Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fur Trade Era On The Upper Missouri River, A Review

The cover of Sunder's book.
The Fur Trade Era On The Upper Missouri
Cannonball River Part Of History, A Review
By Dakota Wind
Cannonball, ND – The first edition of John Sunder’s “The Fur Trade Era On The Upper Missouri, 1840-1865” was published in 1965 by the University of Oklahoma Press. The book focuses on the closing days of the American Fur Company on the Northern Great Plains which effectively concluded with the punitive campaigns of generals Sibley and Sully.

The fur trade has an interesting history in North America. The French and English hooked native peoples with trade goods such as mirrors, knives, kettles, beads, and guns. American Indian tribes even made war on one another for a hundred years in the Great Lakes region until the beaver was effectively hunted out at the turn of 1700. Then the fur trade turned west.

Sunder takes readers to the last of the trading posts on the Upper Missouri, from Fort Berthold where the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan became utterly dependent on the US military for aid in their struggle for survival against the elements and the hostilities of their traditional enemies, the Teton Lakota, to Fort Union Trading Post.

Sunder’s narrative is a carefully constructed study of the last trading posts. That is to say, that this book is dry in its detail, but everything within is genuinely valued and included for its contribution to the development of the American West. This includes mentions of rivers and streams on the Upper Missouri River that have been exploited for their material value, rivers and streams that were inter-tribal conflict sites, and river and streams that have served as important points of interest for river traffic.

Here’s a short excerpt from Sunder’s The Fur Trade Era On The Upper Missouri, 1840-1865 which happens to pertain to the Cannonball River, a western tributary of the Missouri River, and of some interest to the energy industry.

After brief stops at Forts Buford and Union, the St. Ange reached the mouth of the Poplar River. Since the mid-July channel of the Missouri was too low to allow Captain La Barge to go up-river beyond that point, he unloaded freight destined for the Blackfoot country, then swung the steamer around and rode the current downriver to St. Louis, carrying a large cargo of robes and furs and new Indian-country curiosities: spherical stones from Cannonball River and a caged wild songbird resembling an Old World finch. Father De Smet, who disembarked at Fort Union, accompanied Alexander Culbertson and thirty Indians in a small wagon and cart train overland from Yellowstone to Fort Laramie to attend a scheduled September meeting between St. Louis Indian Superintendent Mitchell and the northern Plains tribes.


These spherical stones, concretions, from the 60-million-year-old Cannonball Formation – unique to North Dakota – continue to be a part of North Dakota’s identity and geologic history, so much that a lovely collection of the stones are prominently featured at the new east entrance of the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. The stones were collected from Harmon Lake recreation area. There's precious few stones remaining at the Cannonball River. 

Sunder’s book is available at the NorthDakota Heritage Center & State Museum’s gift shop. The book is not listed for purchase on the website, but it's on the floor. Get your copy today!