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Ashley, William Henry (1778–26 March 1838), fur trader and politician, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia. His parents are unknown, and there is no definitive record of his early years. In 1798 Ashley moved west to Kentucky. Four years later he crossed the Mississippi and took up residence in the lead-mining community of St. Genevieve (now in Missouri). From that time until his death, Ashley energetically and successfully pursued profits and power in the fluid frontier society....

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Bridger, James (17 March 1804–17 July 1881), fur trapper and trader, explorer, and scout, was born in a tavern near Richmond, Virginia, the son of James Bridger, a surveyor and innkeeper, and Chloe Tyler, a barmaid. Bridger and his family moved in about 1812 to a farm near St. Louis, where, on being orphaned five years later, he became a blacksmith’s apprentice. In 1822 he responded to an advertisement calling for a hundred able-bodied young men to join a fur-trapping expedition, lasting from one to three years, up to the headwaters of the Missouri River. The organizers of the expedition were ...

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Chouteau, Auguste Pierre (09 May 1786–25 December 1838), fur trader and Indian diplomat, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Jean Pierre Chouteau, a fur trader and one of the founders of St. Louis, and Pelagie Kiersereau. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point from 17 July 1804 until 20 June 1806 and became an ensign in the Second United States Infantry. After serving briefly as aide to General ...

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Chouteau, Jean Pierre (10 October 1758–10 July 1849), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Pierre Laclède and Marie Thérèse Chouteau. In accordance with French law, Jean Pierre Chouteau used his mother’s surname. Pierre, as he was most widely known, moved to St. Louis with his mother in 1764. Little is known of his education, formal or informal. Taking advantage of St. Louis’s position as the gateway to American, French, and Spanish commercial activities among the Native Americans in the trans-Mississippi West, Pierre and his half brother ...

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Claiborne, William (1600–1677), American Indian trader and political leader in Virginia, was baptized at Crayford, County Kent, England, on 10 August 1600, the son of Thomas Claiborne, a former mayor of King’s Lynn, County Norfolk, and Sarah James, the daughter of a London brewer. Making the Chesapeake his home after 1621, Claiborne served as a Virginia councillor (1624–1637, 1643–1661), secretary of state (1626–1634, 1652–1661), treasurer (1642–1660), parliamentary commissioner (1651–1660), deputy governor (1652–1660), and the first major general of militia (1644–1646)....

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Davenport, George (1783–04 July 1845), Indian trader and frontier townsite entrepreneur, was born in Lincolnshire, England. Nothing is presently known of his parentage or childhood, although he apparently enjoyed the equivalent of a good common-school education. At age seventeen he was placed with an uncle, a captain of a merchant vessel. In 1804 Davenport’s ship visited New York, where he broke his leg and had to be left behind to recuperate....

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Dickson, Robert (1765–20 June 1823), fur trader and British Indian Department officer, was born in Dumfries, Scotland, the son of John Dickson, a merchant. His mother’s name is unknown. Robert Dickson emigrated to the United States in 1785–1786, soon after the American Revolution and was first employed at Oswego (N.Y.), where “he began his apprenticeship, which induced him to adopt the fur trade as a life-long occupation” (Cruikshank [1931], p. 88). Within a few months, Dickson was removed to the Niagara area, where his duties included selling and shipping goods to the fur-trade posts and managing accounts. As he was closely connected with some of the most respected and influential Loyalist families along the Niagara, Dickson enjoyed preferential treatment in both the choice and flexibility of his work. As a result of this good fortune, Dickson took the opportunity to leave the drab routine of his work at Niagara and in July 1786 was pleased to be transferred to the “Island of Michilimackinac” (MacKinac Island, Mich.) in order “to learn the art and mystery of commerce” (Cartwright papers, 10 July 1786)....

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Faribault, Jean Baptiste (19 October 1774–20 August 1860), trader, was born in Berthier, Canada, the son of Barthélemy Faribault, a lawyer, and Catherine Véronneau. Resisting pressure from his parents to continue his education and a respectable legal, political, or military career, Faribault left home at the age of sixteen to begin life on his own as a clerk, first for a small, private enterprise and then for a larger firm, McNides and Company. In 1797 he was offered a commission in the British army. He declined the position, however, electing instead to sign on with the Northwest Company as a trader....

