Copyright © 1991 by University Publications of America. All rights reserved.
Papers of the St. Louis Fur Trade
Part 1: The Couteau Collection, 1752-1925
[This item added to Web November, 1995.]
Part 2: Fur Company Ledgers and Account Books, 1802-1871
Several North American colonial cities trace their early development almost
exclusively to the fur trade. Quebec, Albany, and Montreal were first. These
cities set the stage for international competition between French, Spanish,
Dutch, Russian, and English fur traders. In 1764, at the conclusion of the
French and Indian War, another important city was founded near the strategic
junction of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. This city, Saint Louis, became
the "gateway to the West." It also served as the residence and the business
headquarters for entrepreneurs eager to tap the resources of a vast hinterland
to the north, west, and south.
Within the commercial and social milieux dominated primarily by French families
with roots in Europe, French-Canada, and in the lower Mississippi Valley, the
Chouteaus became the leading family of St. Louis. Their business papers, now
permanently housed at the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis,.have been
microfilmed under the general title, Papers of the St. Louis Fur Trade.
The Chouteau Collection, as it is known to most researchers, is a record of
the business life of a very large extended family, its financial partners, and
a myriad of business associates. It is also a social record of the city of St.
Louis and of the smaller communities that were created and supplied out of the
metropolis by the Chouteaus and others. Within the collection one also finds
documents pertaining to political, economic, and social history. Local and
national elections, slavery, immigration, Indian-White relations, and the daily
lives of people in the working classes, as well as those elites who owned
businesses, controlled resources, and ran the political and economic machinery
of late colonial and early national St. Louis society, surface as subjects
important to those who recorded their activities in the fur trade.
Unlike some large collections of family papers, this is not a scrapbook of
intimate letters, newspaper clippings, and other personal memorabilia. Letters
between family members occasionally reveal family matters, and there are birth,
marriage, and probate records, but the correspondence primarily concerns money,
commerce, and the logistics of trade. Complementary to the Papers of the
American Fur Company in the New York Historical Society in New York City, the
Chouteau Collection provides glimpses of the family's marital and social life
mainly as reflected in the financial and business realms they entered. Personal
letters between company officers who were connected by marriage illustrate the
point that private and public life could not always be separate spheres.
The collection was acquired by stages and from several branches of the Chouteau
family. Six separate sets of Chouteau papers form this microfilm collection.
The earliest material dates back to the eighteenth century and came to the
Missouri Historical Society in 1908 as the Auguste Chouteau Collection. The
Pierre Chouteau Collection, acquired in 1907, includes some early French
(pre-1763) and Spanish-period (1763-1803) material but is mostly financial
ledgers and company correspondence of the American period. Additional large
family collections were acquired over the years: the Chouteau-Maffit papers in
1926; the Chouteau-Papin Collection in 1931; the Chouteau-Walsh family papers
in 1947; and three parcels of the Chouteau-Dyer Collection in 1949, 1952, and
Part 1: The Chouteau Collection
Part 1 of the combined microfilm edition consists of letters and
letterbooks, as well as occasional legal documents dating from 1752 and
including a few twentieth century items. The bulk of Part 1 material covers the
period from 1780 to 1850. Sixty archival boxes occupying twenty-five linear
feet house the original documents, usually cited by date or by box number and
date. Arranged in sequence, they have been microfilmed in chronological order
in forty reels.
