Breaking a Monopoly

Peter Rindisbacher, Detail from A Half-caste and His Two Wives, about 1825

Peter Rindisbacher, Detail from A Half-caste and His Two Wives, about 1825

Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1973-84-1

Fur trading, monopolized by the British Hudson’s Bay Company, was the principal business in the Dakota and Minnesota territories. The Métis, people of mixed European and Native American descent, broke the Company’s monopoly by transporting their furs south to St. Paul, where they received better prices from American merchants.

Red River cart, mid-1800s

Red River carts, crafted of wood lashed with buffalo hide, and pulled by oxen, rolled along the western river trails with deafening squeaks and groans.

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Trade Goods

Métis women, who were expert negotiators, exchanged their furs with St. Paul merchants for more and better trade goods than they had received from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Note the rare sample book, which lists the Eastern manufacturer’s prices of cottons and the selling prices to the Indians.

Trade beads, late 1800s 

Trade beads, late 1800s 

Catalog #195102.000. Courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Indian trade goods, fabric sample book, March 4, 1834

Tin container, about 1840

Kettle, mid-1800s

Kettle, mid-1800s

Indian trade musket, about 1800

Green River knife, 1855–1860

Beaver

Beaver

Beaver were central to the North American fur trade from the 1500s to the mid-1800s. Indians supplied furs to a demanding market until the beaver became nearly extinct.

Beaver trap, 1810–1830

Beaver pelt, mid-1800s

Beaver pelt, mid-1800s

Prized for their water-repellent fur, pelts traded at a premium. In the early 1800s, “Made Beaver” was a unit of trade; 12 pelts purchased a four-foot gun; one, a one-pound kettle.

Beaver hat, mid-1800s

Hats made from the beaver’s tightly textured fur held their shape when wet. Made in London and imported to the United States, these hats were a consumer luxury.

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Screenshot of the Market Revolution interactive display
Investigate the market revolution and its impact on the United States in the 1800s through the stories of five Americans from the Merchant Era. Click on the screenshot above to open the interactive display in a new window.