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The American Fur Trade

Two years after Lewis and Clark completed their journey, John Jacob Astor, a sober German immigrant who had already acquired a small fortune in the fur trade and in trade with China, wrote New York State's most powerful politician, De Witt Clinton, then mayor of New York City. From his personal knowledge of the fur trade and from studying the operations of the British companies in Canada, Astor had developed some ideas "for carring on the furr trade in the united states in A manner even more extensive that it is Done by the comaneys in canada." He admitted his plan would require four or five years in order to get control of "the whole of the furr trade & to extend it to the weastern ocean." His transportation routes would be from both New York and New Orleans, "up the Missiccppie and to have a range of Posts or trading houses on the rout made by Captn Lewis to the Sea."

Astor pursued his dream and, in the spring of 1808, the American Fur Company came into existence. The organizational growth of the company during the next 26 years would be a major study in itself, yet it is necessary to note certain stages, subsidiary companies, and personalities along the way. One such name is that of Ramsay Crooks.

Born in Scotland, Crooks had come to Canada while still a teen-ager. After working briefly for fur traders based in Montreal, he appeared in St. Louis where he joined Astor's Pacific Fur Company when this subsidiary was formed in 1811. Crooks climbed rapidly and, by 1817, was a member of the exclusive top management of the American Fur Company.

Although the Pacific Fur Company lost out to British traders on the Pacific coast during the War of 1812, Astor solidified his position at the same time in the Great Lakes area through another subsidiary, the South West Company (i.e., southwest of Montreal). In the spring of 1821, Astor acknowledged Crooks' contributions to this period of the firm's growth by increasing Ramsay's share in the company to one-fifth of the whole. The two men now felt ready to take on the opposition for control of the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountain trade.

Later that year, Crooks sent an agent to St. Louis to negotiate with fur companies based there. At first, this agent met with stubborn resistance as the pride of St. Louis turned a deaf ear to the upstarts from the East. But, by 1823, the American Fur Company succeeded in establishing its presence in St. Louis when Stone, Bostwick, and Company agreed to serve as its agent.

At this time the Company underwent still another reorganization. The Great Lakes area was renamed the Northern Department; while the hoped-for but as yet unrealized developments out of St. Louis were named the Western Department. Ramsay Crooks took over the management of both departments.

Astor, though spending an increasing amount of time in Europe now, continued to fret about the slowness of the Western Department's expansion, especially up the Missouri River. Two opposition companies, Bernard Pratte and Company and the Columbia Fur Company, were particularly successful in keeping Astor's men restricted pretty much to the role of buyers at St. Louis.

At this time, four St. Louis men of French descent composed the firm of Bernard Pratte and Company: Pratte himself, Pierre Chouteau, Jr., John P. Cabanne, and B. Berthold, all members of important families. Mrs. Pratte and Pierre Chouteau, Jr., were first cousins. They were also the grandchildren of Lacléde Liquest, the founder of St. Louis. These two cousins demonstrated both the feudalistic organization of French society in St. Louis and the problem that Astor faced in trying to break into this society. So spirited was the competition offered by Pratte's company that, in 1827, Astor gave up trying to break it and came to terms with it. A contract was arranged finally by which Bernard Pratte and Company assumed control of the Western Department. Further cementing the ties between the two companies was Ramsay Crooks' marriage two years earlier to Bernard Pratte's daughter.

Crooks next turned his attention to the Columbia Fur Company. This dynamic, cocky organization was composed mostly of ex-employees of the North West Company who had migrated to St. Louis after that company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company in the early 1820's. To overcome the law restricting foreigners in the fur trade, an American named Tilton became the head of the company. But he was just a figurehead; the real leader was Kenneth McKenzie.

Like Crooks, McKenzie had been born in Scotland. He migrated to Canada before he was twenty and became a clerk in the North West Company. After he arrived in St. Louis in 1822, he applied for American citizenship, which he eventually acquired. Beyond anyone's doubt he was the ablest member of the Columbia Fur Company. A ruthless, proud man, his ambitions were matched by his abilities to realize them.

Crooks began his courtship of the Columbia Fur Company as early as the summer of 1826. McKenzie reacted by setting up conditions that the American Fur Company could not accept. Undiscouraged, Crooks wrote McKenzie, "I am still disposed to arrange for the future provided you are inclined to be moderate in your expectations." Crooks saw the futility of trying to reach agreement by writing letters and proposed that the two Scotsmen meet at Fort Snelling "next April or perhaps even earlier."

In May 1827, Crooks reported to Astor, then in New York, that he had met with McKenzie twice (though not at Fort Snelling) and "I must say he was as frank as a prudent man ought to be." More over, "to secure even Mr. McKenzie would be very desirable for he is certainly the soul of his concern." Astor learned in this letter that McKenzie would not come over to the American Fur Company unless some of his associates came with him. This demand was easily accommodated, for McKenzie wished to include only the more competent of his associates.

Negotiations continued in St. Louis throughout June. Crooks realized he was up against a hard bargainer; however, on July 6, he informed Astor "that after an almost endless negociation [sic] I have at last succeeded in agreeing on preliminaries with the Columbia Fur Company to give up their trade entirely and take a share with us in that of the Upper Missouri."

The structure of the American Fur Company was now virtually complete; only the Rocky Mountain trade still lay outside its grasp. Astor and Crooks oversaw the whole operation, with Crooks actively concerned with the management of both the Northern and Western Departments. The Northern Department held a near monopoly in its area of operations, while the Western Department, now with both Chouteau and McKenzie in its folds, was ready to take control of the upper Missouri and to challenge any and all who dared to compete. McKenzie was placed in charge of the upper river and his organization's name was changed from Columbia Fur Company to Upper Missouri Outfit, abbreviated in correspondence and seals to UMO. Never subservient--indeed as independent as before--the Upper Missouri Outfit worked with Bernard Pratte and Company and the American Fur Company in the manner of an associate rather than as a subordinate. But as far as the general public and the opposition traders were concerned, the whole organization was known as the American Fur Company.

The agreement was not the end of Crooks' work in St. Louis that summer. Pierre Chouteau, Jr.'s health was very poor for the moment and he was not up to supervising the preparation of outfits for the upper Missouri. Besides that, Crooks concluded, Pierre needed a little more training in the methods employed by the American Fur Company. Thus Crooks remained in the humid city overseeing the departure of the outfits for the newly-acquired empire.

Crooks was soon to learn that he did not have to worry about Chouteau's stamina. Known in his family as Cadet, Pierre was soon to prove himself as the most dynamic leader in the St. Louis fur industry. Born in the city in 1789, he had become a clerk for his father, Pierre, Sr., when 15 years old. He had traveled up the Missouri as early as 1809 and, as the years passed, added to his knowledge and experience of handling men and furs. In the next few years, his increasing stature would show itself in the name-changes of his company, first to Pratte, Chouteau & Company; then, with Pratte's retirement in 1838, to Pierre Chouteau, Jr., & Company.

Chouteau, described by DeVoto as a financier with an "empire-building mind, hard, brilliant, daring, speculative, and ruthless," recovered his strength and assumed his responsibilities. Soon he would be advising his associates, "erasez toute opposition," and employing every stratagem necessary to that end.

The inventories of the former posts of the Columbia Fur Company were completed by 1828. Crooks wrote to Chouteau, "I am rejoiced to find our new ally Mr. McKenzie was so reasonable in adjusting the matters connected with the Inventories." By the fall of 1828, McKenzie was ready to build the citadel from which he would rule the upper Missouri. He would be called King by both enemy and friend; the seat of his kingdom would be called Fort Union.

Between the time Capt. Meriwether Lewis had camped nearby in the spring of 1805 and the arrival of Kenneth McKenzie in the area, the junction of the Missouri and the Yellowstone had witnessed the fires of many whites. In the fall of 1822, Andrew Henry and William H. Ashley, considered to be the innovators of the annual rendezvous system in the Rockies, built a small post at the meeting point of the two streams. However, Henry found this location to be farther from the beaver country than he liked, and he soon moved his establishment up the Yellowstone.

Three years later, 1825, Gen. Henry Atkinson led a considerable number of troops to the junction, which a diarist described as "the most beautiful spot we have seen on the river." The soldiers found the ruins of Henry's fort, and somewhere near it set up a temporary camp they called Barbour. A portion of the troops remained here while the rest escorted the Indian agent, Benjamin O'Fallon, up the Missouri to meet with the less than friendly Blackfeet. The entire command soon descended the river again for the benefits of civilization.

About this same time, James Kipp, an associate of Kenneth McKenzie in the Columbia Fur Company, founded a post at the junction of the Missouri and White Earth rivers, among the Assiniboins. While this post was some distance below the mouth of the Yellowstone, it was closer than any other and provided Kipp, McKenzie, and the others a location from which to become better acquainted with the trade potential of the upper country.

McKenzie, now in charge of the Upper Missouri Outfit, decided to build a post near the mouth of the Yellowstone. Here he could trade with the Assiniboins, who wandered the prairies toward the north; with the Crows, located up the Yellowstone; and perhaps with the Blackfeet, farther up the Missouri. From here also expeditions could be organized for the Rocky Mountains (he had wanted to get involved more directly with the mountain trade but Pierre Chouteau, Jr., had persuaded him that the upper Missouri would be more profitable). If the post was efficient enough, it could also attract the trade of the free, or unassociated, trappers throughout the country.

Only one or two historians have, over the years, offered documented evidence as to the date McKenzie started his new fort. One such was Hiram Chittenden who quoted from a letter, now lost, that McKenzie had established a fort near the mouth of the Yellowstone at least as early as December 1828, and that this post was called Fort Floyd.