The first scholarly use of this part of the collection was undertaken by Hiram
M. Chittenden, an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, and his wife, Nettie
Parker Chittenden. While posted in St. Louis, Chittenden approached Chouteau
family members in 1896 and succeeded in gaining access to many of the same
family papers now preserved by the Missouri Historical Society. He also used
many documents that have since been lost. His personal papers are now preserved
in three archives: the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma; the
University of Washington; and, the Missouri Historical Society. Shortly before
his death in 1917, Chittenden reminisced about his days in St. Louis:
Now began the experience which has been a source of astonishment to me ever
since. I didn't care enough about the Missouri River to waste any unnecessary
energy thereon, for I felt as certain then as I do now that it would all be
labor lost. I, therefore, had no compunction in directing as much of my time as
I could to work which I believed would be of a great deal more use to my
countrymen. So I started in to unearth data and finally got in touch with the
Chouteaus, who were the repositories of all the American Fur Company records. I
cannot but wonder that they should have turned over to me as they did the half
carload or so of records, dealing with their most intimate concerns of the
past; but such was the case, and now I was confronted with the appalling task
of going through these records and extracting the fugitive gold from such
masses of pure dross. The records were at least two-thirds in French and some
in Spanish. The documents were covered with at least three-fourths of the coal
iron dust of St. Louis and I had to dress up in workmen's clothes whenever I
went to select a package for use . . . Extracts were made extensively. When
these were brief they were made only on cards, when more extensive they were
made in large notebooks for the purpose and in this Mrs. Chittenden rendered me
a good deal of assistance in copying.1
After six intensive years of research and writing, Chittenden's study appeared
in 1902 as The American Fur Trade of the Far West, an ambitious
three-volume study focusing on the years 1807-1843.2 As Chittenden's primary biographer,
Gordon B. Dodds, has noted, this work remains the standard by which all
subsequent studies of that period and the topic have to be measured.3 Researchers interested in fur trade
personnel, company partnerships and histories, and the names and locations of
fur trade posts will want to have Chittenden in hand while using reels of the
microfilm edition pertaining to the nineteenth century Upper Missouri and Rocky
Mountain fur trades. These two "systems" have been schematically analyzed in
The Fur Trade of the American West: 1807-1840: A Geographical Synthesis,
which shows spatial relationships of posts and contains many useful diagrams
Beyond Chittenden's own reflections on his research, no analysis of
the collection has been published. Missouri Historical Society librarian Nettie
Beauregard and archivist Frances Stadler organized sections of the collection,
making it accessible to scholars after World War II. More recently, staff
members and volunteers at the Missouri Historical Society have added cover
summary abstracts to most of the documents, making them much easier to access.
Date, place of origin, important place names mentioned, people listed, and some
idea of context are provided on these summary sheets.
More than half the correspondence in Part 1 is in French. Mrs. Max W. Myer, a
volunteer for many years at the Missouri Historical Society, made summary
abstracts and English translations of many of these letters. Her translations
pro-vide a reliable overview of those documents. Where Mrs. Myer could not
decipher a word or a phrase, she inserted a question mark, giving future
researchers the challenge of completing the translation. She did not compile a
glossary of French terms, but researchers will find A Glossary of
Mississippi Valley French, 1673-1850 helpful for many historical usages and
The Missouri Historical Society has 3" x 5" card files on materials in the
Chouteau Collection. These are cross-referenced for users at the society's
archives. They are not reproduced here, however. Several major books and
dissertations have been supported by material from the letters and the
letterbooks in the collection. These studies provide background on the
collection as well as interpretation of the material therein. The following
authors are among those who have used the Chouteau Collection extensively:
Dale L. Morgan, Donald Jackson, John F. McDermott, David Lavender, Janet
Lecompte, John E. Sunder, John C. Ewers, Robert G. Athearn, Harvey L. Carter,
Richard Oglesby, Erwin N. Thompson, David J. Wishart, James P. Ronda, William
E. Foley and C. David Rice, Jack Holterman, and many of the contributors to
LeRoy R. Hafen's multivolume work, The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the
Part 2: Fur Company Ledgers and Account Books
Part 2 consists of twenty-three reels comprising seventy volumes
of fur trade account books and company ledgers and a volume of index (Reel 23).
This seg-ment was also acquired in stages and was accessioned using two systems
(see Scope and Content Note, p. 27). The ledgers in Part 2 are written mostly
in French and remain untranslated. Documents in Part 2 can be correlated by
date with correspondence and other documents found in Part 1. The index, found
on the last reel, is indispensable and contains 1,398 pages wherein variant
spellings of people and place names are cross-referenced. The index does not
cover Part 1 but should be consulted for spellings.
