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Fur Trade in the Red River Valley

The Red River as it travels through Louisiana was the heart of the French fur trade (LOC).

Guest post by Wilhelmina Heloise

Many centuries ago, fur textiles fueled one of the most powerful industries in the US. Though it’s rare to see fur garments now, University of Minnesota instructor Jon Lurie notes that the fur trade dominated the South’s economy for about 120 years. This led to a complex multicultural society, as both Native Americans and European colonizers were involved in the fur trade. * Trading posts were established across the United States, and the fur trade eventually found its way to Red River Valley. But before it made the long journey, the fur trade had its humble beginnings on the coast of Newfoundland. The Beginnings of the Fur Trade Indigenous Americans, such as the Dakota and the Ojibwe, were already trading fur during the per-Columbian era. However, the industry exploded in popularity once merchants from France and other European nations traded fur during their colonization of the Americas. Coeur d'Alene Press points out that some of these merchants include the Acadians, who were granted a monopoly on fur trading in New France in 1603. These Acadians built fertile farmlands and trading posts to battle the hardships in the Americas, and eventually made their way to Louisiana where they were known as “Cajuns." Though French settlers experienced difficulties in establishing the fur trade in the 17th-18th century, Maryville University emphasizes that the settler colonialism of the French, and the other European nations, had adverse effects on the lives and culture of Native Americans. The French claimed the land of Louisiana as their own before the British and Spanish could occupy it, thus displacing indigenous Americans in the process. While some European colonizers collaborated with some Native Americans in the trade, the industry also led to tribes overturning traditional beliefs in exchange for fur. How the Fur Trade Rose in Red River Valley To expand the industry across the US, French traders and indigenous Americans established trading posts near rivers. Since there was a dense population along the Red River Valley, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas noted that French explorers eventually visited the area around 1687, which was during the rise of the fur trade. The French settlers established trading posts along the river, near the present-day Natchitoches, Louisiana. According to Vial’s “Spanish Road” map, this trade route from Natchitoches semi-paralleled the Red River. Though this area never became a great trading port, Pierre LeMoyne and Sieur d'Iberville led a party up the Red River in 1700. Soon enough, their countrymen were trapping animals and trading fur on the Red River and Arkansas. Thanks to the fur trade, the French commercial influence in this area was successful until the French gave up Louisiana to Spanish forces in 1762. Nonetheless, the fur trade continued to become the main product among all the commodities in the trading posts along the Red River. This continued until the fur industry decline in the early 1840s, due to the over-hunting of animals and new trading treaties.

Post contributed by Wilhelmina Heloise

* The predominant furs in the Red River Valley consisted of deer, beaver, and bison furs and hides.


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