Arctic fox has a delicate
and very beautiful coat of white fur in the winter months
only, its fur in summer being a dull brown or bluish-
grey. The white fox, like the Esquimau, thrives best in
cold latitudes, and the annual supply of skins is procured



in Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and extreme northern
sections of North America. White fox is either in
strong demand or is almost totally neglected, and with
unexampled frequency has advanced or declined one
hundred per cent in the London sales; the small collec-
tion, however, regularly passes into consumption, dyed
skins serving as excellent imitations of black or blue fox.

Red Fox. Skins of the red fox are marketed each
year in greater number than those of any other color
or name; this member of the fox family abounds from
Pennsylvania to Canada and from the Atlantic Ocean to
the Missouri River, and as many as eighty thousand
have been trapped and shot in a single season — and
probably the full total was not entered upon the mortality
list. The general color is reddish-yellow on the upper
portion of the body with greyish effect upon the back,
white on the stomach and tip of tail, and black on feet
and tail; some are a clear sandy red and white, and
others yellow and white, on the portions of the body as
specified under the general color. Fur of the red fox
is almost always universally popular.

Grey Fox. Compared with the preceding members
of the race the grey fox is noticeably inferior in fine-
ness and color of fur ; at times the pelt is too low in price
to be worth the work incidental to trapping even when
the animal persists in getting into a trap set and baited
for a different creature. The grey fox is found, next
in number to the red, in every part of the United States
including the extreme south, across the border in
Mexico, and to a very limited extent in Canada. The
prevailing color of the fur is grey varied with black,
sides grey mixed with reddish-yellow, throat white, and


tail, a fair "brush," greyish-black; many of the longer
hairs are black with the exception of a single dash of
white at about a quarter of an inch from the tip.

Kitt, or Swift Fox. This specimen is the plebian
member of the fox family in North America, being least
in size and value ; the head is short and broad, legs and
ears long, and tail bushy terminating in a black tip ; tiie
predominant color of the fur is yellowish-grey, darkest
down the spine, lighter or pale reddish-yellow on the
sides, and nearly white on the under portion of the body.

Yellow Fox. The Fennec, a very small yellow
furred fox, is found in parts of Africa. Red foxes, not
the same as the American, abound in Australia, and
other foxes in sundry sizes and colors frequent the
snowy wastes and flowery fields from Pole to Pole, every
continent and country, populous or desert.

Fox fur is continuously popular somewhere, natural
and dyed, for making neck pieces, linings, muffs,
carriage robes and floor rugs; though not durable, it is
generally "worth the price" on account of its luxurious


The Hudson's Bay Company was organized by
Englishmen of wealth in 1668- 1669, including Prince
Rupert, Duke of Albemarle, Duke of York, Earl of
Arlington, Earl of Craven and several baronets and
knights, altogether eighteen stockholders ; it is of record
that King Charles was also a stockholder to the extent
of three hundred pounds, but whether he paid in that
amount is in doubt, though we think he did — it is certain
that he accepted dividends on the amount stated.

In May, 1670, under the leadership of Prince
Rupert, the organization was granted a charter of in-
corporation by Charles II., of England, the title being:
"The Governor and Company of Adventurers of Eng-
land Trading Into Hudson Bay"; instead of this long
title, the name commonly used has been: "Hudson's
Bay Company"; the king's interest mentioned in the
grant was "two elk and two black beavers" annually, but



he seems to have been well pleased with an hundred and
fifty guineas on his unmentioned stock.

The motto of the Hudson's Bay Company is : "Pro
Pelle Cutem," skin for skin; the coat-of-arms shows
four beavers, and the cable address, "to this day," is

The charter authorized the Company to carry on
the fur trade and conduct a general business with the
Indians at Hudson Bay and Victoria ; the initial capital
of the Company was £8,420; the territory controlled
exceeded an area of three million square miles ; this large
grant of land was subsequently increased.