Part 2 contains detailed records of inventories, packing lists, accounts
receivable and payable, balances, cash books, and record books containing
additional letters and legal agreements not found in Part 1. Economists and
business historians will find this section especially rewarding. However, users
not familiar with double-entry accounting methods may find these volumes
difficult to use. Furthermore, the quality of the original ledgers (and
therefore the microfilm) varies, the later ledgers being the most faded. Peter
Michel, director of Library and Archives at the Missouri Historical Society,
has published an excellent intro-duction to the company ledgers and accounting
books. His overview should be consulted before any serious project is
undertaken in these documents.7
Researchers interested specifically in the Chouteau family have
several places to turn before commencing work in the microfilm edition. Mary B.
Cunningham and Jeanne C. Blythe have produced an excellent genealogy in their
book, The Founding Family of St. Louis.8 William E. Foley and
C. David Rice's The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis
traces the eighteenth and early nineteenth century family.9 Foley and Rice are working on an
extension of The First Chouteaus that will focus on the next generation,
including Pierre "Cadet" Chouteau, Jr. (1789-1865), the most important person
in the documents, whose life spans the critical period in American history from
the first years of the New Republic through the Civil War. No full history of
the family's variously named fur trade enterprises has been written, although
an early article by Harriette Johnson Westbrook outlines "The Chouteaus and
Their Commercial Enterprises."10 Janet
Lecompte's brief essay, "The Chouteaus and the St. Louis Fur Trade" that
follows on page xiii provides an introduction but should be supple-mented with
her more comprehensive study of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. from the Hafen
One glimpse at letters to Cadet Chouteau from family members, partners in
business, or government officers quickly reveals the research potential of this
collection. Not only is the strata of social and economic life of St. Louis
exposed, but patterns of the national experience surface as the Chouteau,
Pratte, Cabanne, Gratiot, and other leading families in St. Louis discuss
economic life, lobby for congressional favors, press for western internal
improvements, and report on developments in the western territories among
themselves and with associates such as the Astors and Ramsay Crooks in New
Correspondence from Crooks to his "dear cousin" Pierre is especially
informative on private business matters as well as national political life. For
example, in October 1841, Crooks wrote to Chouteau from New York about the
The Buffaloes have until lately been going off at a fair pace, but recently the
demand has slackened. The dealers here ascribe this inactivity to the election
which takes place in this state the first week in November, as it keeps people
at home in order to be able to vote, while others give up their business for
the public good, and devote their time to electioneering--I shall be glad when
it is over and hope the Robe trade will again revive with decided activity.12
The collection sounds the heartbeat of American business life during the early
national period through ante-bellum times. It is especially rich in materials
pertaining to the Jacksonian Era. Correspondence between the St. Louis office
of the Chouteaus and their associates with the central office of the American
Fur Company in New York City is incomplete. Nevertheless, it has valuable
references to tariffs, the international climate in trade, the fur markets in
London and Leipzig, the regulation of currency, the controversy over the
National Bank, the Panic of 1836, trade and war with Mexico, and relations with
the British along the northern international boundary.
Those seeking information on the relationship between the Chouteaus and John
Jacob Astor's American Fur Company (AFC) will find John D. Haeger's recent
study John Jacob Astor: Business and Finance in the Early Republic brief
but useful.13 The American Fur Company
Papers in the New York (City) Historical Society contain copies of letters to
and from Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and other company officers during the active
years of the Western Department of Astor's giant company.14 In 1927, historian Grace Lee Nute
alerted the profession to the potential of these papers and was subsequently
commissioned to index them by the American Historical Association.15 The indexes were released in two bound
volumes in 1945,16 and the AFC Papers
were microfilmed in thirty-seven reels during the 1950s. Additional Astor
papers that bear on the St. Louis trade are held by the Baker Library at
Harvard University. This twenty-nine box collection (seven linear feet) spans
the years 1784 to 1892 with primary focus on the period from 1809 to 1848.17 Further Astor materials have recently
surfaced in private family hands and are available as John Jacob Astor:
Business Letters, 1813-1828.18
At the regional level, those interested in the history of Missouri will find a
wealth of data in this collection on land speculation, holdings, and transfers,
as well as on the flow of people, animals, and commodities in the triangular
of St. Louis, New Orleans, and the eastern cities. Westward expansion
out of Missouri, the Santa Fe trade, government relations with Indians, and the
Mexican and Oregon "questions" may also be found by the diligent scholar.