Chittenden also quoted, in French, from a letter written by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., to William Astor, John Jacob's son. The present whereabouts of this letter, dated April 19, 1830, is also unknown. The translation reads:

On my arrival here (St. Louis) on the 16th [April, 1830], I found a letter from Mr. McKenzie of 28 December, 1829, and ones dated 2 and 20 January [1830], 200 miles above the Yellow Stone. The mountain hunters were not as successful in the fall hunt as he had hoped, but he hopes for more success in the spring. It is his opinion that there will be many more robes this year than is the usual case; that is to say in the three upper posts, at the Mandans, at the mouth of the Yellow Stone, and Fort Union 200 miles above, and he says that the upper country is very rich in beaver and robes.

This is the earliest known reference to a Fort Union, even though this Fort Union was or was to be 200 miles above the junction. The letter is not at all clear as to whether this Fort Union was built or still in the planning stage. As far as it may be otherwise determined, the Upper Missouri Outfit did not have any forts that far up the river at that time. The letter does imply, of course, that McKenzie was 200 miles up the Missouri beyond the junction for a good part of January 1830.

Considering both sources, one must assume there was a Fort Floyd. But it is not shown that this Fort Floyd was at the same location as Fort Union is known to have been, nor is it shown that the upriver Fort Union mentioned by Chouteau was ever built.

Two letters by William Laidlaw, another ex-Columbia man, now at Fort Tecumseh, tell us that McKenzie was on the upper Missouri in 1829. One of them, dated August 13, said that "McKenzie left here about 25 days ago for the Upper Country he was able to take with him a tolerable aportment of goods." Two months later, on October 26, Laidlaw wrote, "The last news from Mr McKensie (sic) he was at white earth river waiting for the summer boat, after her arrival he was to proceed up to the mouth of Yellow Stone river and winter there."

Did McKenzie return to the Fort Floyd he mentioned the previous December? If so, did this fort evolve into Fort Union? The available evidence answers with a resounding silence. Prince Maximilian, a visitor to Fort Union in 1833, learned that "the erection of Fort Union was commenced in the autumn of 1829, by Mr. McKenzie."  Since the prince undoubtedly got this information directly from his good friend, McKenzie, it should not be ignored. Edwin T. Denig, who knew the fort well, made a similar statement in 1843, "The fort itself was begun in the fall of 1829, under the superintendence of Kenneth McKenzie."

Despite Chittenden's belief that Fort Union grew out of Fort Floyd and thus its founding date was 1828, this report will assume that Fort Union was founded in the fall of 1829, when McKenzie went up to the junction of the two rivers from Fort Tecumseh. And it will assume that Fort Union did not evolve out of Fort Floyd, a post of some nature that is found in the documents by name but once.

The earliest mention of the name Union, as applied to the known historic site, was in a letter that Kenneth McKenzie sent to the "Gentleman in charge of Fort Tecumseh," which he dated Fort Union, May 5, 1830, less than three weeks after Chouteau applied the name to a site 200 miles upstream. [9] In this letter, McKenzie asked that various supplies be sent up. From the list, one may determine that both trade (beaver traps, shirts) and construction (pitsaw files) were actively under way. He also wanted sent up his "gray mare & her colt and John Dougherty's little mare." McKenzie was planning to stay.

He had reason to believe that the fort was well located. One would have looked up and down the Missouri vainly for a better location in this general area. Rather than locate the post right at the junction, where the land was level but low, McKenzie picked a high spot on the north bank of the Missouri about five miles by water above the junction.  There was a considerable growth of trees on points immediately above and below this site, trees which would supply both building timbers and firewood. The site was at least 20 feet above the river, high enough to be safe from the annual floods. The ground here was a level prairie that stretched away to the north for a mile or so, thus providing ample space for the Indian camps at trading time. Farther off to the northeast was a sizeable canyon that led down from the high prairies beyond the skyline; this canyon would provide an avenue of approach to the fort for the Assiniboins. And, perhaps most important, the river ran close to this bank, thus allowing boats to tie up near the fort and reducing the portage of cargo to but a few feet.

This was the country of the big sky, the immense herds of buffalo, the high plains, and the Indians of the tipi. But it was not entirely a paradise. Nearly always, strong winds tore across the prairies, mosquitoes plagued man and beast in the spring, and the winters were long and bitterly cold. One employee wrote that the post was "exposed to every wind that blows from any point of the compass, is said to be the coldest place of all the posts be longing to this company--even as cold as those situated on Hudson Bay." The fort would have to be firmly built.

The letter books of the period do not describe the beginning of construction of Fort Union. Chittenden, noting James Kipp's experience at fort building, has suggested that most likely he was the supervisor of the work. Another writer has stated that métis laborers did the actual work.

While there may have been some métis employed at the fort, it is more probable that the skilled workmen (carpenters, masons) came from St. Louis and that the large majority of the laborers were French Canadian engagés, out from Quebec. The American Fur Company regularly had a recruiter in Quebec, and a new batch of 43 mangeurs du lard had arrived at Fort Tecumseh in August 1829.

The first task involved the cutting and hewing of suitable timber and hauling it to the site. A stout palisade of vertical logs soon enclosed a quadrangle 220 by 240 feet. The long axis of the fort ran almost due north and south; while the shorter sides paralleled the river. The apartments of the employees occupied a long building on the western side of the interior. A similar building containing the storerooms and the retail store stood opposite, on the east side. At the north end stood the bourgeois' house and, behind it, a kitchen. In the western half of the north end was a large but simple gate that led out on to the prairie. On the front, or southern end, were the main gate, a reception room for Indians, and shops for various trades such as the blacksmith and the tinner. Other, smaller structures stood here and there around the perimeter. At the northeast and southwest corners stood imposing, 2-story, stone bastions. In the center of the court a tall flag staff reached for the sky.

Each and all of these structures will be discussed individually and in detail in other sections of this report. However, the above general description will provide a stage for the incidents and events that were to befall the occupants for the next 35 years.

The first international visitor to Fort Union arrived in May 1830, when Prince Paul, or Duke Paul Wilhelm of W¨rttemberg, a southern German state, arrived on his second trip to the United States. Although a major general in the army of Frederick II of Prussia, and related to most of the reigning monarchs of Europe, Prince Paul was interested in neither the military nor court life. Instead, he dedicated himself to exploring the far corners of the world; at this time, Fort Union qualified as a far corner.

His biographer states that Prince Paul was a "fine sketch artist." However, no results of his pen have been found. There is an unsubstantiated, and hopefully erroneous, rumor that his work was destroyed during the air raids of World War II.

While no written account by Prince Paul seems to have survived, there is a record of his purchases at Fort Union. They show him to have been rather an easy spender. Between May 17 and August 2, he ran up a bill of $714.75. This sum can be broken down to show expenditures in buying trade goods, necessary supplies such as powder and ball, specimens of Indian handicraft, liquor, and pay for servants supplied by the company. Although he seems to have paid his bill in full at Fort Union, Prince Paul returned to Germany owing money to Pratte, Chouteau, and Co. Later, in 1833, John Jacob Astor wrote his son from Europe that Prince Paul "has neither money nor credit, but he hopes to get the amount of your [Chouteau's] claim in the course of a few months.

Another prince who visited Fort Union in 1830 was Tchatka, an Assiniboin. For most of the time that Fort Union was in existence, there was little danger of an attack by the Assiniboins, or anyone else. However, in this year, Tchatka, or le Gaucher, offered a very real threat. Having lost face among his followers when he suffered a defeat at the hands of the Blackfeet, le Gaucher attempted to regain his lost prestige by offering his 200 followers a scheme whereby to capture the fort. Arriving at the post, he persuaded McKenzie to believe that his men were on their way to attack Minnitarees and he asked for powder.

Despite the stout palisades, it was often the custom at Fort Union to allow trusted Indians to sleep inside the fort; on this occasion, McKenzie gave such permission. At bedtime, le Gaucher's men retired to the various rooms to which they had been assigned. According to the plan, they were to await a signal from le Gaucher, at which time they would attack their white roommates.

One of the white employees had an Assiniboin wife whose brother, one of the attackers, warned her of the plan. She, in turn, passed the warning on. McKenzie acted as if he knew nothing. During the night, he summoned the 80-odd employees then at the fort to come to the main house, a few at a time. He armed his men and had them occupy the stone bastions and other strategic points. When his men were ready, McKenzie had le Gaucher brought to his room. He informed the chief of his awareness of the attack, and gave him the opportunity to leave peacefully before the whites opened fire. The Assiniboins left.

McKenzie traveled down the river in the summer of 1830. When he returned to Fort Union, he found there a trapper by the name of Berger. This old-timer had learned the Blackfoot language when working for the British. Until now, nearly every effort by Americans to trade with the Blackfeet or to hunt in their territory, which lay above Fort Union, had ended in an attack by the Indians. McKenzie persuaded Berger to visit the upper tributaries and to talk the Blackfeet into sending a delegation to Fort Union. Berger was successful in this effort in 1831, and the Blackfeet agreed to let McKenzie send James Kipp up to trade. This resulted in the eventual establishment of Fort McKenzie near the mouth of Marias River. McKenzie's success with the Blackfeet, where other American traders had failed, increased his stature as king of the upper Missouri.

Later, he turned his attention to the Crows on the Yellowstone and, in 1832, established Fort Cass at the mouth of the Big Horn River. This made Fort Union the pivot point for the upper reaches of both rivers; its storerooms supplied the trade goods and stored the furs and robes.

A few months before the establishment of Fort Cass, McKenzie almost lost Fort Union to fire. In the middle of the night, February 3, 1832, shouts of "Fire!" woke him up. He ran from his house to find blazing "the range of buildings forming the west quadrangle of the fort (120 ft. by 24 ft.) and occupied by the clerks, interpreters, mechanics, and engagees, with their families, of squalling children not a few."

