History and Opinion
By Phil Roberts
Chapter 2: Fur Trade and the Rendezvous System
The brief 16-year period of the fur trade rendezvous in Wyoming illustrates enduring truths in the economic development of the state. While none of the events occurred in the 20th century, striking parallels can be drawn from the fur trade which help explain the evolution of later industries in Wyoming, including agriculture and cattle, tourism and the mineral industry. The product was natural resource-based, the market for the product was virtually non-existent within the state, and it was subject to wild fluctuations in prices depending on international trends.
It must be emphasized that none of these characteristics are unique to Wyoming. Similar conditions apply to any colonial economy. Nonetheless, what makes studying the fur trade period useful is that, to a great extent, Wyoming remains colonial. Even at the dawn of the new millennium, primary products come from natural resource extraction rather than from manufacturing. Further, like employees in modern-day mining, the earliest white travelers never considered Wyoming as a place for permanent settlement. It was simply a route to somewhere else. Locating in what is now Wyoming was a temporary sojourn or else it was simply harsh passage toward more promising opportunities in other directions.
The origins of the fur trade in Wyoming and to the use of Wyoming as a trail can be traced to the Lewis and Clark expedition. Although the famed explorers never stepped foot into Wyoming, the interest they generated from their reports after their return fueled tremendous interest in the West. Further, one of their party, John Colter, became the first white American to step foot within Wyoming. Colter, a Virginia-born, probably illiterate mountain man, went with the famous explorers to the West Coast.[ix] Prior to the onset of the expedition, he signed (or applied his mark on) the agreement that he would not be released from their service until the conclusion of the round trip. Nevertheless, during the Lewis and Clark party’s return to St. Louis in 1806, the party encountered two trappers along the Missouri River, probably in the neighborhood of present-day Omaha, Nebraska. There, Colter asked his bosses if he could leave their employ, given that they were fairly close to St. Louis, to travel back up river with the two men to the fur fields of the northern Rockies. Lewis and Clark reluctantly agreed that Colter had upheld most of the agreement and allowed him to leave.
By the end of the year, Colter was seeking out good fur trapping areas and planning excursions to find likely Indians with whom to trade. An employee of the New Orleans-born trader Manuel Lisa, Colter was headquartered at Fort Manuel Lisa where the Big Horn River enters the Yellowstone in present-day southern Montana. From that location, Colter set out in the late fall of 1807 to see if he could locate trading partners or fur trapping grounds to the south. He traveled afoot, carrying a 40-pound pack of trade goods, a musket and accompanied only by a dog.
His exact route is subject to debate, but most authorities believe he entered Wyoming through Sunlight Basin, north of present-day Cody, walked to the south until he encountered the present Shoshone River just west of Cody.[x] There, he saw hot springs and, probably, active geysers. The springs exuded the pungent smells of sulfur and he dubbed the river, the "Stinkingwater." (Is it little wonder that Cody area residents at the turn of the century petitioned the Wyoming legislature to change it to the less odorous name, Shoshone River?)[xi] Depending on the source, Colter either walked west toward present Yellowstone National Park or in a southerly direction toward the distant Owl Creek range. Some historians believe he walked due south, over the present Owl Creek mountains and then turned west, following the Wind River and then over Union Pass into Jackson Hole, perhaps further west into present Idaho and then north through Yellowstone, eventually making his way back to Fort Manuel Lisa by following the Shoshone and then the Big Horn River. A second suggested route has Colter entering Yellowstone, traveling south through Jackson Hole and then turning east, following the Wind River to some point in the neighborhood of present-day Riverton and then north through the Big Horn Basin, following the Big Horn River the entire distance back to Fort Manuel Lisa.[xii]
