Friday, November 10, 2017

Northwest Fur Trader Post

Erica Vetsch here:

Would you believe that US history was greatly influenced by a rodent?

Yep, the rodent known as Castor canadensis changed the course of US history. The humble North American Beaver.

By Steve from washington, dc, usa - American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Because of the demand for beaver-felt hats, voyagers from many European countries ventured into the unknown wilderness of the interior of North America, set up trading posts, and brought furs back to the cities of American and Europe. They traded blankets, cookware, beads, guns, and more to the Indians of the Great Lakes region in exchange for beaver, bear, fox, mink, fisher, wolf, mountain lion, ermine and more.

All goods had to be brought in via canoe and portage (carrying it!) and brought out the same way. Hundreds of miles of paddling and packing. Packs weighed hundreds of pounds, ditto canoes, and there were no roads.

Here in the state of Minnesota, we have a fine example of a fur trader post that dates from the winter of 1804. Found on the banks of the Snake River near present-day Pine City, Minnesota, the trading post was occupied for only one year, then abandoned to fall into decay.

When the remains were re-discovered in 1931 by a local Pine City resident who, over the next two decades visited the site, taking a few artifacts that he discovered. In 1958 he informed the Minnesota Historical Society about his find, and they, along with students at Hamline University, excavated the site, discovering hundreds of artifacts. In 1970, the MNHS opened the rebuilt site as a living history museum, teaching patrons about both the Ojibwe tribes and the fur traders of the North West Company.

By Jonathunder - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The centerpiece of the site is the trading post itself, which is one long building surrounded by a stockade. The building was living quarters, office, storeroom, and trading post all in one. The quarters were adequate, but hardly spacious, and because they were deemed to be temporary, there was no luxury to be found. Everything was utilitarian, and anything not necessary was left behind, hence the large number of artifacts found when the site was being excavated more than one hundred fifty years after it was occupied.

By Themightyquill - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Hundreds of voyagers and fur traders plied their trade in the Great Lakes region, joining up at places like Fort William in Thunder Bay, Canada, or Grand Portage in Minnesota for the annual rendezvous, a chance to catch up with other voyagers and to party!

From the mid 18th century through about 1830, the fur trade brought great wealth to the North West Company and her rivals. After 1830, with fashions changing in Europe and beaver populations declining in North America, the fur trade became much less lucrative. But for a period of about eighty years, beaver was king.

You can visit the North West Fur Trading Post in the summer months, and you can learn more about the post by visiting

Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves history and romance, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical romances. Whenever she’s not immersed in fictional worlds, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two, wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul-mate, and avid museum patron.

You can visit her online at and on Facebook at Erica Vetsch Author

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  1. Great post. I've read about trading posts in novels but never thought how they started. Thank you for sharing. Blessings.

  2. Thanks for the post. I think it's great that the person who discovered the site didn't totally plunder it, but told the right people so it could be preserved for everyone. Great life lesson there!

  3. I never really thought about how parts of our great country were settled because of the critters found there, but it does make a lot of sense. Same as it was with the gold & silver strikes. I can't help feeling a bit sorry for the poor beavers, though. I'd love to visit that trading post one day. What a cool find!

  4. Really enjoyed this! Amazing how ingenuitive settlers had to be.

  5. Love that picture of the beaver. :) Thanks for an interesting post.

  6. Great post! I loved learning the origins of the trading post.

  7. A restored fur trader post is one of my favorite historic sites in Nebraska. Thank you for the insights on the fur trade, which had such a monumental affect on North America. I'm so glad my hubby doesn't need a beaver hat for dress LOL.