Pelts, Provisions, & Perceptions: The Hudson's Bay Company Mandan Indian Trade, 1795–1812

by John A. Alwin

(This article first appeared in Montana [The Magazine of Western History] 29:3 [1979]: 16–27.)

On November 12, 1795, two Hudson's Bay Company employees left their Assiniboine River post, Brandon House, with rival North West Company traders traveling to the Mandan villages along the banks of the Missouri River. Although the Montreal-based North West Company had an established trade with the Mandans, this was the British company's first venture to the Missouri. Over the next fifteen-odd years, Hudson's Bay Company traded regularly with the Mandans, receiving pelts, provisions, horses, and, incidentally, some interesting perceptions of first Spanish and then American efforts to discover a water passage through the continent. One of those efforts, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, drew more than just curious attention from Hudson's Bay and North West Company traders. Worried that Lewis and Clark's discoveries might trigger a rush of American traders to the Mandan area and beyond, Hudson's Bay men tried to maintain their ties with the Mandans by discrediting the Americans. There is even a hint that North West Company men tried to sabotage the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Their worries were not groundless. Within a few years of Lewis and Clark's return, American traders came up the Missouri with trade goods in hand eager to extract the finest pelts they could from the region. Faced with increased competition from the Americans, conflicts with Indian tribes along their trade routes, and then the disastrous intrusion of war between the United States and Great Britain, Hudson's Bay Company traders finally had to turn their backs on the Mandan trade in 1812. It was a brief chapter in Hudson's Bay Company's history, but through it we can see perhaps more clearly the web of international relationships operating in the fur trade on the upper Missouri in the Lewis and Clark period.

International Rivalries

The quest for a Northwest Passage, or waterway to the Pacific, had brought the first European contact with the Mandan Indians in 1738 when French explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye reached the villages after traveling southwest from the middle Assiniboine River. [1] Neither his journey nor the more extensive 1742 expedition by sons Louis and Francois, which also passed through the Mandan villages, discovered a route to the Western Sea or an especially rich fur region. During the remainder of their tenure in the mid-continent, the French concentrated their western efforts further to the north in the Lake Winnipeg drainage.

In accord with the 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War, the French withdrew from interior North America. Within a few years the vacuum left by the retreat of French fur traders from the western interior of Canada had been filled by a new breed of Montreal-based traders, commonly referred to as the Pedlars. They adopted many of the techniques of their predecessors, even occupying some of their posts. As the British Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was soon to discover, they were even more aggressive competitors than those they had replaced.

The Pedlars, like the French before them, pursued an expansionist policy geared to carrying the trade to the natives in the continental interior, while the rival HBC continued to restrict its fur trading to several strategically located estuary posts on the shore of Hudson Bay. Since receiving its charter in 1670, the Bay Company, through its tidewater approach to the trade, had succeeded in attracting sufficient numbers of trading Indians, some of whom traveled great distances to trade at the Company's posts. But by the late 1760s and early 1770s it was obvious to HBC officers involved in the trade that the Company's traditional approach was inadequate. In the interior rival Pedlars intercepted trading Indians before they could get to HBC posts. Hudson's Bay men knew they had to change their operations to meet the competition.

HBC Posts

Finally in the early 1770s the HBC London headquarters decided that it also would have to operate inland posts. In 1774 the HBC built its first full-fledged inland trading establishment, and in the decades that followed, several major Bayside posts thrust arms of settlement and trade into the continental interior in an effort to counter the formidable opposition, soon unified as the North West Company (NWC). The swiftness and spatial dimension of this expansion is distinctive in the annals of North America. [2]

Albany Fort was one of the Bayside posts to thrust a tentacle of trade inland. By 1790 Albany men had extended trade to the upper Albany River and in 1793 leapfrogged far to the west where they built Brandon House on the middle Assiniboine River near its junction with the Souris. The post immediately became operations center for its own trading network which soon included outposts farther upstream on the Assiniboine, on the southern shore of Lake Manitoba, downstream on the Assiniboine, as well as on the Red River.

A seasonal transport routine quickly developed. Each spring fur returns from Brandon House and its outposts were transported in twenty-odd foot bateaux more than 1300 miles to Albany Fort, or the somewhat shorter distance to Martin's Falls Depot on the Albany River. Trade goods and other essentials for the forthcoming trading season, that year's "outfit," were shuttled up from the Bayside each summer on a return trip in the same craft. This, then, was the situation in 1795 when the Brandon House traders inaugurated a distinctive new branch of their trade—one which reached beyond the Company's chartered lands and across the Hudson Bay drainage divide to the Mandan villages in the central portion of present-day North Dakota.