For convenience of administration, collection of
peltries, and protection against white and red opponents,
the company erected a number of forts, trading posts,
and spacious warehouses ; the territory was divided into
a number of departments, embracing at one period or
another posts as follows : Northern Department, twenty-
six posts; Southern Department, twenty-eight posts;
Columbia Department, sixteen posts ; and Montreal De-
partment, thirty posts; the head office for Canada T^as
and is in the last named department, and city of the
same name.

The operating force for each of the several depart-
ments embraces the chief factors, chief traders, clerks,
apprentice clerks, interpretors, laborers; a number of
voyageurs and Indian trappers are retained, and an army
of trappers, white and red, carry their season's catch of
peltries to the posts for barter or sale. These trappers,
when the transaction is by barter, are given pieces of
wood of peculiar form, one piece of wood for each skin
delivered ; these pieces of wood may be exchanged at the

gorfe Jfactorp, an important l^ubjson'K J3ap Companp l^oit

Wtite 3^accoon


department of supplies in the post for blankets, guns,
knives, powder, shot, small mirrors, coats, nets, tobacco,
and any other articles needed.

For many years beaver skins were the standard of
exchange on the basis appended :

I beaver skin for one pound of tobacco.

1 beaver skin for one pound of glass beads.

2 beaver skins for one pound of powder. ,;^ j
lo beaver skins for one gun.

York Factory, on Hudson Bay, between Hayes and
Nelson Rivers, very close to the former and somewhat
more than two miles south of the latter stream, was
originally built of logs, laid one upon another ; later re-
built of stone. The fort was provided with a number of
cannon, nine and twelve pounders, for defense against
hostile natives and white marauders. The Indians
brought their furs down Nelson River to a point near its
mouth, and then carried them to the fort.

Men stationed at the fort included the chief factor,
second factor, surgeon, the trader, clerks, mechanics and
laborers ; working hours were from 8 A. M. to 4 P. M.
in winter, and from 6 o'clock in the morning to 6 o'clock
in the evening in summer.

The importance of York Factory is shown by the
greater volume of the annual collection as compared
with other posts. A few comparisons in the offerings
for 1 91 6 will prove of interest, though the total collec-
tion for that year, owing to conditions arising out of the
war, were small in comparison with preceding years — in
191 3, the year before the war the total collection of the
Hudson's Bay Company, from all posts, included : beaver


37,553, musquash 851,156, fisher 1,952, silver fox 487,
lynx 14,960.

At their October, 19 16, sales the Hudson's Bay
Company offered the following skins : Beaver — the total
collection was 10,690, of which 5,816 were York Fac-
tory, 2,164 Northwest, 1,342 Canada, 202 Mackenzie
River, 76 Esquimaux Bay; prices ranged from 9 to 50
shillings. Musquash, total 127,087 skins, of which 107,-
674 were York Factory. Fisher, total 1,750, of which
829 were York Factory. Lynx, total offering 6,508, of
which 4,387 were York Factory; three specimen skins
brought 65 shillings each, the others sold for 14 to 48
shillings. Silver fox, total 251 skins, all York Factory;
sold up to £110.

The territory under the rule of the Hudson's Bay
Company embraced a very considerable section of north-
western America, extending from 49° to 70** north, and
from Cape Charles, Labrador, to the mouth of the
Mackenzie River, an area of nearly three million square
miles, a princely domain indeed, and which was ma-
terially enlarged in 1774 by the company extending its
outposts to Sturgeon Lake.

Fur-bearing animals of rare beauty abounded in
every part of this wide wild range of country.

In 1 83 1 the company was granted a new charter
conferring increased rights and privileges, and exclusive
authority in conducting their trade, furnishing supplies
to and obtaining furs from the natives and others, for a
term of twenty-one years from May 20, 1838, in North-
western British territory not embraced in the original
charter ; and in addition to this important acquisition to
its trapping grounds the company leased all of Russian


America south of 58° north latitude for a period of twen-
ty years from 1840 at an annual rental of two thousand
otter skins. A little later the company endeavored to
have Great Britain purchase Russian America, now
Alaska, generously agreeing to repay to the government
the entire purchase price with interest to date of settle-
ment in return for the exclusive privilege of taking furs
in the acquired territory. England let the bargain slip,
and the Hudson's Bay Company ceased to operate subse-
quent to the purchase of the country by the United
States in 1867.

