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 5 of 34)
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St. Louis, Missouri, named by French traders in
honor of Louis XV of France, was indicated on the
maps as a small fur trading post in 1763 by Laclede,
the leading member of an association of merchants
organized at New Orleans a year earlier, and was
made the headquarters for the receipt of collections
to be sent down the river to New Orleans, or across
to Lake Michigan and Mackinaw and thence over the
lakes and up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec for
shipment to London.

The site was chosen as a specially desirable loca-
tion for conducting an extensive trade with the In-
dians, who carried upon their backs in packs the pel-
tries secured at interior trapping grounds to conveni-
ent places along the rivers, and thence by canoes to
St. Louis. There were many Indians in the vicinity,
the surrounding unexplored wilds being generally
known as the ''Indian Country;" passing westward
to near the Rocky Mountains, and Southward to the
Gulf of Mexico, the country was officially designated
as "New France."



Owing to its many natural advantages in loca-
tion the post rapidly increased in importance; hun-
dreds of Indians, half-breeds and hardy voyageurs
traced their way thither, and for several years it was
their preferred trading station. Many of these sturdy,
blustering fur hunters, trappers and traders made
St. Louis their headquarters, their ''home town," as
it were, passing much of their time there, in fact,
most of the days between trapping seasons; they
spent their money or credits freely until the last
penny was gone, and in instances until the catch yet
to be made was heavily mortgaged; not a difficult
matter when it is noted that whiskey cost them ten
dollars a bottle, and powder a beaver skin or more
per pound. Some latter day banqueters upon the
same area have sipped champagne, supplied by their
hosts, at a cost somewhere near three dollars a quart,
and have considered themselves "great sports" — great,
is a relative term.

The Indians, half-breeds, voyageurs and back-
woodsmen who sojourned on off-duty days at St.
Louis, wore the brightest togs they could afford,
toted tomahawks and guns and vicious blades, swag-
gered up and down the by-ways as men of invincible
valor born to be admired, and were proud and guileful
as Lucifer.

Many of these doughty trappers, hunters and
waterway wanderers, lingered at the Post long past
the date when they should have been busy on their
trap lines many miles distant in the wilderness ; as the
seasons succeeded one another these particular trap-
pers lost much of their early interest in fur, and ceased


to hope that the success of the morrow would greatly
surpass the realization of previous days — that a valu-
able beaver or a priceless black fox would be found
imprisoned in traps set in marshes where only musk-
rat signs abounded ; these voyageurs trapped for gain,
not in the love of it, and therefore delayed their de-
parture, when not earlier engaged, in the hope of
being employed for the season by some individual or
concern fitting out a trapping and hunting expedition
at the "last moment." Independent traders, and more
generally trading organizations, regularly raised
small armies of men at St. Louis, and sent them out
into the woods to hunt and trap from early autumn
until mid-summer in the following year, the whites
and half-breeds joining these armies were too proud
to be hired to work or trap, but were quite willing to
"enlist," though the terms of enlistment imposed the
duty of serving under the absolute command of a
leader — the salary paid to an enlisted man of the first
class was three hundred dollars a year. Occasionally
an army met with defeat, that is returned to camp at
the end of the season with a catch of fur worth "next
to nothing" as the result of encountering too much
snow and ice, Indian troubles, or operating in terri-
tory which had been "trapped to death" the previous
year; but the trader who kept at it for a little while
usually retired with a robust roll, and thereafter dwelt
in marble halls, while the trapper remained in the field
to annually enlist, if lucky, at three hundred dollars
for twelve months. Time has wrought many mighty
changes, but to this day many traders and trappers


present no visible evidence of having felt its trans-
forming touch.