In describing the origins and results of the fire, McKenzie made mention of some structural details. The fire began in Francois Chardon's room, "originating beneath the floor, and there being. . . a free communication under the whole range, and much rubbish. . . it was almost simultaneous in every department." Among the items destroyed were trunks of clothing, a year's collection of buffalo tongues, rifles, pistols, and rare white beaver skins. McKenzie described both a loft and a cellar. The loft contained nearly 1,000 planks, stored there to season and which had taken two men six months to saw. The cellar was full of small kegs. Today, there is a depression in the ground about where the northwest room of this "range" should be.

The meat house was also threatened by the fire, but it survived. Also of great worry to McKenzie was a supply of gunpowder kept in the storeroom on the east side. By four a. m., however, the fire was under control. Besides the line of quarters, most of the west wall also burned. Quarters were found for the homeless and repairs of the wall began immediately. The men cut 170 trees on the next day and five days later had replaced all the burnt pickets. McKenzie wrote that it would be "months before the buildings can be reinstated. In our wooden houses I fear we are all too little cautious." By early summer, most of the fire scars had disappeared and it was time for the boats from St. Louis.

Until 1832, the principal craft on the upper Missouri for hauling supplies upstream was the keelboat. A crew of 20 to 40 men pulled this craft against the current by means of a line, or cordelle. Occasionally the wind would be strong enough to use sails; from time to time conditions of the water or the banks would force the crew to pole or to row. All the time, getting a cargo the 2,000 miles from St. Louis to Fort Union was desperately hard work.

McKenzie believed that the transportation problem could be greatly reduced by employing a properly-designed steamboat on the Missouri Snags, boiler explosions, mechanical breakdowns would be dangers, but danger awaited all kinds of craft when the river was in a rage. McKenzie finally persuaded Pierre Chouteau, Jr., to invest in the building of a shallow-draft steamboat. In 1831, the Yellow Stone puffed as far as Fort Tecumseh, about two-thirds of the way to Fort Union.

Writing from Paris in the summer of 1832, John Jacob Astor asked, "How did the Yellow Stone behave, and what said the Indians about her?" He soon got the answer. McKenzie's idea was a success; the Yellow Stone reached Fort Union about the middle of June.

Aboard was Pierre Chouteau, Jr., himself, who had had a fine time coming up, including a stopover to christen the rebuilt fort at Tecumseh as Fort Pierre. John F. Sanford, sub-Indian agent and who married Pierre's daughter, Emilie, was also a passenger. But the passenger destined to become more widely known than they was George Catlin, America's first artist on the upper Missouri. Scorned by artists who later visited Fort Union, Catlin has survived the passing decades and his portraits of far-western Indians are today recognized as a substantial contribution to art and to ethnology.

However, Catlin's two sketches of Fort Union leave much to be desired by the historian. One of these is a mere scribble, possibly done aboard the steamboat approaching the post. The other is a finished painting that Catlin displayed in his European exhibits. This is not a great drawing of the distant fort either, although it does catch the appearance of the country. On the other hand, the drawing is not as bad as its critics have maintained.

In the end, Catlin earned a reputation of hastiness and awkwardness. John C. Ewers points out, however, that during the 86 days Catlin spent on the Missouri, he produced more than 135 pictures, a very large output for so short a time.

Of greater interest than his painting are Catlin's comments on Fort Union. The post struck him as a very substantial Fort. . . with bastions armed with ordnance, and our approach to it under the continued roar of cannon for half an hour, and the shrill yells of the half-affrighted savages who lined the shores, presented a scene of the most thrilling appearance. Catlin noted that Union was "the largest and best-built establishment of the kind on the river, being the great or principal head-quarters and depot of the Fur Company's business in this region."

During the next few days, he learned other details of the post "which contains some eight or ten log-houses and stores, and has generally forty or fifty men." Among the buildings already in use was the all-important and "spacious" ice-house, used for preserving meat and cooling drinks. He noted, too, that McKenzie had a scow for crossing to the south bank, a boat large enough to ferry one-horse carts. Catlin did not say where he slept, but he reported using one of the bastions as a painting room, "My easel stands before me, and the cool breech of a twelve-pounder makes me a comfortable seat, whilst her muzzle is looking out at one of the port-holes."

Indians were allowed into the fort to watch Catlin paint. He observed that when they entered they had to place their weapons in the "arsenal." He was the only one to use this term; it is difficult to determine what room was used for this purpose.

Catlin was as much impressed with McKenzie as he was with the post. He described the king as "a kind-hearted and high-minded Scotsman," who "lives in good and comfortable style." McKenzie's table "groans under the luxuries of the country; with buffalo meat and tongues, with beavers' tails and marrow-fat; but," strangely enough, "sans coffee, sans bread and butter. Good cheer and good living we get at it however, and good wine also, for a bottle of Madeira and one of excellent Port are set in a pail of ice every day, and exhausted at dinner."

The artist also met James Archdale Hamilton, another of the unusual characters at Fort Union. Hamilton was an Englishman of exceptionally good education. His associates believed him to be a nobleman whose real name was Archibald Palmer. Considered to be a good host, but an eccentric man, Hamilton hated Indians, a rather odd attitude considering his environment. The French Canadian employees were said to hold him in awe because he took a bath and put on a clean shirt every day. Catlin described Hamilton as a gentleman who was "a complete store-house of ancient and modern literature and art."

Besides the Assiniboins, Catlin had the opportunity to study both Blackfeet and Crees, when a band of each came in at the same time. To keep them from fighting, McKenzie had them camp on opposite sides of the fort, out on the prairie, and he disarmed them for the duration of their stay. That he could enforce such acts was an acknowledgement of his great power. According to Catlin, there was no trouble until the Crees broke camp. At the last minute, one of them poked "the muzzle of his gun through between the piquets [sic] and fatally wounded a Blackfoot inside the fort.

The Indians would call the steamboats the "Fire Boats that walked on the waters;" and the successful trip of the Yellow Stone introduced the beginning of a new period of travel on the upper Missouri. Fort Union was already on its way to being the most handsome of posts; now, with the ease of transportation, McKenzie and his successors would turn it into an establishment almost luxurious in nature. News of the boat's success was carried by newspapers in both America and Europe. Astor wrote from France, "your voyage in the yellow stone attracted much attention in Europe & has been notiesed in all the Papers here." Crooks wrote Chouteau, "I congratulate you most cordially on your perseverance and ultimate success in reaching the Yellow Stone by steam, and the future Historian of Missouri will preserve for you the honorable and enviable distinction of having accomplished an object of immense importance."

For the moment, the American Fur Company had complete control over the upper Missouri and its tributaries. But it had not yet control over the Rocky Mountain trade; now, from that region, came the threat of opposition. Robert Campbell had left Northern Ireland in 1824 and had migrated to St. Louis because of poor health. Before long, he entered the fur trade wherein he met up with William Sublette, one of several brothers who collectively were known throughout the length and breadth of the far west. At the end of 1832, the two formed a partnership and planned to challenge the American Fur Company by erecting a competing fort next to every company post along the Missouri.

In the summer of 1833, Campbell led a group of traders overland to the mouth of the Yellowstone where he met Sublette, who had come up the Missouri by steamboat with supplies and trade goods. Near the junction, on the same side of the river as Fort Union, and about 2-1/2 miles below as the crow flew, the partners began building the wooden establishment, Fort William, named for Sublette.

One of their employees, Charles Larpenteur, described the fort as being 150 by 130 feet, located 200 yards from the Missouri, precisely where Fort Buford's sawmill would stand in the 1870's. The 15-foot stockade was made of cottonwood, with an additional three feet planted in the ground. The bourgeois' house was a cabin of two rooms separated by a breezeway. In addition, there were two rooms for men's quarters, a combination store and warehouse, ice and meat houses, various shops, "and two splendid bastions." The entire complex was finished by Christmas, an indication of its inferiority to Fort Union which took over four years to complete.

Sublette, sick ever since he arrived, went back to St. Louis after three weeks. His departure would mean trouble for Kenneth McKenzie as will be later noted. Campbell, supplied with a large quantity of illicit liquor set out to capture the Indian trade from McKenzie. McKenzie, also well supplied with alcohol, was determined to destroy Fort William economically. By the end of the year, Campbell would learn just how ruthless McKenzie could be.

The irritations began in the fall. When Campbell made an offer to sell out, McKenzie turned him down. He would rather force Campbell out than buy him out. A few days later, Campbell learned that two men had found a packet of beaver that he had lost the past summer and had sold the beaver to McKenzie. Campbell went up to Fort Union to argue that the furs were his, but without success. Next, he discovered that Francois Dechamps, an employee, was actually a spy for McKenzie. Worst of all, "McKenzie gives as much wisky as the Indians can drink for nothing. Barrel after Barrel he sends all around amongst the Indians and those will not trade otherwise."

On New Year's Eve, Campbell was wholly discouraged, "I can safely say as unhappy a time as this I have never before passed during my life. What is worst our prospects are not good for McKenzie has hired our interpreters and bribed them whilst they were here to betray us."

McKenzie was almost enjoying his destruction of the opposition. In January 1834, he wrote, "although on their first start here, they made a great show and promise to the Indians and although among the men nothing was talked about but the new company, they live now at the sign of 'The case is altered.' Their interpreters have. . . left them and are now working hard for me." He concluded, "the new company is in bad odor and must sink."

Then, in April 1834, just when McKenzie was sure of driving out Sublette and Campbell, Chouteau wrote him that he had bought out the opposition. McKenzie was disappointed, and not at all convinced that it had been necessary to have spent the money. His method would have been cheaper.

Before leaving Campbell and his fort, a further look at his journal is necessary. Several times in 1833 he was a guest at Fort Union, and his diary entries add to our information. In September he went up to visit Hamilton who had been ill. Being the gentleman, Hamilton showed Campbell "the buildings even to the Ice House and Stables and every convenience of the fort. The Ice House serves for Lumber having a door in the floor and a descent by rope ladder to the Ice." Assuming his description to be accurate, there should be traces of the ice house cellar today.