In 1855 ^^^ company's capital stock of two million
dollars returned a profit of about six per centum; for
some time past dividends, except when augmented
through land sales, have not been large, profits on furs
being smaller than in the earlier centuries when native
trappers bartered skins for general supplies in very lim-
ited knowledge of the value of either.

The capital stock of the company has been sold as
high as four hundred per cent premium, but none has
been offered in open market in many years.

Since the expiration of the last charter of the Hud-
son's Bay Company in 1859, the entire country has been
open to all; in 1870, exactly two hundred years subse-
quent to the organization of the concern, the Hudson's
Bay territory was ceded to Canada, and is now divided
into four great provinces. The company still owns a
few square miles of good land in the newer provinces;
and, though its fur trade is steadily shrinking, conducts
a growing business in general merchandise.

The first sale of the Hudson's Bay Company was
held in London in 168 1 and was a pronounced success.


and was regarded by all in interest as a g^eat event.
The first dividend was distributed three years later, and
was a fifty per cent divide; another fifty per cent divi-
dend was declared in 1688, and a twenty-five per cent
dividend in the following year, and also in 1690. Divi-
dends have been smaller in recent years — but from 1684
to 191 6 is a long dividend paying period. To those best
acquainted with the continuously sound and successful
organization it is known as the Honorable Hudson's
Bay Company, a title bestowed, not because of incompar-
able achievements in trade, or science, or war, but freely
accorded as comprehensively expressive of character.


A moderate number of fur bearing animals are
found in rugged Newfoundland, an island in the Gulf of
St. Lawrence ; the fur-bearers include the mink, marten,
otter and fox. The tendency is steadily toward a de-
crease in number, with no prospect of an increase except
by breeding in captivity.

St. Johns, which is one of the oldest cities on the con-
tinent, and which is today only moderately modern, is
the center of trade. Fishing is the great industry, and
some of the fishing vessels sailing farthest north bring
in collections of peltries from time to time ; these skins
are marketed at St. Johns, but a considerable number are
sold singly or in small lots at big prices to interested

Sturdy and remarkably capable mariners annually
visit the coast of Labrador in quest of young hair seals,
which are born in vast numbers on the great ice fields



in March of each year ; these newly born seals are caught
when only twelve to twenty days old, and before they
have entered the water for the first time in their experi-


The hunters sail mainly from St. Johns, and under
favorable conditions have returned with forty thousand
seal skins as the catch of the crew of a single vessel, and
upwards of a total of three hundred thousand skins as
the fleets' harvest in a single season.

The young hair seal is chiefly valued for the large
amount of excellent lubricating oil obtained from the
animal; the hide is also utilized in the production of
leather and occasionally and to a limited extent in near-
fur garments and minor novelties.

Hair seals are widely distributed, being found at
the Poles, in all oceans, upon the shores of the several
continents and many islands, being nearly ubiquitous, in
which particular they are surpassed only by the fox.
They abound in greatest numbers, at certain seasons,
off the coasts of Labrador, Newfoundland, Greenland
and Iceland, and at times are extremely numerous in the
vicinity of the South Pole; they evidently circumnavi-
gate the globe, pursue regular orbits, and may be classed
as comets among animals, with mother earth instead of
the sun as a center, certain islands as their zodiacal
signs, and appetite as the constant revolutional force.

Hair seals differ considerably in appearance and
are on that account known by several names, such as
harp seal, black-sided seal, blue-sided seal, hooded seal,
and common harbor seal. The harp seal has a large
mark in contrasting black and white hairs on the shoul-
ders resembling a harp in form; the hooded seal has
large folds of skin on the back of the neck which the
animal inflates when attacked making it serve as a hood

Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 14 of 34)