HBC traders at Brandon House had seen first-hand evidence of the fruits of the NWC Mandan trade since the post's first season. On December 22, 1793, founding Post Master Donald MacKay recorded the arrival of Canadian traders at the nearby Nor'Wester post with a large quantity of buffalo robes acquired at the Mandan villages. Two years later Robert Goodwin, his successor, decided the HBC should check into the potential of developing its own Mandan trade. He understood that buffalo robes, which were used as cariole coverings in Montreal, were the Canadians' single most important trade item, although the agricultural Mandans also had "Indn Maize, Kidney beans, Pumkins and grows many other things.. ." [3]

It was only with difficulty and the inducements of liquor and ammunition that Goodwin could convince the Canadians to allow the pair of HBC employees to tag along that November 1795 "to see the country & what it produces." [4] The Company judged this initial trip a success when the pair of HBC employees returned on December 26 with 142 Made Beaver (MB) [5] worth of furs and two Mandan horses. The Company promptly sent three more men back to the Mandans with a new supply of trade goods. Thereafter, HBC and NWC trading parties raced each other to the Mandan villages. [6]

The Mandan Trade

For more than a decade after the initial ventures of 1795–96, HBC employees or their representatives were routinely sent to the villages of the Mandans, which they then usually referred to as the Mandals or Mandalls, as well as to those of Mandan neighbors and allies, the Hidatsas. [7] Although the Company's routine varied somewhat from year to year, the usual practice was to make two trips. The first party normally set out from Brandon House in late September or early October, soon after the new outfit of trade goods and supplies arrived at the post. All, or part, of this initial group usually arrived back at Brandon House by Christmas. Shortly after recuperating from New Year's celebrations, they commenced preparations for the departure of the second trading expedition, which returned to Brandon House during March or April.

Both Company employees and "freemen" conducted the HBC's Mandan trade. As their name suggests, freemen were not in the employ of any company. Equipped with up to 200 MB worth of HBC trade goods on credit, they commonly traveled to and from the Mandans with the parties of one to six Company employees.

The route between Brandon House and the Missouri followed the Souris River as much as possible to take advantage of firewood and protection of the river valley. To avoid a broad westerly bend in the river's course, traders left the Souris and struck out overland, passing along the west side of the forested Turtle Mountain, before rejoining the Souris. Farther downstream, east of present-day Minot, North Dakota, the river's course bends sharply to the northwest. Here, the route left the river for the last time and ran south to the Missouri and the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. The one-way trip, estimated to be 150 to 200 miles depending on the exact route, generally required around ten days to travel. Depending on snow conditions, the mode of transport was horse and/or dog sled.

It is not possible to determine the complete variety and quantity of trade goods sent to the Mandans or the value of furs obtained there each year. But HBC men traveling to the villages evidently had a range of trade goods that included items as varied as tobacco, vermilion, beads, rings, looking glasses powder, shot, and guns. The last item may have been traded exclusively for horses.

Determining the value of pelts obtained at the villages is also difficult because returns from Brandon House and its outposts, including the Mandan trade, were routinely combined for accounting purposes. In some years, however, Mandan returns can be calculated from daily entries in the Brandon House Post Journal. Entries in the 1795–96 journal show a Mandan trade of 262 MB and four horses. [8] That season the combined Brandon House trade totaled 4,207 MB; the Mandan contribution was smaller that year than in most succeeding seasons. [9] Mandan trade contributed approximately 1,100 MB (and five horses) to Brandon House and outpost trade in 1800–01. [10] Two years later this trade contributed ten per cent of the combined Assiniboine River trade of 5,486 MB. [11]

Although a regular and expected source of pelts for Brandon House, the Mandan returns did not usually produce a significant addition to trade. In at least one year, however, the Missouri River returns were critical to Brandon House. The mild temperatures and lack of snow during the winter of 1799–1800 allowed buffalo to winter in the more open plains far away from their usual wintering grounds in the more forested Parkland belt where Brandon House was located. Without ready access to this important source of provisions, natives, who normally trapped at Brandon House, worked almost full time in trying to stave off starvation and were not able to trap their normal supply of beaver. Rather than hunting and trapping beaver that winter, Indians frequented the post begging handouts of food. That season the Brandon House and outpost trade totaled only 5,559 MB compared to the previous season's 8,023 MB. [12] After packing that season's disappointing returns for shipment down to Hudson Bay, Post Master Robert Goodwin commented in the post journal on April 23, 1800, "my trade would have been very little had it not been for my men going two trips to the Mandans." [13]

Several years earlier both HBC and NWC trade with the upper Missouri tribes were threatened. NWC traders arriving back at the Assiniboine in October of 1796 carried with them a proclamation forbidding "all forigners [sic] whatever (especially all British subjects)" [14] from entering the newly-chartered lands of the Spanish Missouri Company.

Spanish Competition

Just as 1763 had marked the formal retreat of the French from Western Canada, it also marked the French withdrawal from Louisiana, when France ceded that territory to Spain. By the early 1790s reports of British encroachments on the northern frontier of this Spanish territory reached St. Louis. It was, in part, to counter this HBC and NWC intrusion from the north that St. Louis merchants organized the Missouri Company in 1794. After earlier Missouri Company failures to reach the Mandan villages, a party under John Evans finally succeeded in late September of 1796. [15]

Evans wasted little time in trying to rout the British traders. He took possession of the NWC post at the villages and dispatched the proclamation to the British traders on the middle Assiniboine. The manifesto was not his own, but was that of his superior, James MacKay, who remained behind at Fort Charles downstream on the Missouri in present-day Nebraska. Other correspondence followed between Evans and both James Sutherland at Brandon House and his counterpart John McDonnell at the nearby NWC post. Despite the proclamation forbidding British trade, it proved difficult to halt the well-established and mutually beneficial commerce between the village Indians and the British.

The tenuity of Evans' control was demonstrated in February 1797 when two HBC traders arrived back with four fur-laden sleds. Although Evans barred the HBC men from trading directly with the Indians he personally accepted HBC trade goods in exchange for furs. Back at Brandon House the pair of HBC men reported they had been greeted at the villages by "300 Indians who carried their Sleds on their Shoulders into the vilage [sic], so fond were they of the English. . ." In contrast the natives reportedly were "highly displeased with Evans," whose only recourse was to raise the Spanish flag in an effort to assert his authority. [16]

Word reached Brandon House in spring that Evans had been forced to withdraw down the Missouri to Fort Charles. Prior to his retreat he almost came to "fisticuffs in attempting to prevent them [NWC men] from Trading with the natives. . ." By attempting to cut off trade with the British without an adequate supply of his own trade goods to offer in their place, Evans so angered the Indians that they threatened to kill him and his men if they refused to leave, "being greatly exasparated [sic] against them for preventing the Subjects of G. Britain from comming to Trade with them. .." [17]

The Spanish claim to the territory and trade of the Mandan and Hidatsa especially distressed the NWC. To check out the location of the villages and to verify the Spanish claim they called on the services of their newly-acquired surveyor and geographer, David Thompson. An employee of the HBC since 1784, Thompson had deserted the Company for the NWC only six months prior to his late November 1797 arrival at the NWC post at the Souris mouth.

HBC Post Master John MacKay extended the courtesy of inviting Thompson to Brandon House for some hospitality, a usual practice among the fur traders. Disgruntled after the former HBC employee failed to show up, MacKay wrote, "I did myself the honour to stay at home if that Astronomer wished to see me, I know no place he could find me sooner, than in my own House." [18] With only four days to prepare for his Mandan expedition, Thompson probably had little time or inclination to socialize, especially with an officer of his former employer. He headed south for the Mandans on November 28 and was back at McDonnell's (Assiniboine) House on February 3, having determined the latitude and longitude of two villages. [19]

Lewis and Clark

Six years later, entries in the Brandon House journal record the arrival at the Mandan village of two other celebrated explorers—Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Since Thompson's trip, Louisiana had been retroceded to France, and in 1803 had become American territory. Thomas Jefferson, eager for an expedition into the trans-Mississippi region and on to the Pacific, had begun planning for the expedition even before Louisiana became American soil. When the Lewis and Clark Expedition finally started up the Missouri River in 1804, its aims were several. Two primary objectives were to explore the Missouri River and the possibility of a commercial communication with the Pacific, and to note the potential for an American fur trade in the regions traversed. [20]

Thus, when Lewis and Clark arrived at the Mandan villages in late October of 1804, it was, in part, a quest for furs and a Northwest passage which had brought them; the same objectives which had earlier lured French and Spanish explorers and traders. Because of their regular link with the village Indians, British traders on the Assiniboine received occasional intelligence on this celebrated expedition.

Even before starting construction of Fort Mandan, the expedition's wintering place near the villages, the American explorers encountered Assisiboine-based British traders in the vicinity. On November 1, 1804, shortly after their arrival at the villages, Lewis and Clark dispatched a letter to the officer in charge of the NWC's Department of Assiniboia, stationed at a post several days travel upriver from Brandon House. [21] In the letter, they informed him of the expedition and its purpose and asked for any geographic information he might provide on the country into which the expedition was headed.

Word of the expedition's arrival at the Mandan villages may not have reached Brandon House until November 13, 1804. That day two Canadians arrived back from the Missouri villages where they reported seeing 150 Americans, an exaggeration of the actual forty-five in the expedition. More correctly, they reported that the entourage had arrived in three large boats—Lewis and Clark's keelboat and two large pirogues. Under the command of "Captn. Clerk & Captn Lewis" the group was reportedly bound for the Rocky Mountains, but had to winter at the "Mandals." [22]

Post Master MacKay was surprised that the two Canadians who brought word of the Lewis and Clark Expedition had not seen the three HBC men sent to the Mandans on October 19—George Budge, George Henderson, and Tom Anderson. Clark, however, noted their safe arrival at the villages in a November 8 entry in his journal. Writing at Fort Mandan, Clark mentioned that the expedition's Mandan interpreter had arrived back from the village and "informed us that three English men had arrived from the Hudson Bay Company. . ," [23] Although it was expected the HBC men would visit Fort Mandan the next day, it was not until December 1 that Clark referred to George Henderson's arrival at the fort. Fifteen days later Clark recorded the arrival of George Budge, incorrectly referred to as "George Bunch" in his journal, along with two NWC clerks. [24]

George Henderson left both George Budge and Tom Anderson at the Mandans that December when he started back for the Brandon House with their take of 208 MB. At Brandon House he delivered a letter from George Budge which indicated that there was really little prospect for additional trade with the Mandans, for they were "so much taken with the Americans . . .” [25] Nonetheless, when Budge and Henderson finally arrived back at Brandon House on March 15, they brought an additional 424 MB with them. How much more information on Lewis and Clark they brought back is unknown; Post Master MacKay failed to mention the Americans in his journal on this occasion.

On April 2, 1805, five days prior to the expedition's departure for the Pacific, another mention is made of Lewis and Clark. That day, unidentified Indians arrived directly from the Mandan villages and expressed their displeasure with the Americans who had wintered near the villages. After talking with them MacKay wrote, "they are not well pleased with them [the Americans]. Captn Lewis told them the Ground he walked on was his own, and next year he would take possetion [sic] of the whole River." [26]

There appears to have been very little friction between HBC men and the expedition during Lewis and Clark's winter layover at Fort Mandan. The two incidents we know of, however, both involved Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacajawea's husband and a former Nor'Wester resident at the Mandan villages who was hired by the expedition as an interpreter for the westward journey to the Pacific.

Arriving back at Fort Mandan from a short trading foray on January 13, 1805, Charbonneau informed his superiors that an HBC employee had been speaking against the Americans. That day Clark recorded "that the Clerk of the Hudson Bay Co. with the Me ne tar res [Minatarees or Hidatsa] has been Speaking Some fiew expressns unfavourable towards us..." [27] According to the Coues edition of the history of the expedition, on January 13, 1805, Charbonneau arrived back from a trip to the lodges of some Minatarees and informed Lewis and Clark, that the agents of the Hudson's Bay Company at that place had been endeavoring to make unfavorable impressions with regard to us on the mind of the great chief, and the Northwest Company intended building a fort there. The great chief had in consequence spoken slightly of the Americans, but said that if we would give him our great flag he would come and see us. [28]

The other point of friction between the expedition leaders and the HBC traders is less definite. This involved the possibility that HBC employees tried to dissuade Charbonneau from continuing on with the expedition when it left the Mandans. On March 11, 1805, as the expedition's departure date from Fort Mandan approached, Clark entered in his journal, "We have every reason to believe that our Menetarre interpreter (whome we intended to take with his wife, as an interpreter through his wife to the Snake Indians of which nation She is) has been Corrupted by the [blank in MS] Company &c." [29] E. G. Chuinard, an authority on Lewis and Clark, believes that the blank, which could not be deciphered in the original journal, "no doubt refers to the Hudson's Bay Company. . ." [30] In the Coues history of the expedition there are additional details. The entry for March 17, 1805, includes the following passage:

Our Minnetaree interpreter Chaboneau, whom we intended taking with us to the Pacific, had some days ago been worked upon by the British traders, and appeared unwilling to accompany us, except on certain terms—such as his not being subject to our orders, and his doing duty or returning whenever he chose. [31]

It may be inaccurate to interpret the blank in the Clark quote and the "British traders" in the Coues text as HBC traders. For one thing, the term "British" in the original journals of the expedition and the Coues history is used to refer to both the NWC and HBC or to either company and its men. And there were other circumstances suggesting that it was probably the NWC men, rather than the HBC employees, who tried to handicap the Lewis and Clark Expedition by convincing Charbonneau, and thus Sacajawea, to withdraw from the expedition.

Three months after Clark's reference to others' attempts to talk Charbonneau into staying behind, Nor'Wester Francois Antoine Larocque started west from the Mandan villages with a party of Crow Indians to explore the Yellowstone River Valley. [32]On the previous winter's trip to the Mandans he and other NWC traders had learned from Crows trading at the villages that “beavers were as numerous in their rivers as buffaloes and other large animals were in their plains or meadows..." [33] Larocque’s job was to verify these reports and to inaugurate trade with the Crow.

When NWC first planned this Yellowstone expedition is not known, but if there was even an inkling of such a trip by March 1805, the North West Company traders' concern over the continued westward passage of the Lewis and Clark Expedition right through the heart of this promising fur trapping region is understandable. Hoping to handicap the Americans, it may have been the NWC men who tried to convince Charbonneau to withdraw his services. It seems unlikely that HBC employees at the villages would be in a position to influence the ex-Nor'Wester, Charbonneau. Irrespective of who was responsible, the effort failed and Charbonneau along with Sacajawea accompanied the expedition after all.

When Lewis and Clark returned from the Pacific in 1806, they passed by the Mandan Villages during the summer when HBC traders were busy conveying goods to and from the shore of Hudson Bay. As a result, it may not have been until December 20, 1806, when HBC traders returned from the first Mandan trip of the 1806–07 season, that the men at Brandon House learned of the homeward passage of the expedition. The five men who returned that day reported that "Captn Lewis with his Party passed the Mandal Village on their return to the United States last Summer & that the Americans Intend to settle the Mississouri [sic] River at least as high up as the Mandals[.]" [34]

HBC Retreat

Although the Americans did not push settlement up the Missouri the next year, Lewis and Clark's triumphant return and their reports of plentiful furs in the upper Missouri country helped to encourage American traders. The traders wasted little time in exploring the new territory, but there was a more immediate threat to HBC trade with the Mandan—ambushes by Assiniboine Indians. Conflict with the Assiniboine nearly terminated HBC trade in 1807 due to a particularly serious encounter, but contrary to what some historians have assumed trade continued after 1807.

On the return of their second trip to the Mandans in April 1807, HBC traders fell into the grasp of an Assiniboine party. George Budge communicated the "Unfortunate Intelligince" on April 11 when he arrived back at Brandon House. Later that day, Post Master Thomas Vincent described the incident in the House Journal:

the Assinaboils had Robbed them of four of their Horses and stabbed two others one of them died on the Spot, the other he left unable to get up, three of the above Horses were bought during the winter at the Mandals[.] he has left James Slater and Jacob Corrigale With the furrs 3 days Journey from the Mandal Village the other 3 men with 3 horses are coming home with part of the Furrs, they likewise Robbed him of all his Provisions Ammunition, 2 new Guns, a part of his Furr &c, in the Scuffle he himself and Jacob Corrigale were Nearly Stabbed by two of the Rascals whilst near 40 others Surrounded them with their Bows drawn, had they made further Resistance Inevitable Death must have been Ye Consequence[.] [35]

A week later Budge and four other men went back with six horses to fetch home the remaining furs, and by April 27 all men from the ill-fated party had safely made it back to Brandon House.

This was not the first time the Assiniboine had interfered with the Company's Missouri trade. Just three years earlier they had waylaid a party of HBC men en route to the Mandans. Detained for several days by the hostiles, the traders were released only after paying dearly for their freedom with stocks intended for the Mandan trade. [36]

The Assiniboine tried to obstruct the Company's Mandan trade for very good reasons. When peace prevailed between the Assiniboine and their sometime enemies, the Mandans, the Assiniboine served as middlemen, supplying the Mandans with goods obtained at the British posts. This was a lucrative business for them and they obviously did not wish to see the HBC or any other traders interfere by carrying goods directly to the Missouri villages. When at war with the Mandans, the Assiniboine understandably tried to stop the British Missouri trade which provided their enemies with guns, powder, and shot. For similar reasons, the Sioux also occasionally threatened the British-Mandan trade.

At times there was great hostility between the Assiniboine and Mandan as was indicated in an account of HBC traders who arrived back from the villages in December 1801. The day prior to their departure for Brandon House the Mandans killed eleven Assiniboines within half a mile of the village, and brought their heads and several other parts of their bodies back to the village to feed to the dogs. [37]

Because of the possibility of further Indian attacks, Post Master John MacKay decided in 1807 not to send HBC employees to the Mandans. He did, however, outfit a French Canadian and an Irish freeman for that trade, and they departed Brandon House in October 1807. The following spring MacKay received news that both freemen had been killed by the Assiniboines. This was contradicted by a later report which indicated that one, La France, had died of consumption and the other, Hugh McCrachan, was still at the Mandan villages, afraid to come home by himself. The second report proved the more truthful, and even though the Irishman did not return that trading season, he showed up empty-handed the next October. Outfitting him again with trade goods on credit, HBC promptly sent McCrachan back to the Mandans in company with two Canadian traders. The party of three were back with five loaded horses by mid-December 1808.

In the fall of 1809 three Canadians arrived at Brandon House with two Mandan Indians from the Missouri with word that "above 2 Hundred American Hunters gone up the Miss Sourie ..." Although John MacKay evidently knew little about the large American party, he quickly realized their trade potential. Within ten days all preparations had been made and four men left with the two Mandan Indians for the Missouri "to trade with the Americans on the return . . ." [38] That party of Americans was the initial expedition of the newly-formed Missouri Fur Company, organized the previous winter by Manuel Lisa and prominent St. Louis businessmen. [39]

The Missouri Fur Company's first venture to the upper Missouri not only inaugurated the company's trade, but it also escorted Mandan Chief Shahaka to his village. On arrival in the fall of 1809, the company built a fort near the villages. There it was decided that Manuel Lisa and expedition military commander Pierre Chouteau would return to St. Louis. Then, two expedition parties were directed to Fort Raymond, the fort Lisa had built the previous year at the mouth of the Big Horn River. One group went via the Missouri, while the other traveled overland to Fort Raymond. Members of these two parties were evidently the "above 2 Hundred American Hunters" reported at Brandon House to have ascended the Missouri.

Not all in the expedition proceeded to Fort Raymond or returned to St. Louis that fall. Some remained behind to winter in the vicinity of the Mandan villages. These were the men who HBC traders referred to when they arrived back at Brandon House on December 6, 1809. The post journal entry for that day records that they had ,,found a Compound of Mallatoes, Negroes Creoles and Canadians from the Illinois under a Mr Choteau who after settling his son at the Mandanes returned to the Illinois[.]" [40] The "Mr. Choteau" referred to was undoubtedly Pierre Chouteau, Sr., who had returned to St. Louis with Lisa. Confronted with this situation at the villages, the HBC traders were for "carrying back immediately," but on their return to Brandon House a group of Indians threatened to plunder them if they did not accept their "offer" of a trade—700 poor quality wolves for the HBC trade goods. [41]

No attempt was made by the HBC to send even freemen to the Missouri villages in 1810. But during the 1811–12 season the HBC combined outfits with the NWC in a joint trading expedition for "mutual security, and to protect ourselves against the natives.. ." [42] Evidently there had been no plans to send men that season, but on December 23, 1811, an American and an old Canadian trader arrived at Brandon House from the Mandan villages to report that there were few Americans wintering on the Missouri. The pair suggested that the Missouri Indians there would be glad to trade with the British if they would send goods, as the villagers were discontented with the present traders. After some hesitation, both companies agreed to supply a portion of the goods, and to divide returns equally.

By January 2 William Yorston and three other Company men had begun preparations for their trip to the Missouri. But three days later a skirmish between Yorston and his commanding officer at Brandon almost aborted the planned Mandan trip. That day Yorston, who evidently had been attempting to "throw obstacles in the way" of the venture used "insulting language" with his superior, who promptly slapped him in the face. This led to a scuffle between the two, a rare occurrence at Company posts. Yorston wrestled down his opponent, who later that day wrote of the incident in the post journal: "[he] pounded away for eight or ten minutes twisting the hankerchief round my neck at the same time till I was almost strangled." Other details of the fight were not recorded, but Yorston finally did agree to accompany the Mandan expedition. His participation was essential since he was the only HBC employee at the post who knew both the route to the villages and the Mandan language. [43]

The joint entourage left for the villages on January 8, with the HBC men taking four horses with sleds and four dog sleds to transport the returns. On March 14, 1812, the combined Missouri River party returned with a "grand" total of 120 beaver skins, 4 buffalo robes, 14 wolves, and 2 bear skins.

At the villages the British found trading difficult, for the Americans could offer the Indians "better encouragement." The Americans had become entrenched, despite the report to the contrary, and the British traders thought themselves lucky to escape with their meager take of furs. In less than three months the two nations would be at war; a war that disrupted fur trading from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast. This 1812 expedition ended HBC attempts to maintain a regular trade link between Brandon House and the village Indians of the upper Missouri. The war cut off trade and effectively severed Company ties with this distinctive area which, for more than a decade, had proved to be a valuable source for pelts, provisions and perceptions.

Hudson’s Bay Company Incorporated 2nd May 1670

Author's Note on Sources

On May 2, 1670, the charter granting Rupert's Land to the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay, more commonly referred to as the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), received the Great Seal of England. This charter granted the Company "sole Trade and Commerce" within the drainage basin of Hudson Bay and Strait, a vast domain of more than one million square miles. During succeeding decades Company fur trading activity expanded beyond the limits of Rupert's Land on many fronts to include almost all of mainland Canada and reached south into northern and western sections of the United States.

Archives of the Hudson's Bay Company were the principal source of information for this article. The archives deal mainly with Company transactions in North America and include documents such as post journals, post account books, various types of correspondence, individuals' journals, district reports, maps and sketches. Canadian and British scholars have used these corporate archives for decades—American scholars can almost certainly make greater use of this important source for historical research.

Company records from 1670 to 1870 were made available to scholars at Beaver House, the Company headquarters in London, England, beginning in the early 1930s. Since 1966 researchers in North America have had access to the positive microfilm copies of the archives, up to 1870, in the Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa. In 1974, following the move of the head office of the HBC from London to Winnipeg, Manitoba, four years earlier, the 4200-plus linear feet of the archives were moved to their new quarters in the Manitoba Provincial Archives and Library in Winnipeg. All post journals to 1940, as well as other selected post-1900 documents, are now open to researchers. Additional 20th century documents are made available as they are classified.

I was introduced to the archives in the summer of 1973 when I started my dissertation research on the historical geography of HBC transportation between 1670 and 1821. I relied on the microfilms of the archives in Ottawa, Ontario, and the next year, even before their official opening date, I became one of the first researchers to use the archives at their new home in Winnipeg.

I want to thank Drs. John Ewers of the Smithsonian Institution, Barry Kaye with the Department of Geography at the University of Manitoba, and Michael Malone of the Department of History at Montana State University for commenting on an earlier draft of this paper. I also acknowledge the Hudson's Bay Company for permission to consult, and quote from, its archives. Special thanks are extended to Mrs. Shirlee Smith, HBC archivist, for granting an eager graduate student access to the archives even in advance of their official opening date in Winnipeg.

1. For the early history of the white man's contact with the Mandans see A. P. Nasatir, ed., Before Lewis and Clark: Documents Illustrating the History of the Missouri. 1785–1804 (2 vols. St. Louis: St. Louis Historical Documents Foundation, 1952). (back)
2. For the most definitive history of the Hudson's Bay Company see E. E. Rich, Hudson's Bay Company. 1670–1870 (3 vols., Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited. 1960). A more compact history of the Western Canadian fur trade is E. E. Rich, The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1967). (back)
3. Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBC Archives), B. 22/a/3, fo. 8, Brandon House Post journal, 1795–96. (back)
4. Ibid. (back)
5. "Made Beaver" (MB) was the HBC's basic unit of exchange. Since beaver was the chief fur dealt with by the Company, it was made the standard to regulate the value of all other types of pelts and trade goods. (back)
6. The HBC's direct trade with the Mandan s dated back to the early 1700s when, for a brief period, they traded at the Hudson Bay Post of York Factory. Arthur J. Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974), 55–59. (back)
7. For additional general information on these tribes see Roy W. Meyer, The Village Indians of the Upper Missouri: The Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977). (back)
8. HBC Archives, B. 22/1/3, passim, Brandon House Post Journal 1795–96. (back)
9. HBC Archives, B. 3/d/106, Albany Fort Account Book, 1795–96. (back)
10. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/8, fos. 6d and 12d, Brandon House Post Journal, 1800–01. (back)
11. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/10, passim, Brandon House Post Journal, 1802–03. (back)
12. HBC Archives, B. 3/d/110 and 112, Albany Fort Account Book, 1799 to 1800. (back)
13. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/7, fo. 26, Brandon House Post Journal, 1799–1800. (back)
14. At Brandon House James Sutherland copied the letter in the post Journal, HBC Archives, B. 22/a/4, fo. 16–16d, Brandon House Post Journal, 1796–97. Extracts from this journal, including the letter, appear in Nasatir, Before Lewis and Clark II: 461–464. (back)
15. For the story of John Evans and this expedition see A. P. Nasatir, ed., "John Evans, Explorer and Surveyor," Missouri Historical Review XXV (October 1930–July 1931): 219–239, 432–460, 585–608. (back)
16. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/4, fo. 31, Brandon House Post Journal, 1796–97. (back)
17. Ibid., f. 35d. (back)
18. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/5, fo. 20d, Brandon House Post Journal, 1797–98. (back)
19. For Thompson's account of his Mandan journey see Richard Glover, ed., David Thompson's Narrative: 1784–1812 (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1962), 160–181. (back)
20. For an interesting and unique account of the events and perceptions leading up to the expedition see John Logan Allen, Passage Through the Garden: Lewis and Clark and the Images of the American Northwest (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 1–126. (back)
21. A copy of this letter can be found in Elliott Coues, ed., History of the Expedition under Command of Lewis and Clark (4 vols., New York: Francis P. Harper, 1893), I, 187n–188n. (back)
22. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/12, fo. 7d, Brandon House Post Journal, 1804–05. (back)
23. Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804–1806 (8 vols., New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1904–05), I, 218. (back)
24. Ibid., I, p. 238. The dominant role of the NWC in the Mandan trade is obvious from a passage in the Brandon House Post Journal for this season. On February 27, 1805, Post Master MacKay referred to the discrepancy in numbers between his 3 men involved in the trade that season and the NWC's 3 clerks and 15 "foremost Hands" at the villages. Whereas the HBC traders had only collected 200-odd MB by late February, the NWC men already had 900 MB. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/12, fo. 9d, Brandon House Journal, 1804–05. (back)
25. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/12, fo. 8d, Brandon House Post journal, 1804–05. For a study of previously published reactions of natives to the Lewis and Clark Expedition see John C. Ewers, "Plains Indian Reactions to Lewis and Clark." Montana, The Magazine of Western History XVI (Winter 1966): 2–12. (back)
26. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/12, fo. 11d, Brandon House Post Journal, 1804–05. (back)
27. Thwaites, Original Journals I: 248. (back)
28. Coues, History of the Expedition I: 225. (back)
29. Thwaites, Original Journals I: 271. (back)
30. E. G. Chuinard, "The Actual Role of The Bird Woman," Montana, The Magazine of Western History XXVI (Summer 1976): 25. (back)
31. Coues, History of the Expedition I: 246–247. (back)
32. This expedition was briefly considered in Robert A. Murray, "First Tracks in the Big Horns", Montana, The Magazine of Western History XXVI (Winter 1976): 7–11. (back)
33. Charles MacKenzie, "The Missouri Indians, 1804–05" in Les Bourgeois De La Compagnie Du Nord-Ouest, ed. by L. R. Masson (2 vols., Quebec, 1889–1890) I: 341. (back)
34. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/14, fo. 8d, Brandon House Post Journal. 1806–07. (back)
35. Ibid., fos. 14d–15. (back)
36. MacKenzie, "The Missouri Indians, 1804–05," I: 329. (back)
37. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/9, fo. 13, Brandon House Post journal, 1801–02. (back)
38. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/17, fo. 8d, Brandon House Post journal, 1809–10. (back)
39. For information on Manuel Lisa and The Missouri Fur Company see Richard Edward Oglesby, Manuel Lisa and The Opening of the Missouri Fur Trade (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983). (back)
40. HBC Archives. B. 22/a/17, fo. 12d, Brandon House Post Journal 1809–10. (back)
41. Ibid. (back)
42. HBC Archives, B. 22/a/18b, fo. 7, Brandon House Post Journal' 1811–12. (back)
43. Ibid., fo. 7d–8. (back)

John A. Alwin , professor of Earth Sciences at Montana State University, is a specialist in historical geography, especially the geography of the Great Plains. A native of Michigan, Dr. Alwin received an M.A. from University of Montana before going on to receive his Ph.D. from University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. He is the author of several articles on Hudson Bay Company history, early day river transportation in Canada, and the geography of town development in Montana.

This article has been reproduced with the permission of John A. Alwin, Prof. of Geography, Dept. of Geography, Central Washington University.