The collection contains surprisingly little on events leading to the Civil War,
the question of the morality of slavery, or the issue of slavery in the
territories, although most of St. Louis's leading families were domestic
slaveholders and were well connected with Missouri and other slave-state
congressmen including Senator Thomas Hart Benton. The references to slaves are
sparse, but they include valuation statements and documents pertaining to the
sale of slaves as "property" upon the death of family members. For example, a
broadside of 1830 announces a "Public Sale of Slaves" belonging to the late
Auguste Chouteau. Therese Cerré Chouteau, executrix of the estate, sold
thirty-one "men, boys, women, and girls" at a public auction held at the Court
House; among the purchasers were Henry Chouteau, Gabriel Chouteau, Jean
Baptiste Sarpy, Bernard Pratte, and Hypolite Papin, all active in the St. Louis
A valuable aspect of the collection is its documents referring to the Osage,
Oto, Pawnee, Sac, Fox, Mandan, Arikara, Crow, Blackfeet, Stoney, Cree, Gros
Ventre, and western Sioux and their relationships with traders, government
agents, and private travelers. Ethnohistorians of the Plains Indians have long
known the utility of these documents in research on the Great Smallpox Epidemic
of 1837, Blackfeet and Arikara hostilities toward white traders, locations of
bands of the Sioux during the nineteenth century, Crow and Assiniboin roles as
"middle-men" in the trade, and the impact of European material culture on
native lifeways. Much remains to be learned from the collection about whites,
Métis, and Blacks connected with the fur trade as well as Native
Americans whose homelands became geographic arenas for European, Canadian, and
Little work has been done on the declining years of the fur trade--the 1850s
and 1860s--when most AFC posts were sold, abandoned, or converted into U.S.
military forts. During these years, the Chouteaus diversified their fur
business with investments in steamboats, railroads, mining, and manufacturing.
Upon the death of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. in 1865, the company's fur trade
operations were sold, but the family continued its ascendancy in business and
social spheres of St. Louis. The collection is not strong on this period, and
there are gaps in the chronological sequence between Pierre Chouteau's final
letterbooks (ending in 1861) and those of his son, Charles P. Chouteau (from
1884-1888), who succeeded him as head of the company. Nevertheless, historians
of post-Civil War America will find these final reels of interest.
The Chouteau Collection is a magnificent assemblage of documents that throws
light on many facets of history spanning a century and a half. The spine that
holds the collection together is the Chouteaus, a large and remarkable family
whose importance in the history of the nation has been strangely overlooked,
perhaps because records have been difficult to access. This microfilm edition
should go far in correcting this neglect.
William R. Swagerty
University of Idaho
1 Some of General Chittenden�s memoirs and letters have been published as H.M. Chittenden, A Western Epic; Being a Selection from His Unpublished Journals, Diaries and Reports, ed. Bruce Le Roy (Tacoma: Washington State Historical Society, 1961), p. 82.
2 Hiram Martin Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West: A History of the Pioneer Trading Posts and Early Fur Companies of the Missouri Valley and the Rocky Mountains and of the Overland Commerce with Santa Fe. 3 vols. (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1902).
3 Gordon B. Dodds, �The Fur Trade and Exploration,� in Historians and the American West, ed. Michael P. Malone (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), pp. 57�58; see also Dodds, Hiram M. Chittenden: His Public Career (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1973). For a discussion of the context of Chittenden�s work, see James P. Ronda, �Foreword,� Vol. 1, and W. R. Swagerty, �Foreword,� Vol. 2 to the reprint of the 1935 edition of The American Fur Trade of the Far West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986).
4 David J. Wishart, The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807�1840: A Geographical Synthesis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979).
