Wyoming Fur Trade
At the turn of the nineteenth century, the profitable frontier fur trade in the inter-Rocky Mountain region became a focal point of contestation between indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Anglo-Americans. A key figure overlooked during this era is Manuel Lisa, the St. Louis Spanish American. Not long after Lewis and Clark returned from the Pacific, Lisa put into place an ambitious and prosperous plan he had developed with information collected by the famous exploratory expedition. Using the time-tested Spanish strategy of placating indigenous peoples through trade and commerce, Lisa befriended the various tribes living along the Missouri River to ensure the future safe transport of goods up and down the waterway. Profits would emerge from furs transported to St. Louis from the Three Forks area of the Missouri headwaters, in the inter-Rocky Mountain region.
However, fear of confrontations with the Three Forks Blackfeet led to Lisa’s decision to build Fort Raymond at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Big Horn rivers in Montana. The area, abundant in game, was the favored wintering ground of the friendly Crow nation. From here, in November of 1807, Lisa sent out his contracted and mainly non-Spanish trappers to bring in furs from around the Wind River Mountains, the Shoshone River, the Jackson Hole, and the Yellowstone areas. Part of Lisa’s instructions to his trappers was to be wary for
evidence of Spanish traders from Santa Fe, who reputedly were trading with the Shoshone peoples west of the Continental Divide.
Lisa’s ultimate goal was the development of a trade route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the upper Missouri River, which would form a triangular trade zone into the trans-Mississippi West, offering the potential of handsome profits. While Lisa never fully realized his plan, his Missouri Fur Company did lay the foundation for the inter-Rocky Mountain fur trade, which prospered for many years to come. What’s more, a great deal of commerce did develop within this triangular trade zone, and several mountain man rendezvous were held in Mexican territory.
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