Friday, August 13, 2010

Field Trip: The North West Company Fur Post

bink and I drove 60 miles north of the Twin Cities, through the cornfields...

to the North West Co. Fur Post, from 1804.

The British company (out of Montreal) hired French-Canadian voyageurs. They paddled canoes 12 hours a day, at 50 to 60 strokes a minute.

This was the farthest-south post of the Great Lakes fur trade. Door hinges, nails, and the like had to be canoed in.

Beaver pelts were the point, but they bought everything from skunk to bear fur.

Local Ojibwe men caught the animals. The women bound branches into circular frames for preparing the furs.

The Voyageurs were poorly paid laborers.

Their travel rations were corn and grease.

The company's officers were educated British men.

Trade goods included glass beads from Italy, ostrich feathers from North Africa, and rum from the West Indies.

English sheep and mill workers produced textiles for trade. The red marks indicate how many beaver pelts a blanket is worth.

During the winter trading season, the Ojibwe lived near the post in wigwams, which means "birch houses".

They sewed sheets of birchbark into housing material.

And stalks of cattails into mats.
Me, below, holding a beaver pelt, wearing a gentleman's beaver top hat. These expensive hats, made from beavers' soft undercoat, were the main driving force behind the whole shebang. I'd read copiously about these things for the French and Indian War book, but had never even touched one before. I was so hepped up being there, I didn't even mind the 94 degrees, 80% humidity heat.

bink twirling in a coat an Ojibwe hunter had bought from the British in trade.


momo said...

Great photos! It wasn't that long ago, was it?

I just don't quite grok how people survived the winter in this area before the advent of down coats.

Lill said...

What fun! I love that history museum stuff. You both look natty in your yesteryear garb.

Margaret said...

Oh kewl!

. . . the long-fingered human re-sourcing, in-venting.

(your next blog-mission must be done wearing a top-hat)

Fresca said...

MOMO: Yeah, in the imaginable past.
I think fur is at least as warm as down.
But no central heating... The British gents got their own fireplaces, but the Voyaguers didn't.
Wigwams had a central fire, and a bunch of people to generate body heat.

bink said...

MOMO: Being a completely chilled person at the best of times, I can testify that furs are at least twice as warm as down... if not warmer.

I learned this when I was given a hand-me-down 1920's raccoon coat. Years later (and that coat long gone) I finally broke down and bought a sheepskin coat because despite having super-cold rated goose down coats I was never, never, never as warm as I had been in that ratty old fur. I will never again be without a fur coat in MN.

The major drawback of fur is it's weight. Fur coats are quite heavy. The Indians, in complete fur outfits would have stayed very warm; but they would have been very weighed down in their movements.

Fresca: Great photo essay. Really captures the day.

poodletail said...

Was it smelly in there with all the animal pelts?

Love these photos of your field trip.

Fresca said...

POODLE: No smells, it was all quite hot and dry.