“Frenchmen were far ahead of Englishmen in the early Far West, not only prior in time but greater in numbers and in historical importance,” writes Janet Lecompte in her introduction to French Fur Traders and Voyageurs in the American West. They were the first to navigate the Mississippi and its tributaries, and they founded St. Louis and New Orleans. Though France lost her North American possessions in 1763, thousands of her natives remained on the continent. Many of them were voyageurs for Hudson’s Bay Company, whose descendants would join American fur trade companies plying the trans-Mississippi West. This volume documents the fact that in the nineteenth century Frenchmen dominated the fur trade in the United States. Twenty-two biographies, collected from LeRoy R. Hafen’s classic ten-volume The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, represent a variety of origins and social classes, types of work, and trading areas. Here are trappers who joined John Jacob Astor’s ill-fated fur venture on the Pacific, St. Louis traders who hauled goods to Spanish New Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail, and those who traded with Indians in the western plains and mountains.
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