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A Condensed History of the North American Fur Trade

The evolution of cooking has come a long way since since the heydays of eating when possible of the French Canadian Voyageurs and the American Mountain Men who  EarnWithSocial.   served as the early work horses who bore both the burdens and the dangers of the early Canadian and American fur trades to eating when convenient made possible by contemporary, well equipped high tech kitchens.

In popular folklore, the fur trade of the American Far West generally is viewed to have begun with John Colter, a member of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition. As they were returning to St Louis, Missouri from their winter quarters at Ft Clatsop on the south shore at the mouth of the Columbia River, their nearly two year sojourn into the unknown western wilderness close to its end, they arrived in the spring of 1806 at the Mandan Villages near present day Mandan, North Dakota.

There, they encountered two frontiersmen who were traveling to the upper Missouri River to hunt furs, Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson. Colter approached the captains, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and asked permission to join Hancock and Dickson as the only man allowed to leave the expedition before its completion. Due to his exemplary service throughout the ordeal, the captains granted his request and thus began two extraordinary years of adventures and wanderings during which, among other accomplishments, Colter “discovered” Jackson Hole in present day Grand Teton National Park and “Colter’s Hell”, commonly believed to be the geysers basin of what now is Yellowstone National Park. In fact, it more likely was an area later referred to as the “Stinkin’ Hole”, a similarly geothermally active region of the Shoshone River just east of Yellowstone Park near today’s Cody, Wyoming.

But Cody’s most well known, some might say misadventure, occurred in 1808 as he and his trapping partner at the time, a man named John Potts (also a Lewis & Clark Expedition veteran), were canoeing up the Jefferson River in what now is southern Montana south of Three Forks, when they encountered a large band of the hostile, notoriously ferocious Blackfoot tribe. The Blackfeet demanded they come ashore. Colter complied and as he did so, was disarmed and stripped of his clothes. But Potter refused and was shot and wounded. Potter returned fire and promptly was dispatched after being riddled with Blackfoot bullets and his body hacked apart.

The Blackfeet then held a council to determine Colter’s fate, after which Colter was summoned and told in Crow to begin running. Thus began a most remarkable sequence of events. Stark naked and realizing he literally was running for his life, pursued by a pack of young braves, each eager to capture the honor of claiming his scalp, after several miles of very fast running (note this, all you marathoners!) Colter, utterly exhausted and nose bleeding profusely, turned his head to see all but a lone brave had dropped far back in the race. The remaining would be assailant soon overcame Colter. What happened next best is described in the immortal 1817 words of John Bradbury, a Scottish botanist who traveled extensively throughout the American West in the early 19th Century:

“Again he turned his head, and saw the savage not twenty yards from him. Determined if possible to avoid the expected blow, he suddenly stopped, turned round, and spread out his arms. The Indian, surprised by the suddenness of the action, and perhaps at the bloody appearance of Colter, also attempted to stop; but exhausted with running, he fell whilst endeavouring (sic) to throw his spear, which stuck in the ground, and broke in his hand. Colter instantly snatched up the pointed part, with which he pinned him to the earth, and then continued his flight.”

Colter also grabbed the unfortunate aspiring hero’s blanket and continued his flight toward ultimate escape and freedom until he reached the Madison River whereupon, with incredible presence of mind, he jumped in, spied a nearby raft of fallen trees caught against the far bank, grabbed one of the reeds growing alongside, then dove and hid beneath the raft, using the hollow reed as a straw through which he could breath as he felt the vibrations of the Blackfoot braves a

 

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