The exact route is unimportant. The main point of his trip was to find trading partners. He did not succeed although he did see the wonders of Yellowstone, becoming the first white American eyewitness to what became known as "Colter’s Hell."[xiii] Colter’s expedition also demonstrated that the Spanish empire was not as close as some people initially believed.[xiv]8 The main reason for Colter's trip was economic.. He was not an explorer simply out mapping and describing the area such as his previous bosses, Lewis and Clark, had been. He made the trip during the winter months of 1807-08, an amazing feat given the frequent inclement weather that normally plagues the area. He reported back to his colleagues at Lisa’s fort what he had seen, but none seemed interested in furthering the exploration. He did not observe rich fur grounds nor encounter native people interested in developing a trade relationship. Consequently, the main lasting importance of Colter’s walk came from his oral report to William Clark after Colter left the territory for the last time. Clark converted Colter’s descriptions onto a map, along with routes of other explorers that would become useful to later travelers.[xv]
Colter’s foray into the Wyoming wilds illustrates yet another point. Like many of the mountain men who followed him, he was an expectant capitalist.[xvi] He anticipated gaining great wealth from the trapping and trading in the mountains, but he had no desire to make a permanent home there. Once his fortune was made, he expected to return to the St. Louis area, buy a farm or a business and settle down to the life of a comfortable gentleman. Brief stays in Wyoming were a means to economic security, nothing more. Future economic booms in Wyoming were to attract the same type of individuals—men who would work in Wyoming just long enough to earn the money so that they could live comfortably back home.[xvii]
Numerous anonymous fur trappers worked their way across what is now Wyoming before and after Colter’s time. Some were French Canadian like the mythical Jacques LaRamee, the fur trapper who lent his name to numerous Wyoming places posthumously. Reportedly killed by Indians somewhere along the river that bears his name, LaRamee probably trapped in what is now southeastern Wyoming in 1820-21.[xviii]
Edward Rose, of mixed African American, Native American and white ancestry, built a rude temporary cabin in the Big Horn Basin area as early as 1809.[xix] Little is known of Rose’s activities in these early years, although a later party of overland Astorians reported meeting him near the Big Horn Mountains in the summer of 1811. Colter, LaRamee, Rose and others shared the common view that their stays in Wyoming would be only temporary.
Soon after Colter made his report to Clark, John Jacob Astor raised an expedition designed to establish a trading post on the Pacific Coast. The German-born entrepreneur who had earned a fortune in trade by importing such items as flutes from Europe, studied the Lewis and Clark reports. Recognizing the importance of American claims to the Oregon country, Astor sought assistance from Congress in order to mount an expedition west.[xx]
Astor was a cautious man. Rather than relying on the unknowns of an overland route, he hedged his bets by sending a ship, the Tonquin, around the tip of South America. He hoped one of the two expeditions would succeed in reaching the West Coast. After stops along the South American coast and on the island of Hawaii, the Tonquin located the mouth of the Columbia River and, soon after, the crew set up a crude fort they called Fort Astoria.
At about the time the fort was being built, Astor’s overland party was leaving St. Louis. Led by a New Jersey-born merchant, Wilson Price Hunt, who had almost no experience outside of general merchandising, the party of 60 men finally set out in April 1810 for Oregon. The initial plan was to follow the Lewis and Clark route as closely as possible, but when the party came to a point along the Missouri River between present-day Pierre and Mobridge, South Dakota, Hunt opted to abandon his boats and try a short cut overland to the West. The party traded for horses with the local Indians and set out in a generally straight line West in late July. By early August, the expedition reached what is now the extreme northeast corner of Wyoming, crossed the Belle Fourche River and continued south and westward into the Powder River country. There, the extremely hot temperatures caused serious discomfort. For instance, the lack of water caused Hunt’s dog to die from heat exhaustion and thirst. Nonetheless, by late August, the Hunt party was encamped near present-day Buffalo, along the eastern edge of the Big Horn Mountains. There, the party encountered Edward Rose, but many of his actions caused suspicion and Hunt spurned his offers to serve as a guide. After several days’ rest, the party crossed the Big Horns, probably over what is now called Powder River Pass, following Ten Sleep Creek until they reached the site of present-day Ten Sleep where they turned south and followed the No Wood River. They crossed the Owl Creek Range and then turned west, following a similar route Colter had used three years earlier.