On December 15, Campbell made an entry in his journal of a disaster at Fort Union: "Last night two sides of McKenzies new fort was leveled with the ground" because of a strong wind. "He had built a stone and lime foundation and raised his pickets thereon but it appears something more substantial is required in this country to brave the winds." Fort Union's carpenters solved this problem when they rebuilt the walls. Denig described the new construction: "This space is enclosed by pickets. . . twenty feet high, made of hewn cottonwood, and founded upon stone. The pickets are fitted into an open framework in the inside, of sufficient strength to counterbalance their weight, and sustained by braces in the form of an X, which reaches in the inside from the pickets to the frame, so as to make the whole completely solid and secure, from either storm or attack." These braces may be seen in at least two of the sketches made of Fort Union's interior.

Campbell was also a visitor to Fort Union on the occasion of a dinner for Prince Maximilian of Wied, the second German prince to visit Fort Union. On October 2, Campbell wrote, "I received a note from Mr. Hamilton inviting me to dine and to be made acquaint[ed] with the Baron Bransburgh [Braunsberg, which Maximilian liked to call himself] or Prince of Newyd [Neuwied]." Campbell went up "and passed a pleasant evening in this society."

The prince had arrived at Fort Union with McKenzie on June 24. Travelling with him was a Swiss artist, Charles Bodmer, and a secretary, Mr. Drydopple. After a few weeks at Union, the party traveled up to Fort McKenzie. When the prince returned to Fort Union that fall, he learned that McKenzie was again temporarily down the river. The prince remained for a few weeks as a guest of Hamilton then went down to spend the winter at Fort Clark. Alexander Culbertson met Maximilian and thought he looked like anything but a prince--unostentatious, toothless, greasy trousers, and a worn black coat. Maximilian had had considerable experience as a Prussian soldier, having been made a prisoner-of-war at Jena, and, like Prince Paul, a major general. In 1813 he had been in the allied army that had occupied Paris. Now he was an explorer-scientist and committed to a simple manner of living.

Maximilian's journal gives an intimate look at Fort Union, beginning with his first view of the post late in the evening of June 24, 1833: "Fort Union, on a verdant plain, with the handsome American flag, gilded by the last rays of evening, floating in an azure sky, while a herd of horses grazing animated the peaceful scene." As the steamer approached, the fort's cannon fired a welcome salute. Hamilton came forth to greet the visitors, while the employees, "Americans, Englishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, Russians, Spaniards, and Italians, about 100 in number, with many Indians, and half-breed women and children" welcomed the season's steamboat.

In describing the fort, Maximilian said that the river was only 50 to 60 feet from the front of the fort. To him the pickets seemed to be 15 or 16 feet high, "squared, and placed close to each other, and surmounted by chevaux-de-frise," or a barrier of spikes. He noted the large, folding gate at the front entrance, on the river side. Facing the gate stood the bourgeois' house, "one story high, and has four handsome glass windows on each side of the door. The roof is spacious, and contains a large, light loft. This house is very commodious, and, like all the buildings of the inner quadrangle, constructed of poplar wood [cottonwood?], the staple wood for building in this neighborhood." This is the earliest clear statement that in the beginning the main house was only one story high, a height that Bodmer's painting seems to confirm.

Maximilian also noted that several half-breed hunters had erected their tipis around the flagpole and that "a cannon was also placed here, with its mouth towards the principal entrance." Besides its personnel, the fort contained "about fifty or sixty horses, some mules, and an inconsiderable number of cattle, swine, goats, fowls, and domestic animals." He saw that the horses were taken out on the prairie during the day, under guard, but were brought back inside each night. This was not too happy a situation, for it kept the yard very dirty, especially when it was wet. McKenzie was concerned about this and was planning a separate enclosure for the horses.

During the next few weeks, Maximilian's busy pen made notes on the fort, Indians, and the fur trade. In summing up the trade at Fort Union he observed that buffalo hides (40,000-50,000) surpassed the number of beaver (25,000) skins. Other skins collected included otter, weasel, marten, lynx, red fox, cross fox, silver fox, mink, muskrat, and deer. The personnel of the fort, by themselves, consumed from 600 to 800 buffalo annually. He mentioned that corn was bought from neighboring tribes. He did not say that McKenzie used this corn in his still, but that is another story.

He learned that vegetables did not thrive, but that mosquitoes did. He listed the birds and animals he saw, and attempted to give a census of the Assiniboins, deciding there were 28,000, of whom 7,000 were warriors, and that they lived in 3,000 tipis. A few "wretchedly poor" Indians were at the fort when the prince arrived. He wrote that "several apartments in the fort were assigned to these visitors, where they cooked and slept."

As for himself and his companions, they had "a comfortable lodging" in McKenzie's house, "and we lived here very pleasantly, in a plain style, suitable to the resources of so remote a place." The prince did better than Catlin in that he had coffee as well as wine every day, along with buffalo flesh and bread.

Very shortly after Maximilian arrived, a large number of Assiniboins came in, impressing the Europeans greatly:

Towards the northwest, the whole prairie was covered with scattered Indians, whose numerous dogs drew the sledges with the baggage; a close body of warriors, about 250 or 300 in number, had formed themselves in the center, in the manner of two bodies of infantry, and advanced in quick time towards the fort. The Indian warriors marched in close ranks, three or four men deep, not keeping their file very regularly, yet in pretty good order, and formed a considerable line. Before the center. . . three or four chiefs advanced, arm in arm, and from the ranks. . . loud musket-shots were heard. The whole troop of these warriors now commenced their original song. . . many abrupt, broken tones. . . . The loaded dogs, guided by women and children, surrounded the nucleus of warriors . . .

They advanced to within about sixty paces, then halted at a fosse [a ditch, or small ravine] running from the Missouri past the fort, and waited, the chief standing in front, for our welcome.

Maximilian realized that he was witnessing an event, a way of life, that would disappear from the American scene as fast as man could destroy it. His vivid description fixes permanently the image of that way of life.

Bodmer was the artist of the expedition, but the prince himself drew a general plan of the fort on which he labeled the various structures. Although this plan is known to exist still, it is not at this time available for publication. While the plan would illuminate this report, optimism suggests that it will be available in time to be of value to any potential restoration.

When Maximilian left, July 6, for Fort McKenzie among the Blackfeet, McKenzie had a fireworks display set off along the bank of the river, hoisted the American flag, and fired several guns. No prince, German or otherwise, could ever complain about the hospitality.

When he returned in the autumn, the prince found "the whole prairie . . . naked, dry, and withered." Instead of hundreds of Assiniboins, there was but one tent, inhabited by a half-Blackfoot. The Missouri itself was "shallow, narrow, and full of sand banks." McKenzie had gone; there were only fifty persons at the fort under the control of Mr. Hamilton.

During the absence of the prince, several improvements had occurred at the fort. Referring to the fire of 1832, he noted that "a handsome solid powder magazine, of hewn stone, which was capable of containing 50,000 lbs. of powder, was completed." He noted too that a rail fence, which had to be renovated, was almost finished. Another fence, the one around McKenzie's house, "was damaged by a horse chewing on it even though it had been painted reddish brown. "

Maximilian had gathered a large number of specimens and souvenirs by this time and, to his great pleasure, Hamilton gave him the "spacious loft" in the bourgeois' house where he could take everything out of the boxes and barrels to dry and air. Bodmer also was given "a good clear room" in which to paint. Out of his efforts came a number of superb paintings which were later reproduced and made famous. The most important to the purposes here was one of Fort Union from the north. It was the first detailed illustration known to have been done.

As their time for departure neared, the visitors went on a buffalo hunt. Among the post employees to accompany them was McKenzie's Negro slave. Maximilian noted other persons he met at the fort, such as Robert Campbell, the bourgeois at Fort William, who came up to Union for dinner with the prince. He recorded too those cool fall evenings, when he visited Hamilton in his apartment and sat by the fireplace enjoying good punch and good conversation.

When Maximilian decided to spend the winter at Fort Clark, both McKenzie and Hamilton were disappointed for they were losing a good companion who would have helped wile away the long blizzards of winter. The party left Fort Union on October 31. The boat stopped briefly at Fort William where Campbell gave them a parting gift of cigars. The long summer sojourn would not be Maximilian's last contact with the American Fur Company. The very next year, he would entertain Kenneth McKenzie at his German estates.

McKenzie's sudden decision to visit Europe seems to have been based partly on a scandal of his making, a scandal that threatened the operations of the American Fur Company. In the summer of 1832, the U. S. Government tightened the laws that prohibited liquor in the Indian country. Long a staple of trade, liquor had always found its way to the traders who felt it to be essential in order to at tract the Indians away from competitors, including the British who did not prohibit it. In the fall of 1832, Crooks wrote a worried letter regretting "truly the blindness of the Government in refusing liquor. . . in the vicinity of the Hudson's Bay Posts."

McKenzie was so alarmed by the prohibition that he made a personal visit to Washington in January 1833. When that failed, he cast about for some other means--in addition to the time-honored but risky smuggling that all traders had and would continue to carry out. By spring, he had concluded that while the laws prohibited the transportation of liquor they did not prohibit its manufacture in the Indian country. On the same steamboat that carried Prince Maximilian to Fort Union that summer rode McKenzie's brand new distillery. Also on board was a supply of alcohol, but it was taken off when the boat was searched on the way up the river.

McKenzie wrote Crooks in December 1833 telling him that Campbell and Sublette had succeeded in smuggling an abundance of alcohol. However, Crooks need not be alarmed, "For this post I have established a manufactory of strong water, it succeeds admirably. I have a good corn with a very respectable distillery and can produce as fine liquor as need be drank: I believe no law of the U. S. is hereby broken though perhaps one may be made to break up my distillery but liquor I must have or quit."

