A New Nation Comes to the Indian Country
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The Fur Trade

The nineteenth century American fur trade relied on the abundant supply of fur-bearing animals in the Indian country, as well as the availability of Native American labor and the diplomatic skill of the fur traders. Among the pioneers of the western fur trade were Corps of Discovery veterans John Colter and George Drouillard. These “mountain men” carried tools, cloth and other trade goods west to Indian trading centers and exchanged them for valuable furs and buffalo hides.

The nineteenth century fur trade brought profound changes to the Indian country. Commercial trading posts created new, mixed heritage communities and encouraged Native people to devote their energy to gathering and processing furs. Sustained contact with outsiders also brought new diseases to Indian communities and encouraged overhunting. By 1840, the fur trade had brought prosperity to many and had made John Jacob Astor America’s first millionaire. At the same time it disrupted local Native American economies by displacing combined subsistence and trade with a more purely cash economy.