The Hunt party encountered the Wind River Mountains and then the Tetons, reaching them in early September when the weather was highly changeable. After circling in several directions for several days, the Hunt party finally opted to proceed to Fort Hall, a fur company post in present-day Idaho. From there, Hunt made a tragic mistake. He traded his horses for rudely constructed rafts and loaded the men and supplies aboard, planning to navigate the Snake River on down to the Pacific. This early-day version of "whitewater rafting" ended in disaster for Hunt’s party. The party, separated in three groups, lost supplies just as winter was approaching. After wandering through the Idaho wilderness for weeks, the Hunt party straggled into Fort Astoria, the first group arriving in January 1812.[xxi]
Meanwhile, the Tonquin departed for a trading mission with Indians along the northwest coast. The traders anchored at an Indian village on Vancouver Island. There, the ship was boarded by Indians who killed the entire crew, except for one sailor who was luckily ashore when the attack occurred. At the same time, rumors continued to circulate that the United States and Britain were at war. American leadership at Fort Astoria were alarmed at word that Britain was winning.
In the summer of 1812, Astorian commanders recruited Robert Stuart and six other men to return east, report to Astor and determine the truth state of the war. Stuart, who had come to the West Coast via the Tonquin, was an unusual choice as expedition leader. Nonetheless, he ably traversed the Idaho wilderness and picked up Indian trails in what is now west central Wyoming over South Pass. Stuart and his men were the first white Americans to report using the famous pass. From there, they followed the Sweetwater River east. Near present-day Casper, they decided to spend the winter. There, at Bessemer Bend, they built a rude cabin, but Indians passing through the area caused them great concern. Consequently, by early December, the party elected to follow the North Platte River east, finally deciding to spend the winter at a well-protected stopover near present-day Torrington.[xxii]
The Stuart party pioneered the Oregon Trail route, but had done it backwards—west to east rather than in the usually expected east-to-west direction. Significantly, however, the Stuart party found South Pass, which was to prove to be the least difficult passageway through the Rockies.[xxiii]
The Hunt and Stuart expeditions also reflect the theme in Wyoming history that the state has been "a trail to somewhere else." Neither party made any serious effort to explore the potentials of Wyoming. Like thousands of visitors along Wyoming’s present-day interstate highways, both groups simply viewed the terrain as a necessary obstacle to travel east or west. Later travelers, en route to homes in Oregon and Utah and the gold fields of California, held similar views about Wyoming's geography.
Economically, few of the early fur trappers plying their trade in Wyoming were very successful. For one thing, the markets for their furs were distant—too far except for extended annual returns with the bulky beaver pelts. By the time these early trappers returned from civilization with their complement of goods for another year in the mountains, much of the prime fur-trapping season was over.
A former Missouri lead mine operator recognized the problem and, in 1822, he organized a fur trading company with a plan to make a fortune in the West. The mine operator, William Ashley, advertised for "100 enterprising young men" in the Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser, Feb. 13, 1822. He received dozens of responses, including one from a young man named Jim Bridger.[xxiv]
Ashley’s well-organized expedition left Missouri in early spring, crossed present Kansas, into northeastern Colorado and then into Wyoming over the Laramie Plains, westward to the Green River. There, Ashley turned south, following the Green River (then known by other trappers as "Spanish River" probably for the fact that it eventually came out in the Spanish southwest).[xxv]
At a point near the present Wyoming-Utah state line, Ashley cached his trade goods, intending to travel light until he could retrieve the goods upon his return north. When the parties reunited, it was at a rendezvous location—the first fur trade rendezvous. Strictly speaking, it was not a true rendezvous, but Ashley had the idea for a trade fair in the West. Hardly unique to the Western experience, the trade fair was an opportunity for mountain men to trade furs for goods without having to make the arduous trip to a distant trading post or east to the population centers. Individual trapper could concentrate on trapping, relying on supplies from the annual mid-summer visits of the trade companies sponsoring the rendezvous.[xxvi]
The rendezvous captured the attention of local Native Americans who participated in the lively trade and contests at the brief mid-summer carnivals. Shoshones, in particular, recognized these events as similar to their annual pow-wows and trade fairs, held throughout the intermountain West over the centuries. At the rendezvous, Indians out-numbered white trappers and traders at every one of the rendezvous held on the Upper Green River, sometimes by as much as ten times.[xxvii]
Rendezvous have become mythical in modern film and literature as places for debauchery and drunkenness, knife and ax-throwing contests, and tests of skill and strength. Their most important function, the reason they were patronized, however, was primarily economic.