5 John F. McDermott, A Glossary of Mississippi Valley French, 1763�1850 (St. Louis: Washington University Studies, New Series, Language and Literature No. 12, 1941).
6 Dale L. Morgan, ed., The West of William H. Ashley (Denver: The Old West Publishing Company, 1964); Donald Jackson, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985); John F. McDermott, ed., Frenchmen and French Ways in the Mississippi Valley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1969); David Lavender, The Fist in the Wilderness (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1964); Janet Lecompte, Pueblo, Hardscrabble, Greenhorn: The Upper Arkansas, 1832�1856 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978); John E. Sunder, The Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri, 1840�1865 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965); John C. Ewers, The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958); John C. Ewers, Indian Life on the Upper Missouri (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968); Robert G. Athearn, Forts of the Upper Missouri (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967); Harvey L. Carter, �Dear Old Kit�: The Historical Christopher Carson (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968); Richard Oglesby, Manuel Lisa and the Opening of the Missouri Fur Trade (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963); Erwin N. Thompson, Fort Union Trading Post: Fur Trade Empire on the Upper Missouri (Medora: Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association, 1986); David J. Wishart, The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807�1840: A Geographical Synthesis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979); James P. Ronda, Astoria and Empire (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); William E. Foley and C. David Rice, The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983); Jack Holterman, King of the High Missouri: The Saga of the Culbertsons (Helena: Falcon Press, 1987); and LeRoy R. Hafen, ed., Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, 10 vols. (Glendale, Ca: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1965�1972).
7 Peter Michel, �The St. Louis Fur Trade: Fur Company Ledgers and Account Books in the Archives of the Missouri Historical Society.� Gateway Heritage 6 (2) (1985): 10�17.
8 Mary B. Cunningham and Jeanne C. Blythe, The Founding Family of St. Louis (St. Louis: Midwest Technical Publications, 1977).
9 Foley and Rice, The First Chouteaus, supra note 6.
10 Harriette Johnson Westbrook, �The Chouteaus and Their Commercial Enterprises,� Chronicles of Oklahoma 11 (1933): 786�97; 942�66.
11 Janet Lecompte, �Pierre Chouteau, Jr.� in Mountain Men, supra note 6, Vol. 9, pp. 92�123.
12 Ramsay Crooks to Pierre Chouteau, Jr., New York, October 31, 1841, Chouteau Collection; Reel 27, frame 0875.
13 John Denis Hager, John Jacob Aster: Business and Finance in the Early Republic (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991).
14 See Guide to Use of Microfilm Copy on Thirty-Seven Reels of the American Fur Company Papers Owned by the New York Historical Society and Filmed 1951�1953 for Subscribing Libraries (New York: The New York Historical Society, n.d.).
15 Grace Lee Nute, �The Papers of the American Fur Company: A Brief Estimate of Their Significance.� American Historical Review 32 (2) (1927): 519�38.
16 Grace Lee Nute, comp., Calendar of the American Fur Company�s Papers, Part I: 1831�1840; Part II: 1841�1849, released as Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1944. Vols. 2�3 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1945).
17 �John Jacob Aster Collection,� Baker Library, Harvard Graduate School of Business, Cambridge, Mass.
18 John Jacob Astor: Business Letters, 1813�1828 (Benson, Vt.: Chalidze Publications, 1991).
19 Broadside, �Public Sale of Slaves, St. Louis, Aug. 24, 1830� and �Sale of the Slaves of the Estate of Auguste Chouteau deceased, made at auction on the 15th Sept. 1830.� The widow Chouteau apparently kept five slaves, for there were thirty-six at Auguste�s death. Chouteau Collection, Reel 16, frames 1034, 1080�1084.
For a century the Chouteau name was more or less synonymous with the fur
trade of the West. There was scarcely a member of the huge family who was not
intimately connected with a fur trade venture. There was hardly an Indian tribe
that had not felt the influence of business decisions of the family, or a
trapper or trader who did not at some time owe his fortunes or misfortunes to
family patronage or lack of it.