It was not always an easy matter to induce some
of the proudest white and half-breed hunters and trap-
pers to enlist, particularly at an advance date; they
held out, not so much for more pay as for recognition
of their importance, and had to be urged, importuned,
and in instances diplomatically influenced; and even
at the last moment might whimsically throw up one
engagement and disappear with another army,
though gaining no personal advantage by the change.
The Pacific Fur Company in 1809 enlisted part of its
field force at St. Louis under the leadership of Wilson
P. Hunt; the men engaged included Indian guides,
voyageurs, and experienced half-breed trappers ; some
of these volunteers were easily engaged, and as read-
ily deserted before the expedition was ready to move,
and great difficulty was experienced in inducing
others to replace them; offers of good pay, though the
company was known to be perfectly trustworthy, had
no effect; influence, tested to the limit, was of no
avail; diplomacy finally won. The men wanted were
passionately fond of finery, high colored clothes and
particularly feathers. Primitive men, not a whit less
than women, proudly donned showy or distinctive at-
tire; and modern masculines delight in conspicuous
decorations — note the feathered head-dress of North
American Indian braves; tiger and leopard skins
worn by African hunters; the gilded regalia affected
by secret organizations; the feather burdened head
gear of the Italian Carbineri; and medals covering
every inch of the frontal anatomy of members of


Schutzenfest Societies. The man of today who mildly
scoffs at the weakness of his aboriginal brother, wears
a flower in the button hole of his coat quite uncon-
scious that the habit is only a survival of the trait he
abjures. Mr. Hunt had in his treasury a number of
small ostrich plumes ; one of these was given to a con-
fidant, who was instructed to place it in his hat band
and wear it upon the streets of the town continuously
until every one in the place should see it. The effect
measured up to Mr. Hunt's expectations; every hun-
ter and trapper, white and half-breed, was eager to ob-
tain one of the plumes, but was quietly informed that
it was the emblem of the Pacific Fur Company and
could be procured and worn only by men enlisted in
the service of that organization; there was a rush to
enlist, and Mr. Hunt quickly recruited his army,
choosing the best hunters and trappers in the town.
The day of the ostrich plume has passed, but human
nature is still perceivably what it was in 1809, with
the exception that the dollar is now more potent than
the plume; wanted furs are at present garnered with
price lists in which a little "taffy" and very high quo-
tations are shrewdly mingled. Beads and trinkets,
were not wholly superceded as current funds at the
Post until near the middle of the nineteenth century.
Wilson Price Hunt was an upright merchant and
for a considerable period before becoming a member
of the Pacific Fur Company, which operated farther
west, had large dealings with the Indians at St. Louis,
furnishing them with blankets and other necessary
articles in exchange for peltries, which he shipped to
New York.


Ramsey Crooks, a sturdy, honest, industrious
Scotchman, who had been with the Northwest Com-
pany of Canada for some years withdrew at Mack-
inaw in August, 1809, and journied thence to St.
Louis, where he arrived early in the following month
and enlisted in the Pacific Fur Company, and soon
became a partner.

The Missouri Fur Company was organized at St.
Louis in 1807 with twelve members, Manuel Lisa be-
ing the chief partner; the concern received large col-
lections of peltries from visiting Indians and back-
woodsmen; and as trade increased it very considerably
extended its operations, establishing trading posts along
the Missouri River, and at numerous points in the in-
terior, and westward as far as Oregon ; the latter, how-
ever, were retained only for a short time. The Missouri
Fur Company employed many hunters, trappers and
voyageurs, and sent out some strong expeditions; the
concern was aggressive, waged the sharpest kind of
competition with other organizations, individual hunters
and trappers, and by every method known to traders
of the time sought to control the entire fur trade of
the country; but like its predecessors failed to ac-
complish the impossible, just as their successors have
failed and will fail to the end.

Joseph Miller, who was at St. Louis, joined the
Pacific Fur Company in 1810, and in spite of the opposi-
tion of the Missouri Fur Company, succeeded in lead-
ing out a large expedition composed of the most pro-
ficient hunters and trappers in that section. One in-
terpreter, who had served his year with the Missouri
Fur Company, had a hard time getting away; he owed


the concern about three hundred dollars for personally
imbibed whiskey at ten dollars per bottle, and a warrant
was issued for his arrest to effect his detention, but the
Pacific Fur Company settled the debt, a year's salary
in advance, and the half-breed linguist was carried off
in triumph. It is asserted that he "somehow" managed
to speak half a dozen or more Indian dialects fluently —
perhaps it should be written fluidly — while heavily laden
with 1 8 10 whiskey.

How he accomplished the feat is not explained;
neither are we told why two high and honorable com-
panies of Christian men were reduced to the necessity
of employing a biped, who needed to consume a dollar's
worth of whiskey per day to enable him to translate
Sioux into English and vice versa.

