The Indian and the Fur Trade: A Review of Recent Literature
by Jacqueline Peterson with John Afinson
In the 1970s and 80s a multitude of books and articles on the fur trade in North America have appeared. Two important conclusions may be drawn from them. First, as Daniel Francis and Toby Morantz persuasively argue in Partners in Furs, the term itself is an oversimplification.  There were actually numerous fur trades, differing over time and across a vast cultural and ecological landscape. Secondly, the fur trade was far more than a first-stage colonial extractive industry forecasting the European settlement and national development of the United States and Canada, views which were propounded by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1891 and by Harold A. Innis in 1930, and which are still cherished by many historians of the West and North.  Rather, the fur trade, properly phrased, was an “Indian trade.” It was a process of human interaction in which the economic exchange of raw commodities for manufactured goods figured as a vehicle and symbol for a much wider set of contacts between Indian and white. Although some fur trade history continues to be written otherwise, a binding characteristic of much of the literature published in the U.S. and Canada over the past fifteen years is the recognition of Indian centrality or, as Arthur J. Ray succinctly put it in 1978, of “Fur Trade History as an Aspect of Native History.” 
Much of the impetus behind the recent work and its orientation derives from the maturation of a new subdiscipline, ethnohistory, which applies the perspectives of anthropology to the reconstruction of the history of nonwestern peoples. Until the 1960s, historians and anthropologists interested in the fur trade and its impact upon native people tracked separate courses, rarely intersecting to shape a debate. Since then, however, a number of trends have combined to make the fur trade a testing ground for a sophisticated analysis of Indian-white contact and particularly of Indian economic motivation and behavior in the trade. The appearance in 1974 of two major works, Charles A. Bishop’s The Northern Ojibway and the Fur Trade, and Arthur J. Ray’s Indians in the Fur Trade, signaled by their titles alone the emphasis now to be accorded to Indian peoples in a significant revision of fur trade history. 
It is noteworthy, perhaps, that in addition to historians and anthropologists, fur trade studies have recently engaged the attentions of economists, political scientists and, especially, geographers. Whatever the immediate concerns and foci of these diverse authors, all have attempted to answer several fundamental questions: Why, in what fashion, and to what degree did tribal peoples across northern North America engage in the fur trade? How was the trade shaped and what did it signify? How rapidly and in what ways did native involvement in the trade alter the patterns of precontact tribal societies? What were the results of such changes?
Not unexpectedly, the earliest and still most vital debate concerning Indian participation in the trade rose out of the older treatment of fur trade history as an aspect of business or economic history. Prior to the 1960s it had not occurred to scholars such as Harold A. Innis and George T. Hunt, writing from an unqualified neoclassical perspective, to ask “why” there was Indian involvement. The answer was self-evident. Indian hunters, like their white trader counterparts, were rational economic men driven by the profit motive and susceptible to the forces of the marketplace. While tacitly recognizing that most tribal economies were subsistence-oriented and that Indian tribes placed a peculiarly high value upon generosity and gift-giving, this view assumed that any original differences in tribal economic beliefs or practices were quickly subordinated by the desire for new sources of wealth and superior European commodities. 
Beginning in the 1960s, these assumptions increasingly came under fire as scholars took a closer look at the behavior of Indian hunters and traders. E. E. Rich, the first person to delve deeply into the riches of the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, took a major step away from Innis and Hunt in a 1960 essay by acknowledging that Subarctic people did not maximize, accumulate, or take profit as classical theory predicted, but rather had “limited consumer demands.” Rich noted, moreover, that Indian attitudes about reciprocity and gift-giving helped to shape and define the trade in ways which were formal and social rather than purely economic. While recognizing that Indians responded differently to exchange opportunities than Europeans, however, Rich was unable to explain why this was so, nor did he question the assumption that the irresistible superiority of European trade goods rendered Indians economically dependent. 
The suggestion that classical economic theory did not readily explain Indian trade behavior led Iroquoian scholars to reevaluate Hunt’s thesis that competition over beaver resources underlay seventeenth century Huron-Iroquois warfare. In “The Iroquois and the Western Fur Trade: A Problem in Interpretation,” Alan W. Trelease argued that social institutions such as the blood feud and the traditional pursuit of male prestige explained Iroquois activity in the fur trade wars as much if not more than economic opportunism.  Bruce G. Trigger, in his two-volume The Children of Aataentsic, similarly denied that Huron behavior was motivated exclusively by economic opportunities presented and con-trolled by white outsiders, or that by their participation the Huron were quickly rendered dependent and stripped of their aboriginal beliefs. Rather, in a model and painstaking portrait, Trigger recreated the intricate web of institutions, values and relationships which informed the actions of various groups and individuals within a native society whose attachment to trade long antedated the arrival of Europeans and European trade goods. 
Trelease and Trigger, while breaking with Hunt in an effort to emphasize the interplay and importance of social and cultural institutions, did not deny that economic motivations were present in tribal societies, however different these might appear from European economic motivations. Their work represents a transition from the blunt economic determinism of the 1930s to a period beginning in the early 1970s in which a number of scholars rejected outright the application of classical economic theory to American Indian societies’ involvement in the trade. In opposition to neoclassicists or formalists, who themselves have tried to temper economic explanations with cultural ingredients, a new group, sometimes calling themselves substantivists, have argued that North American Indian peoples neither believed nor behaved as Europeans and that what appeared to be economically motivated activity may have had other causes and meanings. This position was first advanced in Abraham Rotstein’s 1972 article, “Trade and Politics: An Institutional Approach,” which maintained that from a tribal perspective the fur trade was subordinate to the politics of security, i.e., that economy was embedded in the institution of politics.  Bruce M. White subsequently attempted to enlarge this approach by linking trade to the institutions of gift-giving and kinship in “‘Give Us a Little Milk’.” 