Ashley set prices based on his St. Louis costs, plus a reasonable charge for transporting the supplies and a modest profit. From the beginning, trappers complained of the uneven rates of exchange. For instance, Ashley offered to purchase each beaver skin for $3 per pound. Since the average beaver pelt weighs approximately 1.44 pounds, a trapper could get $5 per pelt. Meanwhile, he could trade for coffee ($2 per pound), gunpowder ($2 per pound), buttons and fish hooks ($1.50 per dozen) or even heavily diluted rum ($16 per gallon).[xxviii] Trappers complained but Ashley was the only game in town. In his defense, Ashley’s risks were considerable. Transporting hundreds of pounds of beaver pelts back to St. Louis required planning and a bit of good luck.[xxix] Circulating the word in the far-flung wilderness by word of mouth among mountain men, the directions and dates of the rendezvous could lead to missing the suppliers altogether.[xxx]
In the ensuing years, Ashley sold out his interest in the rendezvous supply company, using his profits in an unsuccessful run for governor of Missouri. The successor companies soon faced competition from combines made up of fur trappers themselves. These men, experienced trappers who knew the dangers of the wilderness, saw the profit supplying other trappers far exceeded the risks in beaver trapping, year-round, in the wild. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith formed their own companies, sometimes as partners and other times as competitors. One year, Fitzpatrick’s company packed goods in from Santa Fe, not the more distant but easier to reach St. Louis.[xxxi]
The annual rendezvous gained identities much like today’s family or school reunions. They were referred to by fur trappers and traders, not by the year they were held, but by the main events occurring at them. For instance, the 1827 rendezvous featured the first wheeled vehicle pulled over South Pass, a cannon mounted on a two-wheeled cart pulled by horses as part of William Sublette’s company. The feat demonstrated that South Pass could be crossed by wheeled vehicles, prompting later West Coast-bound travelers to use the trans-Wyoming route. Capt. B. L. E. Bonneville took wagons over the pass in 1836.[xxxii]
Many of the annual rendezvous were held in what is now Wyoming, most along the Upper Green River in the neighborhood of present-day Pinedale.[xxxiii] At the 1835 rendezvous along the Green, Jim Bridger asked traveling doctor and missionary Marcus Whitman to remove an arrow point from his back. Bridger suffered the wound two years earlier in a skirmish with the Bannacks. Without the use of anesthesia, Whitman removed the offending arrow point, thus completing the first surgical operation in Wyoming history. Whitman went on to Oregon Territory where he established a mission. The next year, after returning to the East Coast via sailing ship around the tip of South America, the missionary returned west. This time, he was accompanied by his new bride, Narcissa. She and the wife of another missionary, Eliza Spaulding, became the first white American women to travel across Wyoming.[xxxiv]
Sir William Drummond Stewart, a Scottish nobleman, came to the 1837 rendezvous. He had made a similar visit three years earlier by paying the supply company to transport him to the site. (He became Wyoming’s first tourist as a result). This time, Stewart brought with him a Baltimore artist, Alfred Jacob Miller. In the days before cameras, Stewart wanted a permanent record of the colorful rendezvous. From the sketches Miller made that year, he painted oil canvases of rendezvous scenes. They became the first Euro-American produced visual records of what is now Wyoming.[xxxv] Stewart also brought with him a white-plumed steel helmet of a British regiment, which he presented, to Jim Bridger. Artist Miller painted the mountain man riding about displaying the headgear to Indians and other trappers.[xxxvi]
But the rendezvous, dependent for success on market conditions, soon passed from the scene. The price of beaver pelts dropped rapidly in the late 1830s when European fashions in men’s hats turned from beaver to felt and other materials. With the price drop came declining interest in trapping. Besides, in some places in Wyoming, beaver were trapped out because of overzealous pressures on the natural resource. The inevitable bust, following the boom, set in. Like the cycles in the cattle industry, oil and coal in later decades, the wild fluctuations in economic fortunes shattered dreams of quick and easy wealth.
