Museums 101: Trappers and Traders in the High Desert (Photo Diary)

The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, has a gallery which takes visitors on a journey through some of the most dramatic periods in the High Desert. According to the Museum display:

“Thousands of years ago, more than one hundred Native American tribes inhabited the High Desert. During the early 1800s, newcomers began arriving—starting with fur traders and continuing with homesteaders through the early 1900s. A diverse array of immigrants added their stories to the region’s history.”

One of the dioramas features the trappers and traders in the high desert.

 photo P1100753_zpsgrh7orq0.jpg Shown above is a fur trader’s camp. The flag indicates that this is Hudson’s Bay Company, a London-based trading company which had all of the powers of a nation-state.  photo P1100755_zps4t5gckva.jpg Shown above is the Hudson’s Bay Company flag. The company’s initials, H.B.C., were often jokingly said to stand for “Here Before Christ.”

The Hudson’s Bay Company was granted a Royal Charter by the British Crown in 1670. The company was headquartered in London. The standard trade items used by the Hudson’s Bay Company included steel traps, pots, strike-a-lights, and whiskey. In addition, the Company also supplied the Indians with guns and ammunition. The trade gun was a muzzleloading, smooth bore flintlock that could handle either ball or shot.

In 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company merged creating a large fur trading and trapping monopoly in the Columbia Region (now Washington and Oregon). Historian Nathan Douthit, in an article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, reports:

“The HBC strategy was to delay American advances by trapping out the beaver west of the Rockies, thereby discouraging American fur companies from further westward penetration. This lead HBC to adopt a different attitude toward the Indians south of the Columbia River than they had adopted previously to those north of it. Instead of treating them as partners in the fur trade, the HBC now took whatever beaver pelts it wanted by force of men, arms, and its own fur-trapping activity.”

The HBC policy in Oregon was to create a fur desert: that is, to deplete the fur resources before the American trappers could exploit them. The focus was on short-range profits rather than creating long-range fur-trade ties with the Natives.

 photo P1100754_zpsyk28mj8d.jpg

Lean-to shelters, such as the one shown above, often served as the company store: goods for trade would be spread out so that they could be seen by the Indians who had come to trade.

Among the European goods which many Indians desired were blue glass beads. Beads were used to replace quills and shell beads in decorating clothing and other items.

 photo P1100756_zpsrxicsufw.jpg Shown above are a made beaver pelt and a steel trap. The traps were generally made by the blacksmiths at the trading posts, such as Fort Vancouver.  photo P1100758_zpsga5xqew5.jpg Traders also carried Native-made items for trade.

The Euro-american traders traded not only manufactured goods, but they also included in their inventories many products which had long been a part of Indian trade. This included raw materials such as wood for bows, feathers, and stones, as well as agricultural products such as corn and tobacco.

 photo P1100763_zpsyzpnocva.jpg The fur trader companies also built permanent traders’ posts or forts, such as the one shown above.

According to the Museum display:

“In the early 1800s, English and American fur companies competed for the region’s wealth of beaver pelts. The Hudson’s Bay Company dominated and established strategic forts to supply trappers, trade with Native Americans, and maintain a presence for future claims. These forts were communities unto themselves, with skilled craftsmen, farms and trade stores. They were the first foothold in the settlement of the High Desert.”

 photo P1100764_zpshwa0vzwa.jpg Shown above is an artist’s sketch of Fort Nez Perce which was established in southeastern Washington in 1816.  photo P1100765_zpsx5cg8jw8.jpg Most of the forts had small cannons such as the one shown above.

 photo P1100766_zpsqi9txh9u.jpg Shown above is a fur and hide press (on right) which compressed the furs into bundles for shipping.

 photo P1100767_zps2bewhh1z.jpg Shown above are the famous Hudson’s Bay Blankets which were developed for trade with American Indians. The small stripes on the blanket, known as points, mark the value of the blanks. The white blanket shown above is a three-and-a-half point blanket.  photo P1100768_zps2hkq1tk5.jpg The box shown above is labeled as containing “common Indian guns” which were designed specifically for American Indians. The designation “H.B.C. York Factory” indicates the trading post on Hudson’s Bay which served as the shipping point to and from Europe.  photo P1100769_zpsit5qx6qj.jpg The small door in the large door allowed individuals access to the fort.

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