The most engaging substantivist approach has come from Calvin Martin. In Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relationships in the Fur Trade, and in a supporting article, Martin suggests that rather than conceiving of animals as potential commodities, northern hunters regarded game animals as close spiritual relatives. Animals allowed themselves to be caught upon the condition that they be treated with reverence before, during, and after the kill. As long as Indians in northeastern North America held to these beliefs they could not have participated in a commercial enterprise predicated upon the slaughter of animals for personal gain. Because post-contact Indian hunters did just this, in Martin’s view aboriginal Indian religion must have suffered a catastrophic blow. 
Virgin soil epidemics, racing far in advance of European traders, left Indian hunters questioning their belief systems. According to Martin, the most convincing explanation they found for the devastating diseases was that the animals had turned on their human relatives, launching a war of extermination, and that the humans, in self-defense, must eliminate the animals first. With their traditional world view thus thrown into disarray, Indian hunters were susceptible to the economic lures of the fur trade. Economic activity was by this process separated from religion and this resulted in a different kind of Indian, one who overkilled rather than conserved.
Unfortunately, empirical support for this intriguing and elegantly crafted thesis is thin. Moreover, while Martin deserves congratulations for drawing fur trade scholars’ attention to the connection between native hunters’ behavior and their religious beliefs, it is unfortunate that Keepers of the Game has overshadowed the more solidly grounded study by Adrian Tanner, Bringing Home Animals, from which, in its dissertation form, much of Martin’s understanding of the spiritual relationship between animals and northern hunters was derived.  In fact, Tanner’s impressive work and that of Harvey Feit point to a conclusion contrary to the one reached by Martin. Feit and Tanner demonstrate the persistence and vitality of a world view Martin pronounced dead as well as the ability of the Cree to “manage” rather than wantonly slaughter their animal resources, even when they engaged in hunting for the commercial fur trade. Further proof of forest hunters’ continued sensitivity to fluctuating animal populations is provided in Jeanne Kay’s study of nineteenth century Menomini and Winnebago, which shows these Wisconsin Indians rotating their trade-related hunting activities in accordance with species availability. 
Not surprisingly Martin’s Keepers of the Game provoked considerable discussion. Indians, Animals, and the Fur Trade: A Critique of Keepers of the Game, edited by Shepard Krech III, contains a series of articles which confront Martin’s analysis in two respects. First, most of the authors, who happen to be anthropologists, question historian Martin’s analysis of the meaning of the relationship between animals and Cree and Ojibway hunters and reject the idea that his thesis is likely to apply to other Indian groups. Secondly, they generally argue that Indian hunters made economic decisions based upon material rather than spiritualistic premises. Although both criticisms are well-aimed, Krech’s slim volume provides little new information and does not challenge the theoretical potential of the substantivist position, as Martin’s final comment suggests. 
Neoclassicists or formalists have provided stronger responses to the non-materialist interpretations of Rotstein and Martin. Since neoclassicists believe that the same economic rationality underlies all human actions, regardless of time or space, no catastrophic explanations such as epidemic disease or spiritual apostasy are necessary to account for readjustments in Indian decision-making as a result of participation in the fur trade. They would argue that if Indian economic behavior appears irrational or inefficient, scholars simply have not yet identified the correct neoclassical method of analysis, or they have been misled by the historical record.
John McManus’s 1972 article, “An Economic Analysis of Indian Behavior in the North American Fur Trade,” represented an unpersuasive attempt to explain the underlying rationale of the Montagnais-Naskapi economy.  Far more successful in using the formalist approach has been Canadian geographer Ray. In “Indians as Consumers in the Eighteenth Century,” Ray depicts the Cree and Assiniboine as shrewd buyers, fully the equals of their European trading partners, who knew how to take advantage of Anglo-French competition in order to obtain the highest quality at the best price possible, and whose precise demands stimulated technological innovation among European manufacturers of Indian trade goods. In “Competition and Conservation in the Early Subarctic Fur Trade,” as in Indians in the Fur Trade, Ray focuses on western Cree middle-men who manipulated the fur trade to meet their own needs and thereby frustrated both the English at the Bay and the interior tribes who were forced to accept used goods at high mark-ups.  This vigorous portrait of Subarctic middlemen traders keenly aware of profit has not gone unchallenged. Bruce Cox reassesses their behaviour in his “Indian Middlemen and the Early Fur Trade: Reconsidering the Position of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s ‘Trading Indians’.”  On the other hand, clear evidence of entrepreneurial activity drawn from a later period and from a different culture area, the North West Coast, is presented in Robert L. Whitner’s interesting “Makah Commercial Sealing, 1869-1897.” 
