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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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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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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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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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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 ...