It was not simply the "boom-bust" cycle that influenced the end of the rendezvous system, however. By the late 1820s, traders planned permanent points for fur bartering and sales of supplies. Mountain men in Wyoming for the first time had the luxury of year-round trading at the trading posts set up closer to the fur trapping grounds. In 1828, a Portuguese trader named Antonio Montero (or "Mateo") established a post made of cottonwood logs in the Powder River Basin near present Kaycee. Evidently, the location proved impractical and unprofitable. Montero closed the post and moved on, allowing the log structure to fall apart and rot away.[xxxvii]
Another post was far more permanent. In 1834, William Sublette and his partner, Robert Campbell, were racing the Boston-based merchant Nathaniel Wyeth, to the Green River rendezvous. Sublette stopped long enough at the confluence of the Laramie River and the North Platte to set up a trading post where he could cache some supplies for later trading.[xxxviii] He named the post "Fort William" and, later, the name was changed to "Fort John on the Laramie" to distinguish it from another Fort John. Soon, the lengthy title was shortened to "Fort Laramie." It was the first permanent white American settlement in Wyoming, a product of the economic competition in the fur trade.[xxxix]
The collapse of the fur trade market caused mountain men either to return east and seek employment in more traditional modes or to turn to other endeavors in the West. Many of them, like Jim Bridger and Joseph Walker, used the knowledge they gained about the territory as a means of guiding travelers west. Had not the fur trade collapsed, westward travelers would not have had competent guides across the Rockies. At the same time, many of these mountain men set up supply stations for the convenience of travelers.
To profit from the "trails to somewhere else," men like Bridger and his partner Louis Vasquez (born in St. Louis, descended from a pioneer Spanish family), built forts designed to attract travelers as much as to entice area Indians and trappers to the trade.[xl] Fort Bridger, built in 1841-42, became a key supply point on the trail west to California and Oregon and, in the late 1850s, a point of controversy between the Mormons in Utah and the United States government.[xli]
The fur trade and the migration that followed introduce several of the organizing concepts in Wyoming history. Early on, the area has been "a trail to somewhere else." At the same time, the federal government’s influence, both from legislation and from appropriations, was substantial. Large enterprises, organized and controlled from outside Wyoming’s borders, dominated the economic life of Wyoming. The fur industry was natural resource based and, consequently, highly susceptible to "boom and bust" cycles. Only later did the water and the land attract those who wished to exploit the resources or those willing to make a permanent commitment to Wyoming. Among both groups--trappers and travelers--some valued wilderness and its non-economic contributions to human existence. Most did not. The population during the fur trade era was remarkably diverse. The trappers included African-Americans, French Canadians, farm boys from Kentucky, lead miners from Missouri and, of course, Native Americans. From the beginning, Wyoming was a diverse society containing competing and complementary cultures.
During the first decades of the new millennium, Wyomingites of diverse cultures face similar questions of federal-state-private relationships. They debate whether or not to preserve wilderness. They consider how to allocate water, what to do about vast open spaces. Through it all, the rutted Oregon Trail and the other "trails to somewhere else" have become interstate highways and airfields where planes seem bound from Wyoming to a handful of out-of-state hub airports. High above the empty plains and shimmering mountains, vapor trails, shine red in the sunset sky marking in less permanent traces than what wagons and cars left behind. In the place still pocked by Oregon Trail ruts and crossed by straight-line interstates, modern airplanes do not even bother to touch down wit
[i]Sheridan County resident Glenn Sweem reported finding part of a 16th century Spanish sword near Dayton, Wyoming, in the early 1960s. The author has viewed the item and heard the arguments made by many local historians that the presence of such artifacts proves that Spaniards had traveled in Wyoming much earlier than French-Canadian fur trappers. The author, however, leans toward the view taken by other historians that the items likely made their way into Wyoming via the active Native American trade networks.