Ray’s most persuasive critique of the substantivist school and particularly of Rotstein’s notion of politically motivated or “treaty” trade appears in ‘Give Us Good Measure’, coauthored with Donald B. Freeman. Subarctic Indians were not organized into sufficiently large or cohesive political units to carry on treaty trade, they insist, and a far more accurate rendering of Indian behavior in the fur trade results from applying marketplace theory. Ray and Freeman’s assertions are based upon an inventive statistical analysis of Hudson’s Bay Company post documents which they believe should lay to rest several persistent misconceptions about Indian attitudes toward price and profit. For example, scholars formerly believed that fixed prices obtained over long periods, from which they deduced that Indians were not profit-oriented. Ray and Freeman demonstrate, however, that earlier researchers were misled by the complex method developed by HBC post officials to exact a profit from the trade. Once the “overplus” system is understood, they argue, significant fluctuations in price over time are revealed, as are concerted native attempts to secure “full measure” for their furs. 
Until recently, most of the debate over Indian participation in the fur trade has centered on exchange behavior. While representatives of the neoclassical and the substantivist schools disagree over the influence of Indian culture and belief in the economic sphere, they agree that it is in the exchange process that Indian motivations and activities in the fur trade are best understood. Production aspects of the trade, as a result, have generally been slighted.
The importance of the production sphere has lately gained recognition, however, and in the 1980s neo-Marxist interpretations of the fur trade should prove a stimulating alternative to substantivism and neoclassicism. Representative of early forays in this direction is Harold Hickerson’s “Fur Trade Colonialism and the North American Indian,” which recasts the Indians into the role of a wilderness proletariat. Like colonized people elsewhere, Hickerson argues, Indians who linked their economies to the fur trade lost control of the means of production and, as a result, became dependent upon their colonizers. 
A transition from an aboriginal mode of production (in which natives controlled the means and produced food and domestic manufactures for their use-value only) to a “fur trade” or capitalist mode (in which Europeans controlled the means of production and Indians were forced to produce goods for their market value) is outlined in Patricia A. McCormack, “The Transformation to a Fur Trade Mode of Production at Fort Chipewyan.”  Rapid alterations in the productive activities of Subarctic hunters brought on by changes in the forces of productiongame depletions and other ecological crises, new technologies, and specializationare also outlined by Charles A. Bishop, who argues that a dramatic change in mode of production could and did precede observable changes in social structure or ideology among the Western James Bay Cree.  Toby Morantz, however, concludes on the basis of archaeological evidence and an exhaustive compilation of hunter “profiles” over many decades that for the James Bay Cree Inlanders, at least, involvement in the fur trade did not produce structural realignments in their mode of production during the eighteenth century. They remained subsistence hunters.  The keen attention to ecological context and to the complex interplay between environmental factors and the productive and consumptive behavior of native hunters, evident in Bishop’s and Morantz’s work, also informs Robert Jarvanpa and Hetty Jo Brumbach’s, “The Microeconomics of Southern Chipewyan Fur-Trade History,” a welcome late nineteenth century case study. 
The impact of the shift to a market economy upon the status and productive roles of tribal women in particular has recently been explored by Eleanor Leacock, Patricia C. Albers and Alan Klein. Klein’s article, although lean in documentation, makes a compelling case for the analysis of gender-specific and group-specific responses to the fur trade. On the Plains, he argues, men grew in wealth, status, warlike proclivities, and political dominance at the expense of their women once the horse and hide trades replaced domestic production for use as the primary subsistence strategies. 
Alternatively, Sylvia Van Kirk in “Many Tender Ties” argues that, at least for the first century of fur trade expansion in the Canadian Northwest, tribal women were essential economic producers, depended on and valued for their skills as provisioners of small game, fish and cultigens, as makers of snowshoes and moccasins, as house-builders, trans-porters, guides, interpreters and, occasionally, traders. Van Kirk pays insufficient attention to the varying tribal and cultural backgrounds of the native women she describes; however, “Many Tender Ties broke new ground when published in 1980 and remains the most comprehensive treatment of Indian women’s roles in the fur trade. 
With regard to northern hunters, the most sophisticated analysis to date of the influence of market economy upon mode of production is Adrian Tanner’s Bringing Home Animals. Tanner combines religious ideology with material and ecological constraints to explain the nature and extent of Mistassini Cree involvement in the fur trade. Contrary to scholars still inclined to paint Indian involvement in absolute terms, Tanner is impressed, as is Toby Morantz in “The Fur Trade and the Cree of James Bay,” by the degree of flexibility the Cree still exhibited in the 1970s in their pursuits. The Mistassini, Tanner observes, practiced two modes of production simultaneously, hunting for furs for the external world and hunting for subsistence to sustain the interior traditional world. Of the two modes, hunting for subsistence, with all of its spiritual prescriptions intact, was clearly dominant. 
Other researchers such as David V. Burley have also argued that the opportunity to trade furs for manufactured goods and foodstuffs added to the store of available subsistence strategies, particularly among marginal northeastern horticulturists.  On the other hand D. W. Moodie has noted that the opportunity to trade did not wean tribes like the Ottawa and Sauk from their corn fields, but rather caused them to place more emphasis on agriculture because fur trade expansion depended upon Indian provisions. Herman G. Sprenger has made a similar point in demonstrating that prior to 1870 the Métis rejected agriculture in favor of pemmican provisioning for sound economic and ecological reasons.  That provisioning could serve as an alternative tribal strategy is revealed in Lynn Ceci’s interesting dissertation on Indians in colonial New York. Ceci contends that, when animal resources dwindled, semi-sedentary coastal tribes turned to sedentary agricultural production and wampum manufacture in an effort to reap the benefits of a triangular trade with Europeans and inland hunters, as well as to defend their remaining lands and autonomy from European encroachment. 