Considerable collections of peltries were secured
in the country around Fort Laramie, and at numerous
interior points along the Platte, Missouri and other
rivers, which in the early summer were shipped by boat
and overland to St. Louis, and thence eastward to the
Atlantic coast for domestic consumption and export.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century William
H. Ashley, who had a large warehouse within the limits
of the present city of St. Louis, bought and sold raw
furs, and employed men to trap fur-bearers in the nearby
marshes and woods. One of these trappers, William
Sublette succeeded W. H. Ashley in 1830, and in that
year organized the Rocky Mountain Fur Company,
which carried on a successful raw fur business at St.
Louis for several years.

The Rocky Mountain Fur Company built a fort at
the Laramie fork of the Platte River, naming it Fort


William ; when the company dissolved the fort was sold
to the government, and the name was changed to Fort

For somewhat more than twenty years from 1790
the annual collection of peltries at St. Louis averaged
over $200,000 ; for a considerable period deer skins were
of leading importance, and were handled in immense
number; shaved deer skins were the standard medium
of exchange.

From 1 8 10 to 1850 the value of the animal collec-
tion received at St. Louis exceeded $300,000, and in-
cluded beaver, mink, otter, fox, raccoon and all other
fur skins. Receipts have materially increased during
the past quarter of a century, and very great progress
has been made in trade methods.

B. Harris has for a generation been an active
dealer in raw furs at St. Louis, and is well known as
one of the most progressive members of the trade,
which is largely indebted to him for its present progress,
and manifest improvement in many essential details.

For the past ten years the business has been con-
ducted under style: B. Harris Wool Company; though
the title does not express it, no house in the city deals
more largely in raw furs, or is better known in that con-
nection; the concern handles immense quantities of
opossum, muskrat and other skins, and is at all times
in a position to meet special and extreme demands.

The house is of leading rank in the wool trade; its
purchases embrace entire clips of a section, whether
thousands or millions of pounds.

Funsten Brothers & Company began business as


fur commission merchants at St. Louis in 1881, and so
continued until 1893, when the firm incorporated with-
out change of name; the officers are: Philip B. Fouke,
president; Albert M. Ahern, vice-president and treas-
urer; D. J. Walley, secretary. J. J. Funsten died in
1892. R. E. Funsten retired in 1897, ^1^^ ^- ^- Funsten
in 1907.

The corporation receives raw furs from trappers
throughout North America; the skins so received are
disposed of by sealed bids at tri-weekly sales, the bidders
being dealers engaged in the trade at St. Louis ; dealers
purchasing the goods sell them to fur merchants in
manufacturing centers, and at times ship part of the
supply to the London auctions.

In 19 1 3 the corporation sold at auction 1.898 fur
seal skins, property of the United States Government,
the product of the seals killed for food by the Aleuts
on St. Paul and St. George Islands; in 1916 the concern
established at St. Louis a plant for dressing and dyeing
seal skins by the London process.

Since 191 5 the corporation has conducted public
auction sales of raw furs, scheduled to be held three
times a year, in January, March and September.

Leonhard; Roos, born in Lahr, Germany, 1833,
accompanied his parents to America in 1848. He was
first employed in New York, and continued steadily at
work until the break came between North and South,
when he enlisted in a New York regiment and served
throughout the war.

In 1867 he went to St. Louis and established a man-
ufacturing and retail fur business, which in a brief
time took leading place in that branch of the local trade.


In 1887 the business was converted into a stock com-
pany, Leonhard Roos president, and his nqphew, Charles
A. Leppert vice-president and general manager.

In October, 1900, Mr. Roos died while on a visit
to his native town ; since that time Mr. Leppert has been
the head of the house, the present name being Leppert-
Roos Fur Company.

A large part of the raw fur business at St. Louis
is transacted through brokers, who have mercantile
relations with all parts of the country.

Albert Schott & Son Fur Brokerage Company con-
ducts a business dating back to 1880, during which long
term many firms have come and gone, and great changes
in methods have been effected.

The company has clients in all cities of North
America where furs are dealt in or largely manufac-
tured, and also important foreign accounts.