Like most great enterprise, it started small. In 1763 the governor of Louisiana
granted to Maxent & Laclède, New Orleans merchants, a six-year
monopoly for trade with Indians living on the left bank of the Mississippi
River and on the Missouri River. In August 1763, Pierre Laclède Liguest
(1729-1778) and his stepson Auguste Chouteau (1749-1829), then fourteen,
ascended the Mississippi with a crew of workmen to build a trading post on the
west side of the river about twenty miles below the mouth of the Missouri. The
settlement that grew up around it was called "St. Louis" in honor of the King
of France, although by then Louisiana was in Spanish territory.
In New Orleans, Laclède lived with Marie Thérèse Bourgeois
Chouteau (1733-1814) and her two sons, Renato and Auguste, by her husband
René Chouteau who had deserted her. By Laclède she had another
son, Pierre (1758-1849) and three daughters, Pelagie, Marie Louise, and
Victoire, all born in New Orleans. Madame Chouteau and her children joined
Laclède in the village of St. Louis in 1764, where the family
After Laclède's death in 1778, his widow carried on parts of his
business and accumulated a handsome estate in property, money, and slaves. She
also created a family system. Her children married the offspring of other
prominent families and produced sons who became fur traders, and daughters
whose marriages secured business alliances and social power. By the fourth
generation the family included Cerrés, Gratiots, Papins, Labbadies,
Pauls, Bertholds, Dubreuils, Menards, Cabannés, DeMuns, Sarpys, Prattes,
Loisels, Chenies, LeDucs, and later a smattering of Anglo-Americans. When the
widow Chouteau died in 1814, it was said that all the prominent people of St.
Louis could legitimately put on mourning for her.
In 1767 a Spanish commander and a handful of soldiers arrived to govern St.
Louis, but for the next four decades the town maintained its French
institutions, customs, and language under a lenient and sometimes permissive
Spanish authority. Almost all of the men of St. Louis were in the fur trade, as
partners in companies, merchants, bourgeois (managers) of trading posts,
trappers, hunters, boatmen, or laborers. Some traders spent part or all of each
year on the Missouri River with the Osage, Missouri, Kansas, Oto, Panimaha and
Pawnee tribes; others waited in St. Louis for the twenty-five tribes of Indians
who came to St. Louis a few times a year to receive a government annuity and to
sell their furs.
As the number of St. Louis traders grew, so did competition from the English,
who had been trading with Indians of the Upper Missouri since the 1720s.
English traders incited Winnebago, Sac, Fox, and Menominee Indians to attack
St. Louis in 1780, but the settlers successfully defended themselves. To
compete with the English, in 1794 many St. Louis traders joined Jacques
Clamorgan in the "Company of Explorers of the Upper Missouri," (called the
Missouri Company), but its three yearly expeditions were failures.
Competition among the St. Louis traders left some of them in financial misery.
To reduce competition, the governor of Louisiana granted traders exclusive
privileges to visit certain Indians with certain goods. The commander at St.
Louis then distributed the trade by lots. The Chouteau half-brothers, Auguste
and Pierre, won exclusive trade privileges with the Osage, where they had
traded since the early 1770s.
The Osage were the most numerous and profitable Missouri River tribe; they were
also the most hostile. In 1787 Osage killings and pillagings caused Governor
Miró to prohibit trade with them, but Commander Cruzat at St. Louis
apparently closed his official eyes as Pierre Chouteau continued to supply them
with arms, ammunition, and flour. Chouteau also made a treaty with the Osage in
1792 that granted him a large piece of their land, at the same time that the
Osage were making war on white settlements. A year later, Auguste Chouteau
offered to build a fort at his own expense near the Big Osage village, to be
manned with twenty militiamen under his brother Pierre, in return for a
six-year monopoly of their trade.
It has been suggested that the Chouteaus abused their privileges for private
gain. In 1902 historian H. M. Chittenden wrote of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. that his
business ethics were "sufficiently elastic to fit the situation with which he
had to deal," and perhaps the same could be said of his father and uncle (and
of almost all traders then and later). Even if Fort Carondelet was an instance
of elastic ethics, it turned out to be successful: Commander Trudeau wrote in
1797 that "from the moment when Don Augusto Chouteau put his plans into
execution we have enjoyed the greatest peace and tranquillity."
The sons of Auguste and Pierre Chouteau were groomed for their fathers'
business. Pierre's eldest son Auguste Pierre, known as A. P. Chouteau
(1786-1839), graduated from the military academy at West Point in the class of
1806. After serving six months in the army, he ascended the Missouri with his
uncle Auguste in 1807 and again in 1808. As a representative of Chouteau
interests, he became a partner in Manuel Lisa's St. Louis Missouri Fur Company.
He made his last trip up the Missouri in 1809, spending the winter at the
Lisa's Fort Mandan. In 1812 he began a lifetime of trading with the Osage
Pierre's second son, Pierre Chouteau Jr. (1789-1865), generally called "Cadet,"
began his career as clerk in his uncle Auguste's office. As a youth he and his
father traded in the Little Osage village where Lieutenant Zebulon Pike bought
a horse from him in September 1806. In 1810 Cadet was sent to the lead mines at
what today is Dubuque, Iowa, where Auguste Chouteau had bought half of Julien
Dubuque's interest. Cadet lived at the mines off and on until the start of the
War of 1812, when he returned to St. Louis and the family business.
After the purchase of Louisiana by the United States in 1803, President
Jefferson sent expeditions to explore it, which helped to delineate and
demystify the lands between the Yellowstone and Columbia rivers and opened up
possibilities of trade in the Southwest with Indians and Spaniards of New
Mexico. First among the fur traders to exploit the Louisiana Purchase was
Manuel Lisa (1772-1821), born of Spanish parents in New Orleans and a trader in
St. Louis by 1800. In the spring of 1807 Lisa ascended the Missouri and built
Fort Manuel among the Mandans. In later expeditions he built trading posts
among the Crows and Sioux and sent his men to trade with the Arapahos on the
Platte and Arkansas rivers, and, unsuccessfully, with the Spaniards at Santa
In 1809 Lisa organized the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company, with A. P. Chouteau,
Jr. and Pierre Chouteau, Sr. and others as partners. In 1812 he reorganized his
St. Louis Missouri Fur Company with fewer partners and only one member of the
Chouteau family, A. P. Chouteau. While he was up the Missouri, the other
partners decided Lisa's profits were inadequate and replaced him as partner
with Pierre Chouteau, Sr., a slight that Lisa reciprocated later. The company
was dissolved in 1813 after the War of 1812 began.
The War of 1812 caused many casualties in the fur trade, none more
cata-strophic for the United States than the loss of Astoria. The magnificent
dream of John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) involved a trading post at the mouth of
the Columbia River, supply ships from New York, trade with China, and trappers
throughout the Northwest. The plan was virtually achieved, but its failure in
1813 and sale to the British meant the loss of U.S. control of the Northwest
for over three decades. The debacle at Astoria sent Astor in search of other
big ventures, and his eye was on the Chouteaus and the infant St. Louis
mercantile system. At this time the Chouteaus were insignificant except in St.
Louis--mere local merchants with interests in the local Indian trade. In 1813
Cadet and his brother-in-law Bartholomew Berthold opened a store in St. Louis
for groceries, dry goods, hardware, crockery, etc. Six weeks later, Cadet
married his first cousin, Emilie Anne Gratiot (1793-1862), adding important men
to the Chouteau network--her father Charles Gratiot and her sisters' husbands,
Jean P. Cabanné (1773-1841) and Jules DeMun (1782-1843).