The idea that Indians may have over-hunted in a short-term fur and hide trade in an effort to forestall the outbreak of war with Europeans has been explored by both Richard C. Haan and Charles Hudson.  That such action often weakened the subsistence base of participating tribal societies did not necessarily indicate short-sightedness. As Peter A. Thomas has recently argued, Indians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lacked the benefit of hindsight possessed by modern scholars and should not be criticized today for adopting what appeared to them at the time as sensible strategies of survival, accommodation, and even material enrichment. 
Since the early 1970s works focusing on the economic aspects of the fur trade have become increasingly detailed and complex; however, all point to the inescapable conclusion that there were many fur trades, both within the same tribal and linguistic group as Francis and Morantz show for the Cree, and within the same ecological zone as Ray reveals in Indians in the Fur Trade.  Unfortunately, despite the previously mentioned book-length works of Francis and Morantz, Tanner, and Bishop, and articles by Krech, and Jarvanpa and Brumbach, detailed treatments of the historic involvement of individual tribes in the fur trade are still lacking. 
Other publications which have approached the study of the fur trade from a regional, company, personnel group, or biographical perspective have, taken as a whole, only inferentially cast light on the motivations and roles of tribal participants. They have, however, contributed to an understanding of the nature and chronology of change within the oldest and most durable industry involving the cooperation of Indian and white in North America. At least implicit in these studies and in most other recent writing on the fur trade has been the question: what were the effects of this partnership?
Few scholars would argue that tribal societies in the United States and Canada were not modified by their involvement in the trade, or that the trade itself did not spawn a new complex of behaviors and materials adopted on the part of both Indians and whites. Changes in material culture, for example, have been amply illustrated by a number of well-conceived and beautifully produced fur trade exhibit catalogs,  and especially by archaeological site reports of fur trade post excavations. In addition to Lyle M. Stone’s comprehensive Fort Michilimackinac, 1715-1781, archaeological studies which shed light on the material aspects of fur trade culture in a variety of regional, temporal, and company contexts include Voices from the Rapids by Robert C. Wheeler and others, John A. Hussey’s two volume Fort Vancouver Historic Structure Report, and C. S. “Paddy” Reid, ed., Northern Ontario Fur Trade Archaeology: Recent Research. Of additional interest is Alice B. Kehoe’s brief “Ethnicity at a Pedlar’s Post in Saskatchewan,” which applies a gender analysis to the artifacts of fur trade post life, and the careful, detailed studies of culture change among the Huron by Trigger and among the Northern Ojibway by Bishop. George Irving Quimby’s Indian Culture and European Trade Goods still commands attention, particularly for its insight into the development of a Pan-Indian fur trade culture in the Upper Great Lakes. 
By and large, historic archaeologists have offered few conclusions about the impact of European trade goods upon tribal societies; however, Trigger and Bishop have engaged directly the larger question of Indian dependency and loss of autonomy, which scholars such as E. E. Rich claimed were the immediate consequences of fur trade involvement. Bishop, in his 1974 study, while not denying that the Northern Ojibway were substantially changed by participation in the trade, pushed the timetable forward, dating accelerating dependency and loss of autonomy from the 1821 merger of the two major British companies. Viewed in this context, Donald F. Bibeau’s claim that Bishop is an advocate of the dependency school does not seem wholly fair.  Actually, Bishop’s most recent work on the Western James Bay Cree, while positing early and abrupt alterations in the aboriginal mode of production as a result of fur trade participation, backs away, as does that of Morantz and Krech, from a simplistic cultural-breakdown-versus-cultural persistence model of history change. He argues instead that post-contact adaptations are a synthesis of the old and new, a gradually shifting configuration in which one can find both persistence and change. 
Ultimately, however, according to Bishop, cumulative change did result in cultural discontinuity and dependency. Just when this dependency set in and how it relates to the fur trade is the subject of considerable debate. Perhaps in reaction to a vocal minority of western American historians who would argue that the fur trade had a devastating and demoralizing impact upon tribal societies of the Plains, Howard Lamar has noted that in contrast to other frontiers, that of the fur trade was marked by peaceful communication, and that Plains tribes traded with whites for fully seven generations without losing their cultural or tribal integrity. Similarly, James R. Gibson has pointed out that in the far Northwest it was Russian traders who were dependent, not their Aleut hunters. 
The dependence of white fur trade personnel upon native provisioners was most keenly felt, of course, in the Subarctic and Arctic regions. The problem of supply especially plagued the Russian fur trade and is the subject of an important book-length work by the geographer Gibson. In an article published after his book, Gibson elaborates upon the significant economic role played by native provisioners, as do Donald A. Harris and George C. Ingram in a study on New Caledonia, Shepard Krech on the Eastern Kutchin, and Carol Judd on the “Homeguard” Cree goose-hunters of southern James Bay. 
The rapid decimation of the Aleut population under Russian rule would seem to contradict Gibson’s assertions of Russian-Aleut interdependence. However, the persistence of autonomy and cultural integrity among the neighboring Tlingit is demonstrated by Natalie B. Stoddard and enlarged to encompass the native peoples of British Columbia in Robin Fisher’s Contact and Conflict.  Fisher’s work, which traces the history of Indian-white relations in British Columbia to 1890, concludes that white settlement and missionary activity were far more injurious to tribal autonomy than the fur trade and that dependency did not set in until after the trade’s decline. This conclusion has recently been extended to the Cree by Francis and Morantz in Partners in Furs, and by Morantz in “The Fur Trade and the Cree of James Bay.”