[ii] Lawrence J. Burpee (editor). Journals and Letters of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de la La Vérendrye and His Sons, with Correspondence between the Governors of Canada and the French Court, Touching the Search for the Western Sea. (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1927, pp. 406-432. (The work is in the original French, but translations are available).
[iv] Mackenzie's journals first appeared in print in 1801. For a recent reprinting, see The Journals of Alexander Mackenzie: Exploring Across Canada in 1789 and 1793. (Torrington, Wyo.: Narrative Press, 2001).
[v] Francois Antoine Larocque. Journal of a Voyage to the Rocky Mountains. (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1910). A facsimile edition is available from the Library of Western Fur Trade Historical Sources website, mtmen.org along with documents involving other aspects of the Rocky Mountain fur trade during the early years. Quoting from the American Mountain Men homepage, "This website is an on-line Research Center devoted to the history, traditions, tools, and mode of living, of the trappers, explorers, and traders known as the Mountain Men."
[vi] A good analysis of Lewis and Clark’s relationship with native peoples may be found in James Ronda, Lewis and Clark Among the Indians. (University of Nebraska Press, 1991). The popular biography of Lewis is Stephen Ambrose. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). For Clark, see Landon Y. Jones. William Clark and the Shaping of the West. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004).
[vii] For a critique of Hebard's methods, see MikeMackey. Inventing History in the American West: The Romance and Myths of Grace Raymond Hebard. (Powell, Wyo.: Western History Publications, 2005). See also: http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/grace-raymond-hebard
[ix] The best biographical information on Colter may be found in LeRoy Hafen, (ed.). Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West. (10 vols., Glendale, Calif: Arthur H. Clark, 1965-72), but see also Burton Harris. John Colter, His Years in the Rockies. (New York: Scribners, 1952). See also, W. J. Ghent, "Sketch of John Colter," Annals of Wyoming 10 (July 1938), 111. The mountain men as "mappers: of the West is the subject of a book by Robert M. Utley. A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. (New York: Henry Holt, 1997).
[xiii] Most historians believe the term "Colter’s Hell" actually was first applied to the area just west of Cody along the Shoshone River where Colter first encountered hot springs and geysers. The geysers in the area are now extinct, but many of the hot springs still flow from the banks of the Shoshone River, including DeMaris Springs, the site local authorities such as Bob Edgar favored as the spot where Colter encountered the river.
[xv] The importance of federal financing of the Lewis and Clark expedition cannot be overemphasized. In essence, it was this federal research seed money that made western exploration attractive. John Colter, when he first came West, could be described as a federal employee, given that he was part of the federally-financed project supported through the efforts of President Thomas Jefferson. For discussion of the maps, see John L. Allen. Passage through the Garden: Lewis and Clark and the Image of the American Northwest. (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1975), 378-79.
[xvi] The term is applied by many historians of the fur trade, including William H. Goetzmann, "The Mountain Man as Jacksonian Man," American Quarterly 15 (Fall, 1963), 402-415. See also Fred Gowens. Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. (Provo: BYU Press, 1976).
[xvii] For evidence of this trend, the author consulted many of the biographies in LeRoy R. Hafen, The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West. 10 vols. (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1965-72).
[xviii] For a report on the investigation of the LaRamee "myth" and the probability that even his first name may be in error, see John D. McDermott, "In Search of Jacques LaRamee: A Study in Frustration," Annals of Wyoming 36 (October, 1964, 169-174.