Unknown to McKenzie, news of his still had already reached a rather wide circle of government officials and others. When McKenzie finally did learn that the secret was out, he blamed Nathaniel Wyeth.

Back in August, Wyeth, returning to the East overland after attempting to establish his own fur empire in the Pacific Northwest, stopped at Fort Union for three days. Wyeth was highly impressed with McKenzie, "all possible hospitality and politeness," by Hamilton, "a man of superior education and an Englishman," and by Fort Union, "better furnished inside than any British fort I have ever seen [including Fort Vancouver] at Table we have flour Bread Bacon Cheese Butter. . . they live well."

Wyeth went on to say that "Fort Union is pleasantly situated on the N. bank of the Missouri. . . . I am told that there is not enough moisture here to raise vegetables potatoes grass ect." As he inspected the post, he saw "a small sturgeon but they are very rare. . . Cat fish are good and plenty. . . they have cows and bulls milk etc. I saw lime burning also [char]coal." He also saw the still, "here they are beginning to distil spirits from corn traded from the Inds. below. This owing to some restrictions on the introduction of the article into the country." Later, on November 11, back in Cambridge, Mass., Wyeth wrote a letter to the editor of a paper naming the many people who had treated him well on his expedition. Among the names was Kenneth McKenzie's.

Nowhere in Wyeth's accounts can one find even a hint of his being displeased about his treatment while at Fort Union, or of his deliberately reporting McKenzie's still to the authorities. Yet, McKenzie blamed him, "in return for my civilities & furnishing him with a boat. . . on his arrival at Cant n. Leavenworth I hear he made some tremendous strong affidavits about my new manufactory." Charles Larpenteur, who was to work for McKenzie, also thought it was Wyeth who told, as revenge for the exorbitant prices McKenzie charged him for supplies.

However, Wyeth may have been blamed for something he did not do, or did not do alone. Travelling down the Missouri with him was none other than McKenzie's arch-rival, William Sublette. The Indian Commissioner in Washington learned about the distillery from Henry L. Ellsworth, agent at Fort Leavenworth. According to Ellsworth, he learned about the still from "a mountain trapper on his way down the Missouri." He went on, "Mr. Sublitz of St. Louis just from there [Fort Union], says, he tasted the whiskey made there, and found it an excellent quality."

Federal officials gave serious thought to suspending the UMO's trading license. Pierre Chouteau, Jr., argued that the distillery was intended only "to promote the course of Botany." While the license was not suspended, Ramsay Crooks did not think the excuse to be very funny, "prenez-y-garde--Don't presume too much on your recent escape from an accusation, which might have been attended with serious consequences."

Meanwhile, from the isolation of Fort Union, McKenzie, unaware that he had been experimenting in botany, came up with his own excuse, "An old acquaintance of mine in Red River Mr. J. P. Bourke addressed me last spring. . . in consequence whereof I purchased a still in St. Louis, & brought it hitherto & last fall he apprised me of his intention to come or send for it in April next." He again accused Wyeth of telling.

The incident finally blew over. The friends of the American Fur Company, some of whom held high office, such as Secretary of War Lewis Cass, came to its assistance both in this and other incidents involving McKenzie and his associates.

The location of the still in the fort cannot be established; however, Larpenteur mentioned the existence of a distillery house. This, of course, was not the end of the liquor trade; the company continued to smuggle alcohol in quantity. Larpenteur, the tee-totalling bartender, recounted, "The liquor business, which was always done at night, sometimes kept me up all night turning out drunken Indians, often by dragging them out by arms and legs." As for McKenzie, upset by the buying out of Campbell and Sublette and the business of the still, 1834 seemed like a good time to leave the upper Missouri for a time and to visit Europe.

A few miscellaneous entries in the records of the early 1830's add some detail to our understanding of the post. At the end of 1833, McKenzie noted that "the tin Smith arrived here Nov. 29. he is a good workman. I shall find him a most useful artisan." There undoubtedly was some work for the tinsmith to do with regard to the fort itself; however, his most important job was making trade items such as bracelets, rings, and pots.

After McKenzie left on his vacation in 1834, Hamilton became the acting bourgeois. In September, he advised McKenzie by letter that one bastion was roofed, shingled, and pointed, and the other was built up as high as the pickets. This rather obscure news implies that either the two stone bastions were being rebuilt or Catlin and Bodmer had chosen to depict the fort as it would look, rather than as it did when they made their sketches.

Hamilton continued his news by saying that Luteman (the head carpenter) had "made his arrangements for the kitchen," and had "erected and shingled five compartments, under the intended gallery." These compartments should not be confused with the range of apartments in which the clerks, interpreters, etc., lived; they were additional rooms built against the pickets and under a gallery that would eventually extend around the fort. He noted also the production of charcoal, "Michel has got 300 barrels of coal housed & his last kiln is now ready to draw.

Three weeks later, Hamilton reported that (the stone mason?) "Miller has finished the bastions & starts today for St. Louis." Hamilton tried to get Miller to stay, but the latter asked for too much money and, besides, "his work is inferior in finish to Pow[der] Mag[azine]."

After Pratte, Chouteau, and Company bought out Campbell and Sublette, McKenzie and Hamilton had Fort William on their hands. They moved all or part of the stockade from William to Union to make the long-wanted corral for the horse herd. Larpenteur referred to this by writing, "Fort William was to be rebuilt within 150 yards of Union." The foreman for this project proved so incompetent, according to Larpenteur, that "the pickets were set in crooked, some too high, some too low." Larpenteur was then given the job of superintendent and he had the men take everything down, straighten and level the trench, and start again. He succeeded in building a respectable compound; at least he thought so.

Although the pickets were moved up to Fort Union, the buildings at Fort William remained where they were. In October 1834, Larpenteur was selling drinks to a number of half-breeds, when a violent argument broke out. During the fight, one of the Deschamps killed another man. Larpenteur was able to quiet things only by putting laudanum (opium) in their whiskey. When the drunks recovered, they "went home to Fort William, where all those families were kept, as were also some of the Company's men who had squaws, and the horse guard with the horses."

As early as August 1832, John Jacob Astor had written that he feared "Beaver will not sell well very soon unless very fine, it. . . appears that they make hats of silk in place of Beaver." This letter was Astor's admission that the heyday of the beaver trade (and the fabled mountain man) was drawing to a close. Silk was in fashion and, also, the beaver was fairly well trapped out. Beaver would continue to be an acceptable fur, along with all the others, but as far as Fort Union was concerned, the buffalo, already important, would play an increasing role in the returns. McKenzie, in advice to one of his subordinates in January 1834, recognized this moment in the fur trade, "I am so burdened with Apichemons [?], pieces of lodge & mean wolf skins, I must restrict you in the trade of those articles." Moreover, "dressed Cow skins should be traded only on very low terms. I have some thousand by me. Elk skins, Beaver skins & robes you cannot get too much of."

The increasing importance of buffalo robes is pointed up by the references to them in the company correspondence. For example, Kipp wrote McKenzie in September 1834, without mentioning any other furs or skins, "Expect to get as many buffalo robes as last year."

John Jacob Astor, no longer a young man, felt no excitement in the change in emphasis from beaver to buffalo. As early as 1828, Pierre Chouteau, Jr., learned that Astor was contemplating selling his controlling interest in the American Fur Company. The old man held out for six more years before retiring on June 1, 1834. Ramsay Crooks took over the Northern Department. Pratte, Chouteau, and Company brought out the Western Department. As far as the public was concerned, the term American Fur Company still applied to both. Crooks and Chouteau remained close business friends, and the extensive correspondence between them continued unabated. The UMO retained its special relationship to the St. Louis company and, when he got back from his European jaunt, McKenzie returned up the Missouri to take charge of his empire. Nevertheless, the future would be different than the past. Beaver was no longer king. Astor had grown old and had quit. There would be an exciting future for Fort Union, but it would reflect the changes taking place on the upper Missouri. As Tennyson would have it,

The old order changeth
Yielding place to new.

Charles Larpenteur's self-righteous sobriety undoubtedly brought him into conflict with his fellow employees from time to time. Nevertheless, he is more valuable historically than most of the other men at the fort, for he kept a diary rather than get drunk. His detailed journal shows that while Fort Union was six years old in 1835, it was by no means "finished."

Larpenteur held McKenzie in considerable awe, which feeling was increased the first time he entered the dining room. He discovered that clerks, who ate at the head table, had to wear their coats to meals. Moreover, no one could eat until McKenzie was seated; since McKenzie was a late riser this meant that breakfast was not eaten until nine o'clock. Still, it was worth the wait:

On entering the eating hall, I found a splendidly set table with a very white tablecloth, and two waiters, one a negro. Mr. McKenzie was sitting at the head of the table, extremely well dressed. The victuals consisted of fine fat buffalo meat, with plenty of good fresh butter, cream, and milk. . . but I saw that only two biscuits were allowed to each one, as these were placed at each plate. I soon discovered, by the manner in which the clerks took their seats, that mine would come very near the end of the table, for it appeared to go by grade.

He did not say whether or not Hamilton modified the dining ritual during McKenzie's absence in Europe. By going abroad, McKenzie missed the very wet summer of 1835, "The quantity of rain which has fallen here this season I should think is almost without precedent." The woods became swamps, grass grew abundantly every where, the interior of the fort became a lake, and the mosquitoes came in clouds, making "the men cry out terribly and not without cause."

Back in September 1834, McKenzie had noted that the bastions were well along toward completion. Hamilton confirmed this in March 1835 by writing, "The Bastions are completed with the exception of laying down the floors but the planks are all tongue and grooved." Other construction activities at this time were mentioned in the rather cryptic note, "Laucier was employed untill Christmas in finishing the attics." Also, timber had been got out for new storerooms, the existing ones being only temporary in nature.

