• A letter from Meriwether Lewis, co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1806. Courtesy of Montana Historical Society Research Center via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

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    Meriwether Lewis letter, 1806
    • Date
    • 1806
    • Creator
    • Lewis, Meriwether, 1774-1809.
    • Description
    • Letter from Meriwether Lewis to General Henry Dearborn requesting payment for supplies used on the expedition of 1804-1806.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-EDU/1.0/.
    • Partner
    • Big Sky Country Digital Network
    • Contributing Institution
    • Montana Historical Society Research Center

  • Major F.D. Pease (left) in 1918. In 1861, he entered the Yellowstone country and organized a fur trading company known as the "Little Opposition." In 1869, he became an Indian agent under General Sully in Blackfeet country, Montana. Courtesy of the Billings Public Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

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    Pease, Fellows D.
    • Date
    • 1918
    • Creator
    • Unknown.
    • Description
    • Fellows David Pease: Major F.D. Pease was born in Tioga County Pennsylvania in 1835. He married Magretta Wallace of the Crow Tribe. Three of his brothers were killed in the Civil War. In 1861 he entered the Yellowstone country and organized a fur tra... more
      Fellows David Pease: Major F.D. Pease was born in Tioga County Pennsylvania in 1835. He married Magretta Wallace of the Crow Tribe. Three of his brothers were killed in the Civil War. In 1861 he entered the Yellowstone country and organized a fur trading company known as the �Little Opposition.� In 1869, he became Indian agent under General Sully in Blackfeet country, Montana. Was fluent in English, Santee Sioux, and Crow. He was chosen to succeed E.M. Camp at the First Crow Agency in 1870 and served through 1873. He died on October 20, 1920 in Oregon and is buried at Rosebud Cemetery, Absarokee, site of the 2nd Crow Agency. - See Montana, Its Story and Biography by Stout. Hardin Tribune - July 30, 1953). He might be standing with one of his many grandsons - George D. Pease, Douglas G. Pease, or Charles Pease. less
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/.
    • Partner
    • Big Sky Country Digital Network
    • Contributing Institution
    • Billings Public Library

  • "Paxson print of a French-Canadian fur trapper," 1902. Courtesy of the University of Montana - Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

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    Paxson print of a French-Canadian fur trapper
    • Date
    • 1902
    • Description
    • Image of an E. S. Paxson print of a French-Canadian fur trapper.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/CNE/1.0/.
    • Partner
    • Big Sky Country Digital Network
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of Montana--Missoula. Mansfield Library

Fur Trading

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, many American Indian tribes inhabited present-day Montana, trading with Europeans and other tribes, travelling seasonally, and competing with one another for wealth and power. These included the Kootenai, Salish, Pend d’Oreille, Shoshone, Crow, Piegan Blackfeet, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Cree and Chippewa, Sioux, and Northern Cheyenne.

The area's first white settlers were fur traders from Canada, England, and the United States who explored the region looking for beaver for fur companies like the Hudson Bay Company and the American Fur Company. These fur traders arrived in the first half of the nineteenth century following the trail used by Lewis and Clark.

Fur traders venturing into native lands faced risks that were easier to negotiate if the trapper took a native wife. Native women played a significant role in teaching their non-Indian husbands how to navigate the territory, where to find food, how to survive the winters, how to communicate with Indians, and how to peacefully negotiate places to trap. The offspring of these interracial marriages created a new group called the Metis.

Fur companies became bitter rivals and competition often turned violent. The non-Indians pressured Indians to take sides. This led to further violence and eventually revenge killings. The fur trade brought goods to the Indians that they quickly became dependent on, adding to pressures they faced to maintain the relationships with the fur traders. Realizing the power of cheap whiskey, fur traders often used this item to exercise control over the Indians. Along with the important trade items came disease. Smallpox and other deadly diseases decimated the Indian populations.