Missouri Fur Company
By Mary Miller Cullins
Did you know the Missouri Fur Company was organized in St. Louis and the abundance of animal pelts in the Mississippi Valley region played a key role in the development of the Upper Louisiana territory?
That’s right, and prominent members of the Company included fur trader Manuel Lisa, Auguste and Pierre Chouteau, and William Clark. During a winter tour of the Mississippi during 1763 and early 1764, Auguste and Pierre Chouteau established a fur trading post at the point which become known as St. Louis.
St. Louis was the center of business for the traders and was inhabited by those who would stand to make a fortune, as well as their mark in history. To give you an idea of how much money was made, the annual receipts at St. Louis for the last decade of the eighteenth century exceeded $200,000. In pelts that’s approximately 40,000 pounds of beaver, 8,000 otter, 5,000 bear, and 150,000 deer (oh, and a few hundred buffalo robes). Despite these numbers fur trade would not sustain itself, but until that time, these men did their best to monopolize the St. Louis trade.
Beavers were a top trade animal. “Both Indians and Europeans admired this ingenious and industrious rodent,” said Fred Fausz , a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. ”A lumberjack supreme, engineer, architect and builder of dams, the beaver mated for life, doted on its offspring and could grow to a plump 60 pounds in a 17-year life. The beaver was blessed – or, more accurately, cursed – with a heavy coat of rare beauty and unique usefulness.”
Pierre Laclede’s grandsons – Chouteau’s nephews – continued their family’s tradition. One, Francois Gesseau Chouteau, founded Kansas City. Two were appointed agents of Indian affairs by President Thomas Jefferson. Others diversified the Chouteau fortune into real estate and railroads. The Chouteaus dominated St. Louis politics, economics and society through the 1860s. The family had reigned for 100 years.
The Chouteau estates are gone, replaced first by businesses and then the Arch. But Missourians still enjoy tales of the early days. Because, if you think about it, not so long ago, where we stand, Missouri was a much different place.
Missouri Fur Trade Organized in St. Louis
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