[xx] Much of what is known about the travels of the overland Astorians comes from a book commissioned by Astor many years later as an official history of his company. Washington Irving. Fort Astoria. (New York, 1837). For a carefully documented recent analysis of the Hunt expedition, see James Ronda. Astoria and Empire. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990). Born in the Duchy of Baden in what is now Germany, he immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old and began working in the fur trade in upstate New York. He amassed a fortune based on the fur trade, overseas commerce (especially with China) and land speculation. For a brief biography, see Richard E. Oglesby, "John Jacob Astor: a better businessman than the best of them." 25 Journal of the West (1986), pp. 8-14.
[xxvi] Gowens, Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, op. cit.Similar types of trade fairs were used throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Thanks to my colleague Dr. Kris Utterback for bringing this comparison to my attention.
[xxvii] Dr. Rory Becker has demonstrated the presence of significant numbers of Indians at the 1837 rendezvous as well as from several others along the Upper Green River of Wyoming in the 1830s. See, Rory J. Becker. Finding Rendezvous: An Approach to Locating Rocky Mountain Rendezvous Sites through Use of Historic Documents, Geophysical Survey, and LiDAR. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wyoming, 2010.
[xxix] After the 1825 rendezvous, Ashley sent the furs by pack train to the Big Horn River and then loaded them aboard crudely constructed rafts for transport down the Missouri River system back to St. Louis. See Clokey. William H. Ashley: Enterprise and Politics in the Trans-Mississippi West, for an account of the trip.
[xxx] For instance, there was no rendezvous in 1838 because two separate sites apparently had been determined but communication breakdowns led to confusion between traders and trappers as to the exact dates and places. For a good account of the rendezvous period, see Dale L. Morgan. Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953).
[xxxi] The rendezvous itself proved to be a handy forum for organizing, disbanding and reconfiguring trading partnerships and companies. For a history of the various companies, see Hiram M. Chittenden, A History of the American Fur Trade of the Far West. 2 vols. (Stanford, Calif.: Academic Reprints, 1954).
[xxxiv]For a well-documented description of the travels of the two women and others who followed, see Clifford M. Drury, First White Women over the Rockies: Diaries, Letters, and Biographical Sketches of the Six Women of the Oregon Mission Who Made the Overland Journey in 1836 and 1838. 2 vols. (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur Clark, 1963).
[xxxv] Miller painted many of the oils while he lived at Stewart’s Murthley Castle in Scotland. In the 1980s, University of Wyoming journalism professor Robert Warner effectuated the receipt of a half dozen Miller paintings by the University’s American Heritage Center. The paintings are now on permanent display in the loge of the building. For descriptions of the paintings, see Marvin C. Ross, ed. The West of Alfred Jacob Miller. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968); and Robert Warner. The Fort Laramie of Alfred Jacob Miller. (Laramie: University of Wyoming Publications, 1979).
[xxxvii] The site is noted in many Wyoming guidebooks, including Mark Junge, ed. Guide to Wyoming Historic Sites. (Cheyenne: Wyoming Recreation Commission, 1977). In the summer of 2007, two University of Wyoming archaeologists examined the site, now on private land, for possible future excavation.
[xxxviii] Wyeth worried that Sublette's party, at least some two days ahead, would beat him to the rendezvous. In his journal, Wyeth registered his disappointment to find that the Sublette/Campbell group had down-sized their load by leaving a group behind to build what was to become Fort Laramie: "June 1st. Made 15 miles to Laramies fork just before coming to which we made a cut off of about 3 miles over and about 5 miles by the river forded this fork with ease and made 8 miles up the Platte in afternoon. At the crossing we found 13 of Sublettes men camped for the purpose of building a forte he having gone ahead with his best animals and the residue of his goods he left about 14 loads..." FromThe Correspondence and Journals of Captain Nathaniel, 1831-36. (Eugene, Ore.: University Press, 1899).
[xl] Many historians believe Bridger was illiterate. Consequently, Vasquez handled the business records of the jointly run enterprise. Bridger blazed the trail for Captain H. H. Stansbury in the fall of 1850 that would become the transcontinental railroad route across southern Wyoming and the routes of Highway 30 and Interstate 80. For a brief description of this work, see Utley, op.cit., 268-271.
Prices for Goods at Various Rendezvous: