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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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Bent, Charles (11 November 1799–19 January 1847), frontiersman, fur trapper, and Santa Fe trader, was born in Charleston, Virginia (now W.V.), the son of Silas Bent, Jr., a surveyor and jurist, and Martha Kerr. The family moved first to Ohio, then in 1806 to St. Louis, Missouri. Charles attended Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, although for how long is unknown. In 1822 he joined the Missouri Fur Company of Joshua Pilcher as a clerk, and in 1825 he became a partner. The American Fur Company of ...

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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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Kit Carson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107570).

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Carson, Kit (24 December 1809–23 May 1868), mountain man, army officer, and Indian agent, was born Christopher Houston Carson in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Lindsey Carson, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Rebecca Robinson. In 1811 Lindsey Carson moved his family to Howard County, Missouri, to find “elbow room.” He died in 1818, hit by a falling limb while clearing timber from his land. Christopher enjoyed no schooling and never learned to read or write, other than signing his name to documents. In 1825 his mother and stepfather apprenticed him to David Workman, a Franklin, Missouri, saddler whom Kit described as a kind and good man. Nevertheless, he ran away because he found saddlemaking tedious and distasteful work and yearned to travel. Following in the footsteps of a brother and a half-brother who were in the Santa Fe trade, Carson joined a caravan as a “cavvy boy” (an assistant to the wrangler in charge of the horse and mule herd). Though not unsympathetic, Workman was obliged by law to advertise for his runaway. But he misleadingly suggested to readers of the ...

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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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Gaines, George Strother (1784–21 January 1873), frontier trader and Alabama businessman, was born in Stokes County, North Carolina, the son of James Gaines, a revolutionary war captain, and Elizabeth Strother, farmers. Major General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, who was a prominent army officer on the western and southern frontiers between 1797 and the Mexican War, was his brother. At age ten Gaines moved with his family to Tennessee, where he later gained employment in a Gallatin general store. In 1804, Joseph Chambers, the factor of the U.S. Choctaw Trading House, invited Gaines to become his assistant. Subsequently Gaines relocated to St. Stephens on the Tombigbee River in the Mississippi Territory. In 1806 he succeeded Chambers as factor....

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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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Menard, Pierre (07 October 1766–13 June 1844), frontier trader, merchant, and politician, was born at St. Antoine, Quebec, Canada, the son of Jean Baptiste Menard, a French-born merchant, and Marie Françoise Cirée, a Canadian. He had a common school education. Following in the footsteps of his father, who had supported the American side in the American Revolution and served in the American army, Menard, at age twenty-one, moved from Quebec to find opportunities on the American frontier as a trader or merchant. Rather than following those among the French Canadians who, in response to the Treaty of Paris, tried to continue trading under British control and protection in the western Great Lakes and the Mississippi River valley, Menard moved to Vincennes, Indiana, around 1787 and actively sided with the Americans in their relations with the British and Indians. Menard was employed by Colonel François Vigo ( ...

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Schuyler, Peter (17 September 1657–19 February 1724), Indian trader and merchant, was born in Albany (then called Beverwyck), New Netherland, the son of Philip Pieterse Schuyler, a successful Indian trader, and Margarita Van Slichtenhorst, the daughter of Brant Aerts Van Slichtenhorst, director of Rensselaerswyck. It is unclear what formal schooling Peter Schuyler had, but living at his father’s home and trading center, “The Flatts,” he learned enough about the Iroquois, including their language, to become one of only three European colonial New Yorkers trusted by them. Called “Quidor” by those unable to pronounce his given name, he derived much of his influence in the province from his special relationship with the Indians. While Schuyler was alive, no governor could negotiate with the Five Nations without him....

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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 ...