Isaac A. Schoen has conducted a raw fur brokerage
business in St. Louis for a quarter of a century, and
each year has been written over with a record of which


any man might well be proud; in every transaction he
regards the interests of his client as paramount; he
has repeatedly refrained from executing orders, dis-
regarding his own share in the transactions, because he
considered the price unfavorable to his principals. Upon
more than one occasion Mr. Schoen has achieved phe-
nominal personal success in wheat, but he has never
taken a chance in buying fur for a client.

John J. Goge was born into the fur business, his
father having for many years been a well known furrier
in New York.

Mr. Goge entered the fur trade at St. Louis as a
broker in 1905, and has won the esteem of the firms in
that city, and the merchants and manufacturers upon
whose account he has continuously operated.

We have a raw fur price list, size of letter-head,
blank on one side, issued January 11, 1879, by Lapham
& Company, 222 North Main Street, St. Louis, all the
furs quoted were :

Mink No. i, large, 40 cents.

Raccoon No. i, 60 cents.

Muskrat, winter, 12 cents.

Skunk, black, prime, cased, $1.25.

Wild cat, 10 to 25 cents.

Opossum, 5 to 7 cents.

Wolf, prairie, 85 cents.

Beaver, large and prime, $2.50.

Marten, large and dark, $5.00.

Red fox, 75 cents.

Gray fox, $1.00.

Bear, black, $5.00; cubs, $1.00 to $3.00.

The firm of Lapham & Company was established at


St. Louis in 1878 by members of the well-known Lap-
ham family, leather merchants of New York. Lapham
& Company were succeeded by Lapham, Brooks & Com-
pany, who in turn were succeeded in 1906 by the well-
known firm of J. C. Crowdus & Company, and 19 17 by
the corporation: J. C. Crowdus Hides, Furs and Wool

Canoes were the first vessels engaged in transport-
ing furs over the rushing Mississippi River. Later keel
boats propelled or pushed along by strong poles were
engaged in carrying raw furs from New Orleans to St.
Louis on their way east; it required four months for
the keel boats to travel the fifteen hundred miles between
the two cities. As the fur collections increased P. Chou-
teau used steamers for transporting the baled peltries.

In 181 5 a steamer was built which made the trip in
twenty-five days; in 1850 the steamer shown was placed
on the rivers and completed the trip in three days.


&m jFrancisco

Yuba Buena, occupying a part of the present city
of San Francisco, California, was settled by Spanish
missionaries to the Indians in 1776, and a little later
Spanish merchants followed and opened a trading center
for general barter with the natives from whom they
received in a single season more sea otter skins than
can now be obtained from all known sources of supply
in a decade. Collections of raw furs also included
coast seal, fox, beaver and other skins, all of which were
shipped to Spain, there being no highway of communica-
tion with the eastern part of America at that time.

The Spanish name of the place was changed to San
Francisco in 1847, but it did not become a city until
1850, the year following the discovery of gold; it has,
however, continuously been a raw fur collection center
of interest, but most importantly since 1870, owing to
large receipts of fur seal, otter, fox and other valuable
skins from Alaska subsequent to that date.

In 1874 shipments from Alaska to San Francisco
comprised 7,515 beaver, 5,551 red fox, 737 cross fox,
1,240 white fox, 1,202 blue fox, 33 badger, 193 silver
fox, 260 bear, 5,424 marten, 1,985 land otter, 2,183
ermine, 10 wolf, 11,097 niink, 605 lynx, 1,085 sea otter,
18,521 muskrat and 99,742 fur seal skins; receipts from
points on the coast were still larger for all the articles
named except foxes, lynx, marten, muskrat, sea otter,
ermine and fur seals. A total of 54 sea otter, 961 blue
fox, 650 Russian sable and 31,300 fur seal skins were



received at San Francisco from Kamtschatka during
the same year.

San Francisco has an excellent retail fur business
in manufactured goods ; some of the most alert furriers,
among them men who have participated in making the
American fur trade worth while, maintain very attrac-
tive establishments in view of the Golden Gate.

Herman Liebes, born in Rawicz, Prussia, in 1842,
came to New York when twenty years of age, and was
employed for some twelve months in the fur manu-
factory of John Ruszits, New York. He resigned that
position, and in company with Charles J. Biehlow went
to San Francisco, where, in October, 1864, they began
fur manufacturing in a small way, and by untiring at-
tention to their work gradually built up a large trade,
and eventually the leading fur business on the Pacific
Coast — and it still occupies that exalted position with
very handsome stores at San Francisco and Portland;
the business was incorporated in 1890 by Herman, Isaac
and George Liebes, Robert and Charles Biehlow, with
capital stock of one million dollars.