Luteman started work on the framing for the "stores and warehouses" on May 1. From time to time his assistants were called away to other jobs but he worked steadily on this job. On May 15 and 25, the drivers hauled rocks for the building's foundation; other men were kept busy sawing timber. Work slowed down when the rains came, such as the afternoon, "about three o'clock a heavy thunder storm. . . the fort yard like a lake."

On May 28, Luteman reached the point where he had to pull the old building down to make room for the new. For the next three days the men moved the supplies from the old structure. The goods in the storerooms were carried to the bastions, while those in the retail store were moved to "the Northwest end room of Mr. McKenzie's Dwelling house." In order to speed up the work, "the Drivers made a Bridge across a ravine to enable them to make four loads of rocks per day instead of three." This ravine may have been "Garden Coulee," one-half mile east of the fort.

By June 2, the carpenter had finished the framing, which work had been done to one side. The next day, nine workmen "commenced pulling down the [old] store & ware houses." Meanwhile, a second carpenter began constructing the door and window frames, and four men were "sawing planks for sheeting the new buildings." Four days later the old buildings were out of the way, as was a "part of the stables which was in the way of the new buildings." (From Denig's description a few years later, these stables were probably located against the palisade.) At this point, the old sills were hauled away and "Holmes and Kieffer diging the foundations for the new building."

For the next few days a variety of jobs were carried on: framing rafters, constructing the foundations, hauling in lime and sand and hauling out earth, making shingles, and hauling in the new sills. Finally, on June 19, all hands "commenced raising the buildings."

In four days the framing was complete. To celebrate, the men "tied a [posey?] on the top of one of the rafters and fired [a] few guns towards it with the view of gitting [a treat?] which is commonly done in such occasions and was administered to them to their satisfaction." Luteman, "who is the boss carpenter received a bottle. . . which induced him to get in a spree." He was still sick the next day, and the work was temporarily reduced to two men straightening the edges of shingles.

The next steps were to sheet the roof and to put five men to work digging the cellar. At the same time rock quarrying was renewed for lining the cellar walls. The earth removed from the cellar was spread on the fort yard in an attempt to give it a gradual slope toward the river so that it would drain. On July 1, Luteman finished sheeting the building and commenced shingling the roof. Hamilton wrote McKenzie that "the new stores are in part shingled and have a very imposing appearance. We are short of 10 dy and 12 dy cut nails." A week later, Holmes finished digging the cellar and began its stone wall, while another man started putting in the window and door frames. Two men worked at putting tongues and grooves in the floor boards. The only things remaining to be done were weatherboarding the walls and planking the floor.

In early September, Larpenteur was able to record that the supplies in the bastions were being put in the new warehouses and that the men were storing potatoes in the new cellar. On September 24, two men were directed to paint the roof red; however, they ran out of paint with only one-quarter of the roof covered.

To complement Larpenteur's description of the construction of the building was Edwin Denig's description of it that he prepared in 1843:

On the east side of the fort, extending north and south, is a building, or range, all under one roof, 127 ft. long by 25 ft. deep, and used for the following purposes. A small room at the north end for stores and luggage; then the retail store. . . where all white persons buy or sell. * * * * Adjoining this is the wholesale warehouse, in which is kept the principal stock of goods intended for the extensive trade; this room is 57 ft. in length. Next is a small room for the storage of meat and other supplies. At the end is the press room, where all robes, furs, and peltries are stored. The dimensions [of this room] extend to the top of the roof inside, which roof is perfectly waterproof. It will contain from 2800 to 3000 packs of Buffalo robes [10 robes to the pack]. All this range is very strongly put together, weather-boarded outside, and lined with plank within. It has also cellar and garet.

The cellar depression may still be seen, but nothing else of this structure remains above ground. Still, it would seem that Luteman deserved his bottle--and perhaps a second--for a job well done.

A multitude of other projects were completed that muddy summer. Larpenteur's journal for May and June does not indicate clearly if the milk house underwent a renovation or was brand new. At any rate, men worked on its underpinning, "paved" its interior, shingled the roof, made a new window and a new door frame and door, and plastered and whitened its interior walls. The kitchen, located behind the bourgeois' house, also had its floor paved. The Indian house, located west of the main (south) gate also underwent repairs. Some iron that was stored in it was removed to the southwest bastion, and the room was cleaned up so that the men could store packs of robes in it. The roof of the Indian house was covered at this time with lodge skins, which in turn were covered with earth. Larpenteur wrote that the workmen "dried the lodges which covered the Indian house and recovered it again to remain untill the Packs are taken out."

Minor jobs around the fort included "sawing old logs about the Fort for fire wood;" "working at the May Pole to hoist the Flag," which pole was not raised until May 3; "hauling rails and shingle wood from the other Fort [William] for Baptiste Marcham to make shingles of;" repairing the chimneys over at Fort William, where some of the fort families were living; "hauling lime and sand to plaster the Clerks room;" "hauling sawlogs to the saw pit;" constructing a calf pen with the puncheons removed from the old warehouse; making a calf shed; repairing the earthen roof of the ice house; rendering tallow; "haulling earth to fille up the yard before the ice house;" removing all the robe packs out of "the room next to the Clerks in order to have it clear for the free [not under contract] trappers;" manufacturing a wheel barrow and an axel tree; bailing the water out of the just-completed milk house; and hauling gravel into the fort's yard.

Still other jobs included hauling wood to the charcoal pit; "pointing the under pining of the sills around the outside of the Fort;" planting four cedar posts on the river bank for tying the boats to; "John Prill raking the [buffalo?] chips off the bank on front of the Fort into the river, then graduating the river bank and making steps leading down to the water;" mowing and hauling hay; "splighting the fire wood smaller and piling it between the kitchen and the Dwelling house;" making an inclosure for a stockyard with timbers from the old warehouse; underpinning the gallery sills; repairing the chimneys; making and bundling up shingles for future use; making oars; cutting timber suitable for making ax handles; making a new saw pit on the south side of the river; building a canoe (hollowing out a log?); building new stables under the galleries; and putting in an upper floor in the men's apartments. Another undertaking of interest involved the inside of the office, where a workman put rocks "next to the weather boarding between the studing in order to be plaistered over."

In contrast to earlier attempts, a garden thrived in the rains of 1835. The first seeds planted, on May 11, included potatoes, corn, peas, red onions, radishes, lettuce, parsnips, carrots, yellow French radishes, celery, curled parsley, oyster plant, "and a mixture of seeds supposed to be turnip seed." Larpenteur, who apparently had some responsibility for the garden, mentioned two growing areas: a vegetable garden in or near to Garden Coulee and a field of sorts across the river. He was quite specific about the planting of corn, squash, pumpkin, watermelon, and beets on the south bank. Also planted in one or the other of the sites were onions, cabbages, cucumbers, dwarf beans and pole beans.

A fence was erected around the garden and a "walk" laid. By June 5, the first radishes were "fit to eat;" a few days later John Prill began "cutting pea sticks." A small, third area was planted on June 12 when Larpenteur "sewed radishes and Tongue grass in the Distilling house yard." A particularly bad rain on June 19 washed away eight "panels" of the garden fence and it took two men a day to repair it. Another emergency occurred on August 26 when a number of Indians arrived: "Imployed all hands in diging the Potatoes. . . and was obliged. . . to pull the corn green. . . for at the rate the indians were gathering it they would not have left one ear by morning."

Nevertheless, 1835's gardening was a success. Hamilton, in a burst of optimism, sent a substantial order for seeds to St. Louis for the following year. That fall, after the last vegetable had been gathered, the Indians began burning the fence rails. Larpenteur was forced to have two carters haul all the fencing to the protection of the fort.

He did not write much about the domestic animals at Fort Union, except for the hogs. Several adventures happened to the pigs, such as the terse entry, "Killed seven dogs for having torn the hogs to pieces." The herd was reinforced later when "John Prill brought in a sow from the woods with five young pigs." This increase was diminished when "one of the old sows choked her self with a piece of meat."

McKenzie was not at Fort Union during the summer when the deeds of the Deschamps family finally caught up with the father and sons. Exiles from the Red River Settlement, they had drifted toward the upper Missouri where Campbell had hired them at Fort William. When Campbell discovered that Francois Deschamps, Jr., was secretly a spy for McKenzie, Francois deserted to Fort Union where he was employed as an interpreter. Both he and his father, Francois, Sr., tried the temper of their fellow employees many times. A particularly strong feud developed between them and Baptiste Gardepied, whose life they repeatedly threatened. Baptiste finally demanded a show down. The result took place in Larpenteur's room when Baptiste wounded Francois, Jr., and killed the old man. For a while there after the surviving Deschamps caused very little trouble for anyone.

Another moment of excitement that Larpenteur said happened involved the arrival of a number of Indians who were allowed to stay in the fort. Possibly because of liquor, the Indians became so unruly that Hamilton became concerned. He directed Larpenteur to carry muskets from a bastion to the dining room and to put a small cannon in the hallway of the bourgeois' house. Then, "the window blinds of the dining room were opened, and there could be seen by the three candles the bright muskets, plenty of cartridges. . . and four men ready for action. The piece of artillery was rolled back and forward in the passage, making a tremendous noise, and two men mounted guard with muskets and fixed bayonets." This display of power quieted the visitors; and a very pleased Hamilton sent Larpenteur to the cellar to draw a bottle of Madeira for a celebration.

Another Indian whose name entered the history of Fort Union in 1835 was La Main, an Assiniboin who had had several disputes with his own people and who was thought of as an outlaw. In the early 1830's, he had killed his half-brother, Broken Cloud, at the fort, and, now, another half-brother got revenge by shooting La Main and leaving his body to tumble into the fort when the gates were opened the next morning.

