Explore more about the fur trade with these historical resources.
In early September 1804, a trader of the North West Company and his crew departed from Fort St. Louis (near modern day Superior, WI). The trader, or bourgeois, was headed for the Folle Avoine (fall a’vwan) Department on the southern edge of Ojibwe territory. Farther south and to the west was a “contested zone” that separated Ojibwe lands from those of the Dakota.
On a journey of more than two weeks, they traveled up the Brulé River, portaged over the height of land into Upper Lake St. Croix, paddled down the St. Croix River, then headed up the Snake River.
(Above: Picture Rock at Crooked Lake also known as Return of the Voyageur, by Francis Lee Jaques. Oil on canvas. 1947. The Picture Rock of Crooked Lake is a significant monument along the old Grand Portage canoe trail to Lac la Croix which was used by the North West Company until about 1802.)
The local Ojibwe called the river snake, or Kanabec. They used the same word for their Dakota enemies who lived in this area before they moved in from the north east.
The land around them was a patchwork of forest, wetlands and prairie openings. Wild rice, berries and maple sap grew in abundance. It was a rich habitat for game animals like deer, bear and beaver. Fish like lake sturgeon, bass and walleye were plentiful. There were ducks and geese in the marshes.
The trader had originally intended to build at Cross Lake, near modern Pine City, but he changed his mind after conferring with local Ojibwe leaders. He decided the site for his winter operations would be farther up river.
When a “Flag Staff” was raised the next morning, all was complete. To celebrate, the trader gave each of his men a pint of rum.
The row house was home, storehouse and shop all in one. Here, the trader and his Native wife, his clerk, perhaps a servant and a crew of eight men, or voyageurs passed the winter trading for food and furs with the Ojibwe.
He traded for wild rice, maple sugar and meat. He sent his men out fishing and to visit the hunting camps. He conferred with local Ojibwe leaders and hunters and gave them gifts. He kept track of his competition. He gave credit to the hunters and accepted their furs in payment for the manufactured goods they bought from him. And he wrote in his journal nearly every day.
In the spring, just before he and his crew departed, the bourgeois wrote one last entry in his journal.
After 223 days trading along the Snake River, the trader and his party packed up the furs they had collected from the hunters and returned to Fort St. Louis. The trader left the post he built on the Snake River and never came back. Eventually, the buildings fell into ruin and burned.