Fur Trading Business Changing: Trouble With the Blackfeet Indians

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In the fur trade, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company is in competition with the American Fur Company, Hudson’s Bay, and smaller new companies.

1832 Rendezvous Marks Changes

The 1832 Mountain Man rendezvous, held at Pierre’s Hole in present-day Idaho, was the scene of several changes in the fur trading business. Up until now, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company had for the most part held a monopoly on the fur trade. But now they had strong competition from the American Fur Company. This rendezvous also saw smaller fur trading ventures attempting to enter the competition.

Previously, the collective fur trade in the Rocky Mountains had had consideration opposition, as well as trouble, from the British Hudson Bay Company. But their presence was nothing compared to all the other prospective fur dealing parties that were invading the high reaches of the west.

Wyeth and Bonneville

Nathaniel Wyeth, though his opposition amounted to next to nothing, and his small company put in an appearance at the 1832 rendezvous. Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, believed to have been backed by New York capitalists, also attended this rendezvous. But by July 17, 1832, the rendezvous had ended.

Fraeb and Sublette Head for Salt Lake

Each man or group would now go their separate ways. Henry Fraeb and Milton Sublette, with a brigade of twenty-two trappers, would head for the area north of the Salt Lake desert. Nathaniel Wyeth and his eleven followers had decided to accompany Sublette’s party for safety from the Blackfeet since Milton’s route, for a long distance, would be in the valley of the Snake River.

All total, this group of trappers made up less than 100 men. After having traveled some six or eight miles that first day, the combined group camped that night in a valley beside a stream at the southern end of Pierre’s Hole. The following morning, just as they were starting out again, they saw coming in their direction two long files of horsemen. They were too far away to at first discern whether they were friend or foe.

Possible Danger in the Distance

Soon it was believed that what they were viewing was a procession of about two hundred Gros Ventres, a division of the Blackfoot Confederacy, that were emerging from the foot of Teton Pass. There was hope of avoiding trouble, however, since these Indians had their women and children with them.

As the white trappers watched, a chief, his rank marked by a scarlet robe thrown across his shoulder, rode towards them. He was holding his peace pipe high for all to see.

Antoine Godin Gets Revenge

In the group of white men was Antoine Godin. He and a Flathead warrior rode out to meet with the chief. Sometime previously, Godin’s father had been killed by Blackfeet. It was suspected later that he may have been seeking revenge.

When Godin and his Flathead companion reached the Gros Ventres chief, Godin reached out to shake hands with him. At the same time that he extended his supposed welcome, Godin shouted for his Flathead friend to fire his gun.

The Flathead fired, the Gros Ventres chief fell dead, and Godin grabbed the scarlet robe. Godin and the Flathead hastily rode back to camp with Gros Ventres fire aimed at their fleeing backs.

Mountain Men Prepare for a Fight

Certain that they were now in for a fight, messengers were sent from the mountain men back to the rendezvous camp at Pierre’s Hole for anyone still there to come and help in the battle that was sure to come.

Sources:

  1. Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West, Volume 1. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1986.
  2. Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West, Volume 2. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1986.
  3. De Voto, Bernard. Across the Wide Missouri Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1947.
  4. Utley, Robert M. A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1997.