The Fur Trade in Carver County
by Suzie Armstrong
The fur trade in Minnesota started in the 17th century with mostly French traders traveling into the interior of the new country of America. However, it wasn't until the end of the 18th century that activity really escalated for the Minnesota fur trade. Many different fur companies operated in Minnesota, but the two biggest were the British-run North West Fur Company and the American Fur Company.
The North West Fur Company formed in 1787 and there is archeological evidence of a post at Little Rapids. Little Rapids was a fur post just south of present day Carver along the Minnesota River. After the War of 1812, and the subsequent removal of the British from the territory in 1815, the post began operating under the auspices of John Jacob Astor's fledgling fur company, the American Fur Company.
Perhaps the best known traders at the Little Rapids post were the Faribaults. Jean Baptist Faribault was a French Canadian from Québec. His father and uncle were Notaries, or lawyers, for the government and expected Jean Baptist to follow in their footsteps. Instead, Jean Baptist started working as a trader for different fur companies. He worked for both the Northwest Fur Company and the American Fur Company. He first arrived at the post at Little Rapids during the 1803/4 season. It was here that he met his wife Pelagie. Jean Baptist and Pelagie moved in 1808 to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Other traders operated at the post until the 1830s when Jean Baptist returned and ran the post with the help of his sons Alexander and Oliver.
In 1834 Astor sold his company to Ramsey Crooks, and Henry Hastings Sibley became the Factor (regional manager) of the Western or Sioux Outfit of the American Fur Company. His region included the post at Little Rapids.
Many different kinds of furs were traded, but it was the beaver that was most desirable. Beaver fur was especially good for making the tall top hats that were the fashion of the time. Sometimes otter and muskrat were used in combination to make hats. In fact, muskrats were more common in this area of Minnesota than beaver. There were so many muskrats that often prices at the post were written in muskrat pelts. For example, a gun might cost 60 rats. Other desirable furs included buffalo, bear, fisher, ermine, fox and wolf.
The relationship between the Dakota and the traders evolved over time. The Dakota welcomed the first French fur traders and explorers in the 1600s. The traders brought new goods like axes, guns, and glass beads. The French traders married Indian women and learned their language and customs. The two cultures became like families, with all the responsibilities that go along with kinship ties. The Dakota didn't see the fur trade as buying and selling, but as an exchange of gifts between family members.
When the British took over the fur trade in the late 1700s, and the Americans in the early 1800s, the Indians tried to create the same kind of relationships they had had with the French traders. The referred to "Grandmother England" and "The Great Father in Washington." But the British and the Americans didn't understand the importance of the kinship bond, and Indian-White relations deteriorated. The 1851 signing of the Treaty at Travers de Sioux essentially ended the fur trade in much of Minnesota.