All in all, 1835 was a busy, exciting year, so busy that on July 4, Larpenteur wrote, "hollow day but had very little time to enjoy it." Yet there were times when the men relaxed a little. In the cool of the evenings, especially, there was time to promenade on the gallery that ran around the fort. From here one could see the prairie, the river, and the fiery sunsets, and dream a little about home or the mountains.

Back in May, Hamilton had hoisted the flag and fired the guns to honor the departure of McKenzie. That fall, word arrived that McKenzie was planning to remain in St.Louis. It was a premature rumor. He returned in late fall to renew his control over the fur trade of the upper Missouri. From Fort Union he wrote Prince Maximilian thanking him for the hospitality on the Rhine. He also mentioned the bad news that the steamboat that had carried the prince's collection of mammal and bird specimens had sunk with the loss of all the cargo. As for McKenzie's own trip, it had been a good one, with a side visit to Niagara Falls on the way home. The river was already frozen; but McKenzie looked forward to the winter. There was still Hamilton for company. Still, he asked, would the prince kindly think of Fort Union from time to time.

The year 1836 was, perhaps, the quietest year Fort Union had yet experienced. The trade in robes was steady. Liquor was smuggled in. The Indians came and went. The next year started out just as quietly. Edwin Denig wrote in March 1837 to Fort Pierre, sending his thanks for the letters and papers that had just arrived, "we were beginning to get mere drones for the want of news." He said that nearly everyone at the fort had been sick with something like influenza, from which one child had died. On the other hand, trade had been superior, "We now have 900 packs in the warehouse and at least 250 more to be traded, and all of the very best kind of robes." He exulted, "if we make 2500 Packs Hurray for Upper Missouri Outfit against the world!!"

Despite the influenza, morale was high, "We are all in good humor. . . every man attends his business well and Mr. McKenzie is kind and obliging to all." As for himself, Denig said he "would rather be ostler here than bookkeeper general at F[ort] P[ierre] and though to oblige and obey Mr. McKenzie I would go any place, yet should I leave here it would be with great regret."

However, McKenzie left Fort Union in 1837 to take up residency in St. Louis. Three months after Denig wrote his letter, Fort Union's high spirits were replaced by the darkest gloom. The steamer St. Peters brought the smallpox with it. The first person to take ill was the acting bourgeois, Jacob Halsey. Within a few days, 27 people lay sick within the fort, of whom four died. Larpenteur described the desperation felt, "Doctor Thomas Medical Book was brought down from the Library and the treatment of small Pox vaccination noculation was read over and over." The Assiniboins kept coming in to trade even though efforts were made to stop them. Like a wild fire, the pox spread through the tribe, and most of the other tribes of the upper Missouri. The Indians had no resistance to the disease. Halsey estimated that about 10 out of 12 Indians who caught the disease would die.

The loss was terrible. The Mandan Indians were almost completely killed off. D. D. Mitchell, at Fort Union, estimated that four-fifths of the Assiniboins and the Blackfeet had died. Buffalo were plentiful that year, but there were few Indians to hunt them. The American Fur Company worried that the Indians would blame the company for the disaster and attack the forts. Indeed, one Assiniboin leader, Le Vieux Gauche, vowed his vengeance on Union. Halsey took the threat seriously and had a double gate put in at the main entrance. The outside gates could then be opened, the Indians could come through them, and enter the Indian house; providing the inner gates were closed, the Indians could not come into the main part of the fort. As a further precaution, a wicket was added to the wall. Larpenteur used it when selling liquor to visiting Indians. He said a few shots were fired through it from time to time, but these were caused by the liquor, not by a desire for revenge.

Hamilton, who had gone down to St. Louis with McKenzie, compiled the "melancholy details" from the upper forts and passed the dire news on to Pierre Chouteau, Jr., then in Washington. He confirmed most of Halsey's reports; he also noted that Halsey had done a poor job at Fort Union that summer. The new acting bourgeois, D. D. Mitchell, had written asking that Chouteau himself come up to settle a number of unnamed problems; he also gave "a woeful picture of poor Halsey's conduct during the summer."

Despite the tragedy, the robe trade continued, slowly for a time but gradually increasing in volume again. Fort Union continued to witness small excitements among its inhabitants. In 1840, one George Sumpter robbed the retail store and got away, only to be found working at Fort Pierre two years later. He was promptly "set adrift." The Deschamps were replaced in character by Alexander Harvey, a capable person possessed by a violent temper. He was fired in 1839, then rehired a year later. He returned to Fort Union where he had a showdown with an old enemy, Isadore Sandoval, in the same store that Sumpter robbed. In the manner of the upper Missouri, Harvey shot and killed Sandoval and dared anyone to do anything about it.

In counterpoise to this violence, Peter De Smet, the Jesuit missionary, made this year the first of many visits to Fort Union. Like other travelers, he was impressed with "the vastest and finest of the forts that the Fur Company has upon the Missouri." True to company policy, James Kipp, the new bourgeois, and his employees "overwhelmed us with civilities. . . supplied all our wants. . . I shall be most thankful to them all my life." He performed no marriages, but "regenerated sundry half-breed children in the holy waters of baptism" before pushing on down the Missouri.

When De Smet made his next visit, in 1842, Fort Union had neighbors again. A new competitor, called both the Union Fur Company and Fox, Livingston and Company, established a post at or near the site of old Fort William. Although officially called Fort Mortimer by its owners, the old name "William" remained popular. The new post was first built of wood, including its walls. Later, either under Fox, Livingston and Company or under still another competitor it was rebuilt with adobe, the first time such material was used that far up the Missouri.

The new fort got off to a poor start. In 1843, a sudden and very high rise in the Yellowstone river cut into the north bank of the junction. Even as the occupants watched, the bank collapsed right up to the fort's walls. Working desperately, they succeeded in moving the front wall and the buildings nearest the water bank so that "the back buildings of the Fort as it was before the rise now are the Front ones."

Like Campbell and Sublette, the Union Fur Company found it impossible to compete profitably with Fort Union. While Kenneth McKenzie was not on the river, his successor as chief agent, Alexander Culbertson, was a most worthy heir. Fort Mortimer held out against him for three years but, in 1845, the Union Fur Company gave up and sold its few holdings to Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Company.

Master Captain Joseph A. Sire could not bring his steamboat, the Omega, quite up to the landing at Fort Union in 1843. A sandbar lay in the way. He could take satisfaction however that he had made the fastest trip yet--St. Louis to Fort Union in 48 days and 7 hours. His passengers were quite impressed. On board was a party of five men led by John James Audubon, then about sixty years old. With him was his long-time friend and amateur ornithologist, wealthy Edward Harris, John G. Bell, Lewis M. Squires, and Isaac Sprague, a 32-year-old artist whose job it was to draw plants and backgrounds for Audubon's fauna. From this group came a number of letters, at least three diaries, and two paintings of Fort Union. From this wealth of material came a detailed picture of life at the 14-year-old fort that summer.

Fort and steamboat exchanged salutes, firing six guns for the occasion. To welcome the visitors, "the gentlemen of the fort came down on horseback, and appeared quite a cavalcade." The guests met Culbertson, then walked to the fort where they "drank some first-rate port wine." They returned to the steamboat for the night, and not until the next day was their luggage "taken to the landing of the fort in a large keel boat"

Audubon was quite disappointed at the small, dark, dirty room, about 12 by 14 feet, with only one window, on the west side, that was given to the party, now increased to six. When he learned that this was the room that Maximilian had used, he could hardly believe it. However, he was but a guest and decided not to complain. The six men turned in early that first night, hoping to get a good rest. No sooner had they gone to bed, when a drunk in the room above them began cursing loudly. All lay awake, hoping the drunk would fall asleep, but now "clarionets, fiddles, and a drum were heard in the dining room," next door to their room. This new noise caused the drunk to renew his wearing "as if quite fresh."

When an invitation to join the party arrived, Squire. jumped out of bed, investigated, and returned with the information that a ball was in progress. The rest got up to attend the dance:

Several squaws, attired in their best, were present, with all their guests, engages, clerks, etc. Mr. Culbertson played the fiddle very fairly; Mr. Guepe the clarionet, and Mr. Chouteau [probably Pierre Chouteau, Jr.'s half-breed nephew] the drum. . . . Cotillions and reels were danced. . . and the company dispersed about one o'clock. We retired for the second time, and now occurred a dispute between the drunkard and another man; but. . . I was so wearied that I fell asleep.

Audubon still did not complain about the quarters. However, the strain must have showed on his face. The next day Culbertson offered them a larger and quieter room upstairs in the bourgeois' house.

As they became acquainted with the fort and its surroundings, Audubon and his friends made a number of references to various structures and landmarks. No attempt is made to weave these into a chronological narrative. Audubon was favorably impressed with the dining room fare, "We have bread only twice a day, morning and evening, but we have very excellent Milk, and Butter, and probably the best Catfish found in the World." He noticed the "pig's trough, which is immediately under the side of the fort," but made it no clearer whether the pigs were housed inside or outside the palisades. He made reference to a bell ringing at sunrise; it was the signal to open the gate. However, Sprague's sketches do not show the bell tower that appears in paintings done several years later.

One day, 14 braves arrived, their faces painted black to show that they were a war party. They were allowed to stay in the Indian house just inside the front gate. However, Culbertson took their drum away because of the noise. Later, another group of Assiniboins were allowed to spend the night in the space between the outer and inner gates. During the night they built a large fire in that small apace; Audubon thought it "a wonder that the whole establishment was not destroyed by fire."

Sprague's drawings indicate that the bourgeois' house was still only one and one-half stories high. However, Denig's description of that year stated there was a porch. Audubon confirmed this by saying, "It was so hot I am going to sleep on the gallery again." Also, Denig made reference to Audubon and Squires sleeping on the porch.

When Larpenteur described the building of the new storerooms in 1835, he made many references to the carters hauling rock. Audubon mentioned planning to go to the quarry "from which the stones for the powder magazine were brought." This quarry probably was the one for which a bridge was built back in the 1830's to allow the carters to speed their operations.