Mutual dependency is the theme of Harris and Ingram’s “New Caledonia and the Fur Trade.” In the forbidding isolation of interior British Columbiathe “Siberia” of Canadatransportation and provisioning problems mitigated against full involvement in and dependency upon the trade by the Carrier Indians. Moreover, as Bishop’s biography of a native trading captain demonstrates, the fur trade in New Caledonia posed opportunities for, rather than limitations upon, the expression of traditional Carrier values and leadership roles. 
Michael I. Asch, like Harris and Ingram, views technology, transport, and isolation as important variables in the timing and extent of Indian involvement in the trade. Asch maintains that the Slavey Indians remained virtually independent of the trade until 1870 when steam and rail transport, steel traps, higher prices for furs, and a better assortment of trade goods motivated them to work for HBC traders. Cultural transformation and dependency followed swiftly thereafter, however, Asch concludes. In contrast, James W. VanStone has argued that the Yukon River Ingalik altered their traditional subsistence patterns in order to hunt fur bearers almost immediately after the introduction of trade goods. 
Among the Slaveys and Dogribs trading at Fort Simpson in the 1820s, fur trapping for commodities did not supplant trapping for subsistence nor did it result in immediate dependence upon European goods. Nonetheless, the trade did interfere with traditional subsistence activities by bringing disease, by spawning interethnic conflict and by breeding desire for manufactured goods which led to longer and, perhaps, inopportune visits to the post. It is within this broader historical context, Shepart Krech would argue, that the dependency question should be addressed. 
Ray’s Indians in the Fur Trade, and Francis and Morantz’s Partners in Furs have been particularly successful in depicting Native American peoples as active and intelligent decision-makers in matters affecting the rate and extent of change within their own cultures. Dependency, loss of autonomy, and even participation in the trade itself, were not fore-gone conclusions. On the Plains, the Assiniboine and numerous other tribes rejected the call of the fur trade in favor of an economy and material culture revolving around the bison hunt. Among the Cree of Eastern James Bay, Francis and Morantz point out, different groupsCoasters, mixed-bloods, and Inlanderschose to participate in varying degrees and thus were affected differentially. Even the main producers among the Cree did not depend entirely upon their “earnings” from the trade and maintained a greater level of autonomy than historians usually notice.
In addition to the larger concern with dependency versus autonomy, scholars have begun to look at the impact of the fur trade upon the political organizations of tribes involved, as well as upon intertribal relations. Bishop, Ray, Judd, and Francis and Morantz have all noted the emergence of a new leadership role, the “trading captain,” whose influence, while dependent upon traditional skills, also was derived from Euro-American support and acknowledgement. These authors have also described the evolution of a new band structure among the Cree, the “Homeguard,” whose activities as provisioners and employees for the Hudson’s Bay Company and intermarriages with Hudson’s Bay Company personnel set them apart from their migratory hunter-cousins in the interior. Judd’s dual biography, “Sakie, Esquanwenoe, and the Foundation of a Dual-Native Tradition at Moose Factory,” provides an interesting study in contrasts between a Homeguard and an Upland Cree hunting captain. Such patterns, while perhaps unique to the Subarctic, deserve testing in other regions of fur trade activity. 
The close relationship between an expanding fur trade and intertribal warfare continues to be probed, particularly by Iroquian scholars such as Trigger. In an interesting reversal, however, James G. E. Smith has argued that the endemic warfare between autonomous and ethnocentric brands west of Hudson Bay diminished as the fur trade broke down barriers of isolation and mistrust, transforming bands into tribes. 
The most recent developments in fur trade studies fall under the rubric “fur trade social history.” Whatever the fur trade may have meant, and what-ever economic, political, and cultural changes were wrought within tribal societies as a result of their involvement, the trade was built upon and cemented by an enlarging web of social interactions and compacts between Indian and white men and, as is now recognized, between native women and white men. In the aggregate, and over time, such compacts were to generate what Sylvia Van Kirk first termed a “fur trade society.”
The native demand for rituals of reciprocity such as gift-giving as a prelude to formal trade was noted by Rich in “Trade Habits and Economic Motivation Among the Indians of North America.” Only recently, however, have scholars such as Bruce M. White in “‘Give Us a Little Milk’” interpreted such rituals as a metaphor for the creation of fictive kinship ties between trader and Indian. The importance of the social sphere and especially kinship has lately been recognized by a number of scholars, including Ray.  However, other than Jennifer S. H. Brown’s “‘Man in His Natural State’,” few publications have yet focused upon the mechanisms by which white traders were integrated into a tribal kinship system, or on the perceived or actual behaviors a kinship relationship between white and native males necessitated. 
Instead, most of the literature concerning social relations, which recently has been summarized by Van Kirk and critically evaluated by Ray, looks at marriages between native women and white men of the trade, at the roles and motivations of native “women in between,” and at the families and communities which such unions produced.  In addition to the seminal book-length works of Brown and Van Kirk, intermarriage is the subject of other items by Harry H. Anderson, John Elgin Foster, Jacqueline Peterson, and William F. Swagerty.  These writers generally concur that white traders were motivated by the economic benefits to be gained from an alliance with a woman’s male kin, as well as by the skills and companionship of a native woman herself. The motivations of Indian women are less clearly understood, particularly since, as Brown points out, native wives of white fur trade personnel exposed themselves to the rigors of more frequent childbirth and the risks of infectious European diseases.  Van Kirk emphasizes the attractions of heightened material comfort and role enlargement to tribal women throughout western Canada.  Jacqueline Peterson finds evidence of similar motivations in the Great Lakes region; however, she cautions against generalizing about native wives, suggesting that outmarriage must be viewed from within the individual tribal context. While women who married whites took on exceptional roles, it may be that their behavior was sanctioned by traditional means, such as dreams or visions. 