Herman Liebes was instrumental in organizing the
North American Commercial Company, which secured
the second and last twenty-year lease of the Alaska fur
sealing privilege. His business interests also included
the ownership of a number of staunch vessels which
made regular trips to Alaska and adjacent islands for
the collection of fur seal, fox, otter and sundry fine

Herman Liebes died in London, February 28, 1898.
Charles Biehlow died November 19, 1899, aged fifty-

It is a long way back to 1778, but that is the date
of the establishment of the first fur trading post on the
site of the present great city of Chicago; the name of
the trader who laid the cities' foundation was Jean
Baptiste P. de Saible. His trade was with Indians, who
received their pay in firewater, beads, cheap guns and
trinkets at enormous profit to the trader. Other ad-
venturous buyers opened posts in succession, but after
the Fort Dearborn massacre the place was deserted and
shunned by white dealers until 18 18, when the American
Fur Company erected a warehouse at Chicago, and re-
vived fur trading under better methods than had ruled
in the earlier days. Indians, in consequence of more
satisfactory inducements and better treatment, brought
in large supplies of good skins ; the collections increased
in volume from season to season, and the number of
dealers was also gradually augmented, and in due time
beads and fierce firewater were superceded by "cash
money" as the medium of exchange with both red and
white trappers.

For many years following the War of the Rebellion,
Chicago was the most important market for the receipt
of "heavy stock," such as raw and Indian tanned elk,
deer, antelope and buffalo hides ; the latter were received
in enormous quantities until unchecked avarice effected
the slaughter of the last poor bison in 1886.

Other fur skins have been continuously marketed at
Chicago in large numbers; the city still holds leading
rank among the raw fur centers of America, and the
fur trade is conducted by some of the most enterprising
and reliable merchants of this latest day of grace.

Chicago is also important in point of fur manu-



facturing, ranking next to New York as regards the
number of individuals and firms engaged in the various
branches of the fur business.

Bolles & Rogers, dealers in raw furs, have for
many years maintained headquarters at Chicago, 129
West Kinzie Street, with important branches at Omaha,
Nebraska ; Sioux City, Iowa ; Fargo, North Dakota, and
other places. The business is efficiently conducted, pro-
nouncedly successful, and constantly growing.

Charles Glanz was born in Ebingen, Wurtemberg,
Germany, in 1832, and before he had entered his "teens"
went to London to acquire a practical knowledge of fur
manufacturing, continuing his study until he mastered
the trade. He came to New York in 1848, and two
years later established in the fur manufacturing busi-
ness at 127 William Street, where he continued until
1863, when he removed his business to Chicago, and suc-
cessfully conducted it for thirty-four years in the same
building. He was highly esteemed by every one who
knew him. He died April 14, 1906.

The business continues under style: Charles Glanz
Company ; president, Edward W. Hillis.

A. Hoenigsberger was for an extended period man-
ager of the china goat and dog robe dyeing plant of
J. & A. Boskowitz, Brooklyn, N. Y., and so remained
until that branch of the house was discontinued. In
1892 he went to Chicago and established the Perfection
Fur Robe Company, his associates being Dave Hoenigs-
berger and Harry L. Hoenigsberger. The business em-
braces the manufacture of fur robes, coats, baby
carriage robes and auto fur accessories and dealing in
Chinese furs.

A. Hoenigsberger died December 18, 1901.



For many years, and down to 1848, the fur trade
constituted the principal business of the great State of
Minnesota; important supplies of raw furs of desirable
quality being obtained regularly from Indians, who were
expert hunters and trappers, and later from both Indian
and white trappers.

In 1770 Captain Carver began trading with the
natives, and was the first white man to visit the wonder-
ful cave under Dayton Bluff ; he traded in the section
for several years.

In 1840 there was just one log house, a small affair,
upon the present site of the City of St. Paul; in each
succeeding year pioneer settlers took up claims and
erected small cabins. The first fur trader to locate at
St. Paul was named Tasche — he claimed no other name

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 5 of 34)