Audubon also confirmed that the fort still operated a "ferry flat" large enough to carry a cart across the river. On one occasion, he went across with a cart and drove on "an old abandoned road, filled with fallen timber and bushes" on the south side. The reference to fallen timber supports Catlin's painting which shows a great deal of timber on the south shore, an area that is open, cultivated land today.

Both Audubon and Sprague referred to six-pounders at the fort firing salutes to departing mackinaws and keel boats. Denig at this time mentioned only three-pounders. Audubon further complicated this matter when he described the departure of Chardon for the Black foot country, "The flag of Fort Union was hoisted, the four pounder run out of the front gate. . . . The keel boat had a brass swivel on her bows, and fired first, then off went the larger gun."

Also contradictory were Audubon's references to the garden. As it had been in the lush summer of 1835, the garden was located in the coulee one-half mile east of the fort. In this year, the gardeners had much trouble from stealing by the employees of Fort Mortimer. Audubon said this stealing became so bad the garden was abandoned. But, later, he told of Crees pulling up squash vines and turnips and tearing down the pickets around the garden. Apparently there were some vegetables left, for "we all turned to, and picked a quantity of peas, which with a fine roast pig, made us a capital dinner."

One day, Audubon and some companions went for a walk in the hills just north of the fort: "From the top of the hills we saw a grand panorama of a most extensive wilderness, with Fort Union beneath us and far away, as well as the Yellowstone River, and the lake across the river. The hills across the Missouri appeared quite low, and we could see the high prairie beyond, forming the background." The view is very much the same today.

One adventure of Audubon's at Fort Union badly misfired. He was desirous of acquiring an Indian's skull and persuaded Edwin Denig to help him remove one from an Indian scaffold burial. The two of them set off on the morning of July 2 "with a bag and instruments, to take off the head of a three-years-dead Indian chief." They succeeded in removing the head, but they could not get the coffin back up in the tree. Somewhat shaken, they buried everything.

Turning to Harris' journal we find still more descriptive material. When he first saw the fort, he wrote that it was "constructed on a plan similar to the others, excepting that the logs which, in others, are planted in the ground are here framed, on a stone foundation, as to form a gallery from which a besieged party may fire over the ramparts at the enemy. The building and appointments throughout are," he thought, "of a description superior to any Fort we have seen on the river."

Nearly all the forts along the Missouri had a chantier, or boatyard, usually located in a suitable growth of timber. Here the workmen built mackinaws, skiffs, and canoes for river transportation. The chantier at Fort Union seems to have changed from time to time as suitable timber was exhausted at any one point. In 1843, it appears that the boats (a mackinaw and a skiff were under construction) were built right at Fort Union. The timber came from the woods across the river. This arrangement came to light when Harris described the mysterious disappearance of the scow used for crossing the river. "This is a serious loss," he wrote, "particularly at this time as they are very busy in building and fitting out the Mackinaw boat for Mr. Kipp to ascend the Yellowstone to the Crow establishment. . . they also have a skiff building for our use, and the men have to cross the river two or three times a day to work out the timber in the woods." Also crossing the river daily were men who were burning charcoal on the south side for the blacksmith.

Harris took a great interest in the condition of the competitor, Fort Mortimer. When a Mr. Collins there became ill, Harris visited him regularly acting the role of "doctor." On one occasion he took Audubon with him, the two of them riding down in Fort Union's carryall. Conditions at Mortimer were miserable after the flooding of the Yellowstone. The rain beat into the shanty where Collins was trying to recover, and the fort had virtually run out of food.

He also spent much of his time exploring the countryside. Once, when riding in the vicinity of "Garden river," he spotted a wolf. He also visited "Wormwood Prairie," 1-1/2 miles above the fort to the west, where in good years (such as 1843), the men mowed hay, "It is a beautiful bottom prarie [sic] covered with a sort of blue-stemmed grass said to be of the best quality." Harris and Bell spent July 4 deer hunting in a ravine leading off from this prairie to the north. On another occasion, Larpenteur took Harris and Audubon on a wagon trip to some sandstone hills about two miles north of the fort. They spent some time looking for fossils, but without success.

Of the three diariests, Isaac Sprague was easily the most enthusiastic about the strange and wonderful way of life of the fur traders, although, worried about his health, he held back from full participation in it. He had barely arrived when Culbertson performed a dramatic pursuit. When someone spotted a wolf running across the prairie, Culbertson "immediately mounted his horse and proceeded in pursuit of him. In a very short time he came up with him and shot him while running at full speed, and in less than 20 minutes the wolf was brought into the fort."

Another feat that impressed Sprague was a demonstration by the batter riders and shots of the fort: "Several of them rode out about 3/4 of a mile from the fort starting from thence with unloaded guns, and while running that short distance at full speed they managed to lend fire from 9 to 11 times." With admiration, he wrote, "The horses are guided by inclining the body to either side, the reins being thrown loose upon the neck, leaving both hands free to use the gun."

His respect for Culbertson no doubt increased when the bourgeois presented the painter with "a beautiful Indian dress consisting of a Shirt Leggins and Mantle all of which are made of skins of various animals and highly ornamented with porcupine quills pieces of shells etc." He noted that July 4 passed without a celebration, a situation that appears to have occurred more often than not at Fort Union. A few days later, he visited the place about one mile from the fort where the Assiniboins placed their dead on scaffolds. After that, he crossed the river to sketch his views of Fort Union from the south side.

At least once more during the summer, Culbertson showed off for his visitors' pleasure. One afternoon, he, Owen McKenzie (the half-breed son of Kenneth McKenzie), and none other than Squires, "arranged in Indian Costume, accompanied by two Blackfeet squaw, in native dress made a grand display on horseback. They performed a number of evolutions on the prairie, and rode to the hills where they espied a wolf to which they gave chase and shot--and after returned to the fort at full speed." What a time to live! What a place to be!

Sprague was fascinated by the sight of Indians eating buffalo; they "eat the brain, the inner coat of the nostrils, etc. raw!" They also ate raw the liver and the stomach lining, or tripe. Sprague tried the latter, "but did not relish it much. Though I could eat it about as well as any tripe."

As his days at Fort Union grew short in number, Sprague became philosophical. Concerning the fort's employees, "Here far from civilization, the traders pass the best of their days--some from a Love of adventure some for gain--and others for crime are driven from civilized society." He doubted if he would ever meet any of them again.

Before he left Fort Union, Audubon persuaded the post's bookkeeper, Edwin Thompson Denig, to write a description of the establishment. Denig put down in 2,000 words the most complete description of the post known to exist. Although several important changes occurred in the fort's appearance after 1843, Denig's description remains a basic document. Several quotations from this description have already appeared in this report. The entire article is included as an appendix; elsewhere its contents appear in the separate structural descriptions. Audubon possibly agreed with Denig's thought that the fur traders did indeed "enjoy at least the semblance of living like their more quiet, though not more useful brothers in the United States."

Kenneth McKenzie returned to Fort Union in the autumn of 1844. It was not a pleasure trip nor a journey of reminiscences. Persuaded by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., that affairs on the upper Missouri were so bad, because of mismanagement (particularly because of Francis Chardon's firing a cannon at a group of Indians who had come in to Fort McKenzie to trade), as to need his attention, McKenzie had reluctantly agreed to leave his wife and business to spend the winter of 1844-45 on the upper Missouri. Unfortunately, no record of his stop at Fort Union has been uncovered. He wrote his wife from Fort Pierre, October 27, that "in a few days. . . we will start again for Fort Union at the mouth of the Yellow Stone River." Later, in an effort to settle his accounts with the company, he stated that "at great inconvenience, & loss to his private affairs, [he] . . . visited the trading posts. . . for the purpose of examining into the Company's affairs there, and of pacifying the Indians." He had no doubts about the success of his trip, "after spending some seven months there so occupied, he left the country in a peaceable state, and the trade revived & prosperous." For this task, McKenzie asked reimbursement to the tune of ten thousand dollars. He was no longer the king of the upper Missouri, but there was still a good deal about him that was princely in nature.

The late 1840's saw an increase in the number of visitors at Fort Union. Mountain man, priest, scientist, and artist found their way to its hospitable table. None other than Jim Bridger, the tallest tale-teller in the West, arrived with a group of trappers to spend the winter of 1844-45. Beaver trapping was down to a trickle now; Bridger had already opened his own trading post on the Oregon Trail. But he and his friends would spend this winter in the company of real fur men. William Laidlaw, in charge of the fort that winter, offered Bridger every assistance. However, Laidlaw did not think that Bridger was "a man calculated to manage men, and in my opinion will never succeed in making profitable returns." Indian in habit and deed, these trappers pitched their tipis on the prairie about one-half mile from the fort. There would be plenty of visiting back and forth.

Among the employees at Fort Union at this time was a young Scotsman, Alexander Hunter Murray, who had joined the American Fur Company almost as soon as he came to America. He would work on the upper Missouri from 1844 to 1846 then move to Canada to work for the Hudson's Bay Company. In later years, he was the builder of Fort Yukon in Russia's Alaska and the factor at Lower Fort Garry in Manitoba.

Murray probably would have escaped notice at Fort Union had he not been a talented artist. He sketched the fort as well as several others on the Missouri, including nearby Fort Mortimer. His original sketches have not been found and, since Murray was so painstaking with detail, history is much the poorer. Second-rate copies of his sketches have been preserved; these, with their limitations, provide still another source of information about the fort.

This account comes from the web site Fort Union Trading Post where you can read lots more about the fur trade and the trading post.  The above section gives an insight into the significant Scots that played their part in building the fur trade as well as giving some account of the life in the area.

Following on with my research I discovered another account of the fur trade in which other Scots are mentioned in the History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington 1889.

Return to Articles on Scottish History


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