During the early years of fur trade expansion, marriages occurred primarily between white men and native women reared within a tribal setting. This was as true of the Great Lakes region and western Canada in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as it was in the American West and the Far North in the nineteenth century. Such marriages did not ordinarily occur in the presence of a priest or justice of the peace, and often they proved ephemeral. Increasingly, however, as fur trade personnel took their native wives to live in a trading post or fort and as stable family relationships developed, customary marriage or “marriage a la facon du pays” took on the force of law. This institution, as Van Kirk in “Many Tender Ties” perceptively argues, was the sign of an emergent fur trade society, composed of an interrelated network of fur trade families spread over a vast region, and by a set of norms and values unique to the fur trade country.
Van Kirk, Brown, Peterson, Swagerty, Judd, Anderson, and John Long have all detailed the rising numbers of children of mixed descent as a result of fur trade intermarriages.  As these studies of diverse regions and periods suggest, this phenomenon was by no means limited to the Canadian fur trade or to French-speaking personnel.
Van Kirk, Brown and Peterson have attempted to establish a chronology for the development of a fur trade society in the Canadian West and the American Great Lakes regions. Brown, in Strangers in Blood, points to two lines of development growing out of the separate traditions and behavioral patterns of Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company personnel. These authors agree that by 1800 daughters of mixed descent, the product of two cultures, had replaced native women as the preferred mates of fur trade personnel and that fur trade society was becoming increasingly endogamous.
The growth of multicultural residential communities inhabited by fur trade families paralleled the spread of a set of social norms and institutions in the fur trade country. A regional network of such towns has been described by Peterson for the Great Lakes region.  Elsewhere, on James Bay, on the Plains, in the Southwest, and in the Pacific North-west, similar communities gathered themselves, even where the trade was of relatively short duration. Previously mentioned articles by Swagerty and Anderson are revealing in this regard. On the Southern Plains, traders out of St. Louis and Santa Fe-Taos formed marital alliances with native women from a wide range of tribal backgrounds as well as with Spanish-speaking New Mexican women. Some, like members of the Chouteau family described by Thorne, contributed to a sizeable mixed-blood constituency within a powerful tribe, while others, as detailed by Janet LeCompte in her award-winning Pueblo, Hardscrabble, Greenhorn, joined forces to found composite settlements within Indian country. 
The most important of the multicultural communities spawned by the fur trade was the Selkirk or Red River Colony near present-day Winnipeg, designed as a place of refuge for retired Hudson’s Bay Company employees and their native families. A full-length study of this important community, from its inception in 1815 to its absorption in Canada by the Manitoba Act of 1870, is still wanting. However, both Van Kirk and Brown have illuminated the growing tensions within fur trade society following the introduction of white wives by Company officers and missionaries after 1820, and have at least outlined the causes for the collapse of the society itself.
The ultimate consequences of wide-spread inter-marriage accompanying the fur trade are to be seen in the persistence and vitality of a native population and identity termed “Métis.” Métis history has recently established itself as a separate field of study and is perforce beyond the scope of this essay. However, to the degree that the Métis are in a very real sense the human legacy of the fur trade, a short list of articles deserves mention. As a beginning John Elgin Foster’s “The Métis: The People and the Term,” provides a useful introduction to a group identity which was formerly reserved for those of mixed tribal and French descent and linked historically to the Red River Colony, but which is now extended to those of mixed ancestry generally.  A sampling of the most recent work on a wide variety of Métis communities in the U.S. and Canada is Peterson and Brown, eds., The New People: Being Métis in North America.
The roots of Métis identity and nationality are still poorly understood. Jennifer Brown has examined the impact of a racial classification system imposed by Hudson’s Bay Company officials which cast children of mixed descent as a separate group within western Canadian fur trade society.  Olive P. Dickson, in a supporting article, has argued that despite significant French-native intermarriage in the Northeast during the French regime, Métis group consciousness did not coalesce until the British period and then on the western Canadian prairies.  Jacqueline Peterson has suggested, alternatively, that Métis identity was not only a reaction to Anglo-American pressures, but the culmination of nearly a century of community-building and cultural hybridization in the Great Lakes region.  However, even where substantial intermarriage occurred and residential communities were established, Métis identity did not necessarily follow. As Brown and Judd both have demonstrated, neither the “Homeguard” Cree nor the “country-born,” both the result of English-native intermarriage, identified themselves as Métis, but rather as native, Half-Breed, or English-Canadian.  According to John Long, the Half breeds of James Bay have only recently begun to identify themselves with the term “Métis.”  Within the continental United States after 1820, Métis identity was stifled by a governmental policy which categorized persons as white or native, leaving those of mixed descent with an awkward choice. Canada followed suit, but too late to snuff out a well-established way of life and group identity, which is now recognized under the Aboriginal Rights provision of the Constitution Act of 1982.