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Forsyth, Thomas (05 December 1771–29 October 1833), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in what is now Detroit, Michigan, the son of William Forsyth, an innkeeper, and Ann Kinzie. Forsyth received such education as was available and was literate. His experiences in the multiethnic frontier world of Detroit, which even after the Revolution was dominated by British traders, completed his schooling. After the death of his father in 1790, Forsyth entered the fur trade as a clerk for George Sharp and spent several winters trading among the Ottawa on Saginaw Bay. By 1798 he was trading near what is now Quincy, Illinois. His first trading partner was a man named Richardson, and in 1802 he and his half-brother John Kinzie started a trading post at the present location of Chicago, Illinois. About 1804 Forsyth married Keziah Malotte, a former Indian captive, near Malden, Missouri, and they settled at Peoria, where he traded until the beginning of the War of 1812, when General ...

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Gratiot, Charles (1752–20 April 1817), frontier trader, was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, the son of David Gratiot and Marie Bernard, French Huguenot merchants. Educated in schools in Lausanne, Gratiot, at age seventeen, went to London to work with his mother’s brother, a merchant, who then had him sent to Montreal, Canada. Arriving at Montreal in May 1769, Gratiot began working as a clerk in his uncle’s office to learn the Indian trade in the Great Lakes region, which, though now under British sovereignty, continued to be controlled by French traders. In 1774 he went on a successful trading expedition for his uncle into the Illinois country but, on being less successful on a second venture of his own, established in 1777 a partnership with David McCrae, a Scottish trader in Montreal....

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James, Thomas (04 November 1782–17 December 1847), fur trader and Mexican trade merchant, was born in Maryland, the son of Joseph Austin James and Elizabeth Hosten. In 1803 James traveled west with the rest of his family, first to Kentucky and then to the Illinois country, entering Missouri Territory in 1807. The family settled near the village of Ste. Ferdinand (San Fernando), later known as Florissant. James heard of the adventures of Lewis and Clark’s successful expedition after their return to St. Louis in 1806. He determined to sign up with the Missouri Fur Company for a trading trip to the reaches of the upper Missouri River. After conflicts with his employers, he returned from the Missouri country in August 1810....

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McLoughlin, John (19 October 1784–03 September 1857), trader, was born in Rivière du Loup, Quebec, Canada, the son of John McLoughlin and Angelique Fraser, farmers. As a child McLoughlin was probably greatly influenced by two uncles, Alexander Fraser, a fur trader with the North West Company, and Simon Fraser, a physician. Following in Simon’s footsteps, McLoughlin studied medicine, apprenticing to Dr. James Fisher of Quebec City for four and a half years. In April 1803 McLoughlin was admitted to medical practice by the board of examiners in Montreal....

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Mitchell, David Dawson (31 July 1806–31 May 1861), fur trader and government American Indian agent, was born in Louisa County, Virginia. Nothing is known about his parents. Mitchell’s youth remains wrapped in mystery. He arrived in St. Louis as a young man and quickly became involved in the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Employed by the American Fur Company as early as 1828, he was assigned first to the Ioway country and then to the Upper Missouri River, where he displayed considerable skill in dealing with the Blackfoot and Assiniboine Indians. During the period between 1828 and 1838 he headed several trading outfits and built Fort McKenzie in Montana in spite of American Indian objections to the construction at the mouth of the Marias River. Noted for a cool head in stressful situations, Mitchell managed to keep tensions from reaching a boiling point, especially over the issue of which native groups might be favored in trade. ...

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Smith, Jedediah Strong (6 Jan. 1799?–27 May 1831), fur trader and explorer, was born (some say on 24 June 1798) in Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, the son of Jedediah Smith, probably a farmer and possibly a part-time tailor. His mother’s name is unrecorded. Raised and educated in elementary schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio, young Smith became a clerk on a Lake Erie trading vessel. In 1822 he joined the fur-trading venture of General ...

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Wolfskill, William (20 March 1798–03 October 1866), frontiersman, trader, and rancher, was born in Boonesborough, Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Joseph Wolfskill, Jr., and Sarah Reid, farmers. In late 1809 the family moved to Boone’s Lick, Howard County, Missouri. William was sent back to Kentucky in 1815 to attend school for two years and then returned to Missouri, where he remained. In May 1822 he joined William Becknell’s second Santa Fe trade expedition. In New Mexico, Wolfskill and fellow Kentuckian ...