That there were children of many fur trades, following divergent paths and adopting different identities is amply illustrated in Jennifer Brown’s “Children of the Early Fur Trades.” Elsewhere, Brown suggests that those calling themselves Métis were drawn from children of French-speaking fathers who were oriented toward their native mothers’ sphere, whereas children of British fathers were actively pushed toward integration within the larger Anglo community after 1820.  That these latter children were, in the racist climate of mid-nineteenth century Victorian North America, often caught between two worlds, unable either to view themselves as Métis and identify with Métis national aspirations or to gain full acceptance as whites, is the subject of Sylvia Van Kirk’s poignant “ ‘What if Mama is an Indian?’” 
Fur trade history as an aspect of native history continues to attract scholars from many disciplines and is perhaps unique among aspects of North American native history generally in that five international conferences have been devoted to the subject. Interested readers may turn to the published proceedings of three of these conferences, as well as to Cultural Ecology: Readings on the Canadian Indians and Eskimos, edited by Bruce Cox, for additional contributions.  In future, one hopes that the scholarly chorus will be joined by native voices. To date, only Donald F. Bibeau has offered an Indian perspective on a history still not owned by Indians themselves. 
An earlier version of this essay, which gave greater attention to U.S. materials, was published in W. R. Swagerty, ed., Scholars and the Indian Experience: Critical Reviews of Recent Writing in the Social Sciences (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), pp. 223-257.
2. Frederick Jackson Turner, The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin: A Study of the Trading Post as au Institution (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1891), reprinted David Harry Miller and William W. Savage, Jr., eds. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977); Harold A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), revised eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956, 1970).
3. Arthur J. Ray, “Fur Trade History as an Aspect of Native History,” in Ian A. L. Getty and Donald B. Smith (eds.), One Century Later: Western Canadian Reserve Indians Since Treaty 7 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1978).
4. Charles A. Bishop, The Northern Ojibway and the Fur Trade: An Historical and Ecological Study (Toronto and Montreal: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Ltd., 1974); Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Role as Hunters, Trappers and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay, 1660-1870 (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974).
10. Bruce M. White, “ ‘Give Us a Little Milk’: The Social and Cultural Significance of Gift Giving in the Lake Superior Fur Trade,” in Thomas C. Buckley (ed.), Rendezvous: Selected Papers of the Fourth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1981 (St. Paul: North American Fur Trade Conference, 1983), pp. 185-198.
11. Calvin Martin, Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relationships and the Fur Trade (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1978); Martin, “Subarctic Indians and Wildlife,” in Carol M. Judd and Ray (eds.), Old Trails and New Directions: Papers of the Third North American Fur Trade Conference (Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press, 1980), pp. 73-81.
13. Ibid.; Tanner, “The Significance of Hunting Territories Today,” in Bruce Cox (ed.), Cultural Ecology: Readings on the Canadian Indians and Eskimos (Toronto: McClelland and Stew-art Ltd., 1973), pp. 101-114; Harvey A. Feit, “The Ethno-Ecology of the Waswanipi Cree; or How Hunters Can Manage Their Resources,” in ibid., pp. 115-128; Jeanne Kay, “Wisconsin Indian Hunting Patterns, 1634-1836,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 69 (1979), 402-418.
16. Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade; Ray, “Indians as Consumers in the Eighteenth Century,” in Judd and Ray, Old Trails and New Directions, pp. 255-271; Ray, “Competition and Conservation in the Early Subarctic Fur Trade,” Ethnohistory, 25 (1978),
19. Ray and Donald B. Freeman, ‘Give Its Good Measure’: An Eeonornic Analysis of Relations Between the Indians and the Hudson’s Bay Company Before 1763 (Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press, 1978).
22. Bishop, “The First Century: Adaptive Changes Among the Western James Bay Cree Between the Early Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries,” in Krech (ed.); The Subarctic Fur Trade: Native Social and Economic Adaptations (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984), pp. 21-54.
25. Eleanor Leacock, Introduction to Mona Etienne and Leacock (eds.), Women arid Colonization: Anthropological Perspectives (New York: Praeger Publishers and J. F. Bergen Publishers, Inc., 1980); Leacock, “Women’s Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution,” Current Anthropology, 19 (1978), 247-255; Patricia C. Albers, “Sioux Women in Transition: A Study of Their Changing Status in Domestic and Capitalist Sectors of Production,” in Albers and Beatrice Medicine (eds.), The Hidden Half: Studies of Plains Indian Women (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc., 1983), pp. 175-223; Alan Klein, “The Political Economy of Gender: A 19th Century Plains Indian Case Study,” in ibid., pp. 143-173.
29. D. W. Moodie, “Agriculture and the Fur Trade,” in Judd and Ray, Old Trails arid New Directions, pp. 39-58; Herman G. Sprenger, “The Métis Nation: Buffalo Hunting vs. Agriculture in the Red River Settlement (Circa, 1810-1870),” Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology, 3, no. 1 (1972), 158-178.
30. Lynn Ceci, “The Effect of European Contact and Trade on the Settlement Patterns of Indians in Colonial New York, 1524-1665: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence” (Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, 1977).
31. Richard L. Haan, “The ‘Trade Do’s Not Flourish as Formerly’: The Ecological Origins of the Yamassee War of 1715,” Ethnohistory, 28 (1981), 341-358; Hudson in Krech, Indians, Animals and the Fur Trade.
34. Shepard Krech, III, “The Eastern Kutchin and the Fur Trade, 1800-1860,” Ethnohistory, 23 (1976), 213-235; Krech, “The Trade of the Slavey and Dogrib at Fort Simpson in the Early Nineteenth Century,” in Krech, The Subarctic Far Trade, pp. 99-146; James W. Van Stone, “The Yukon River Ingalik: Subsistence, the Fur Trade, and a Changing Resource Base,” Ethnohistory 23 (1976), 199-212; Jarvanpa and Brumbach, “The Microeconomics of Southern Chipewyan Fur-Trade History.”
35. See for example Carolyn Gilman, Where Two Worlds Meet: The Great Lakes Fur Trade (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1982), and Thomas Vaughn and Bill Holm, eds., Soft Gold: The Fur Trade and Cultural Exchange on the Northwest Coast of America (Salem, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society, 1982).
36. Lyle M. Stone, Fort Michilimackinac, 1715-1781: An Archaeological Perspective on the Revolutionary Frontier (East Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University Anthropological Series, in cooperation with the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, 1974); Robert C. Wheeler, Walter A. Kenyon, Alan R. Woolworth and Douglas A. Birk, Voices from the Rapids: An Underwater Search for Fur Trade Artifacts, 1960-73 (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1975); John A. Hussey, Fort Vancouver Historic Structure Report Historical Data, volumes I, II (Denver: National Park Service, 1972, 1976): C. S. “Paddy” Reid, ed., Northern Ontario Fur Trade Archaeology: Recent Research (Toronto: Historical Planning and Research Branch, Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation, 1980); Alice B. Kehoe, “Ethnicity at a Pedlar’s Post in Saskatchewan,” Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology, 6, no. 1 (1976), 52-60; Trigger, Children of Aataentsic; Bishop, The Northern Ojibway; George Irving Quimby, Indian Culture and European Trade Goods: The Archaeology of the Historic Period in the Western Great Lakes Region (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966).
39. Howard R. Lamar, The Trader on the American Frontier: Myth’s Victim (College Station and London: Texas A & M University Press, 1977); James R. Gibson, “European Dependence Upon American Natives: The Case of Russian America,” Ethnohistory, 25 (1978), 359-385.
40. Gibson, Imperial Russia in Frontier America: The Changing Geography of Supply of Russian America, 1784-1867 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); Gibson, “The Russian Fur Trade,” in Judd and Ray, Old Trails and New Directions, pp. 217-230; Donald A. Harris and George C. Ingram, “New Caledonia and the Fur Trade: A Status Report,” Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology, 3, no. 1 (1972), 179-194; Krech, “The Eastern Kutchin and the Fur Trade”; Judd, “Mixed Bloods of Moose Factory, 1730-1981: A Socio-Economic Study,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 6, no. 2 (1982), 65-88.
41. Natalie B. Stoddard, “Some Ethnological Aspects of the Russian Fur Trade,” in Malvina Bolus (ed.), People and Pelts: Selected Papers of the Second North American Fur Trade Conference (Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1972), pp. 39-58; Robin Fisher, Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890 (Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1977).
43. Michael I. Asch, “Some Effects of the Late Nineteenth Century Modernization of the Fur Trade on the Economy of the Slavey Indians,” Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology, 6, no. 4 (1976), 7-15; Van Stone, “The Yukon River Ingalik.”
50. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country (Vancouver and London: University of British Columbia Press, 1980); Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties”; Harry N. Anderson, “Fur Traders as Fathers: The Origins of the Mixed-Blood Community Among the Rosebud Sioux,” South Dakota History, 3 (1973), 233-270; John Elgin Foster, “Some Questions and Perspectives on the Problems of Métis Roots,” in Jacqueline Peterson and Brown (eds.), The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Mitis in North America (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1985), pp. 73-92; Peterson, “The People in Between: Indian-White Marriage and the Genesis of a Métis Society and Culture in the Great Lakes Region, 1680-1830” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1981); Peterson, “Ethnogenesis: The Settlement and Growth of a ‘New People’ in the Great Lakes Region, 1702-1815,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 6, no. 2 (1982), 23-64, revised and reprinted in Peterson and Brown, The New Peoples; Tanis Chapman Thorne, “The Chouteau Family and the Osage Trade: A Generational Study,” in Buckley, Rendezvous, pp. 109-120; William R. Swagerty, “Marriage and Settlement Patterns of Rocky Mountain Trappers and Traders,” Western Historical Quarterly 11 (1980), 159-180.
51. Brown, “A Demographic Transition in the Fur Trade Country: Family Sizes and Futility of Company Officers and Country Wives, ca. 1750-1800,” Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology, 6, no. 1 (1976), 61-71.
54. Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties’ Brown, Strangers in Blood; Brown, “A Demographic Transition”; Peterson, “Prelude to Red River: A Social Portrait of the Great Lakes Métis,” Ethnohistory, 25 (1978), 41-67; Peterson, “People in Between”; Peterson, “Ethnogenesis”; Swagerty, “Marriage and Settlement Patterns of Rocky Mountain Trappers and Traders”; Anderson, “Fur Traders as Fathers”; John S. Long, “Treaty No. 9 and Fur Trade Company Families: Northeastern Ontario’s Halfbreeds, Indians, Petitioners and Métis,” in Peterson and Brown, The New Peoples, pp. 137-162.
64. Van Kirk, “ ‘What if Mama is an Indian?’ The Cultural Ambivalence of the Alexander Ross Family,” in Foster (ed.), The Developing West: Essays on Canadian History in Honor of Lewis H. Thomas (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1983), pp. 123-136.
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