After a year, Berthold & Chouteau slipped inevitably into the fur trade,
sending parties up the Missouri River and incurring huge losses by backing
incompetent family members. In 1814 they supplied a disastrous trapping
expedition of A.P. Chouteau and Jules DeMun, who were imprisoned for a month by
Spaniards in Santa Fe. Their goods and furs, worth $30,380.74, were
confiscated, and it was Berthold & Chouteau who paid the bill. When they
returned to St. Louis, A. P. Chouteau, Jules DeMun, and John B. Sarpy
(1799-1857) opened a store that failed in 1821, costing Berthold & Chouteau
Unable to pay his huge debt to Berthold & Chouteau, in 1822 A. P. Chouteau
left his wife Sophie Labbadie Chouteau (1791-1862) and their numerous children
in St. Louis and moved among the Osage in present Oklahoma. There he directed
Berthold & Chouteau's "Osage Outfit" with its four trading posts and its
host of younger Chouteaus as traders and clerks, including brothers Paul
Liguest Chouteau (1792-1851), Francis Guesseau Chouteau (1813-1874), Cyprien
Chouteau (1802-1879), Louis Pharamond Chouteau (1806-1831), and cousins Pierre
Mellicourt Papin (1793-1828) and Auguste Aristide Chouteau (1792-1833).
Although honored by other traders and loved by the Indians, A. P. Chouteau
continued to be financially irresponsible and died hopelessly in debt to the
company in 1839.
Besides debts it was forced to assume, Berthold & Chouteau faced
competition from U.S. government trading posts or factories (instituted 1796
and abolished 1822) and from companies of other family members like that of
Jean P. Cabanné, husband of Cadet's wife's sister. Cabanné &
Company dissolved in 1819, and Cabanné joined Berthold & Chouteau in
backing Lisa's expedition up the Missouri for the reorganized Missouri Fur
Company. Lisa returned before reaching the mountains for fear his partners were
cheating him in his absence, as they had in 1812. Berthold & Chouteau lost
$22,286.45 in this joint venture.
At this time Berthold & Chouteau faced opposition it could not handle. The
Missouri Fur Company, reborn in 1819, comprised a group of experienced traders
including Manuel Lisa, Joshua Pilcher, Lucien Fontenelle, Andrew Drips, Charles
Bent, and William Vanderburgh. These men dashed high up the Missouri to
establish posts among new tribes, as St. Louis fur men had tried to do since
1794. Acting slowly and timidly in opposition, Berthold & Chouteau
established Missouri River posts close to home, such as Fort aux Cedrès
near White River, under ineffective traders like Joseph Brazeau ("Cayowa").
The St. Louis fur trade in 1819 was run primarily by one big extended family
involved in numerous small companies that had no real center, no leader, at
least not yet. Berthold & Chouteau (known sometimes as "The French
Company") was the largest Chouteau mercantile family enterprise, but its
partners and other family members made up partnerships within partnerships,
forcing partners to compete with family members and even with their own best
interests. Berthold & Chouteau (1813-22) saw many reorganizations:
Berthold, Chouteau & Pratte (1822-24); Bernard Pratte & Co. (1826-34);
Pratte, Chouteau & Co.(1834-39); and finally, Pierre Chouteau Jr. &
At this time the leaders in the trader-trapper end of the St. Louis fur trade
were not Chouteaus but outsiders. Manuel Lisa dominated the Missouri trade
until his death in 1821, and William H. Ashley (1778-1838) dominated the Rocky
Mountain trade until 1826. In 1822 Ashley and his partner Andrew Henry
collected a group of free trappers who became so famous that they personify
trapping for many people: James Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jedediah S. Smith,
William L. Sublette, James P. Beckwourth, and Étienne Provost. Ashley
and his men revolutionized the fur trade by ignoring the Indian middlemen and
setting their own traps, and by designating locations for summer rendezvous
where trappers bought supplies and sold furs.
Ashley made a fortune in a few years and retired; B. Pratte & Co. continued
to take losses. Cadet Chouteau was general superintendent and still hired inept
relatives who made dangerous blunders. Berthold became head of the Upper
Missouri operations and in 1827 was caught lying to customs officers; Jean P.
Cabanné, head of the Lower Missouri and stationed at Council Bluffs,
arrested a rival trader in 1832 and caused a lawsuit that nearly sank the
company. To make a profit, the company was forced to supply other fur companies
like Ashley or share ventures with other traders like the Missouri Fur Company
or slippery old Joseph Robidoux, who donned the sheep's clothing of a B. Pratte
& Company employee to make his own expeditions in direct or indirect
More than anything else, B. Pratte & Company needed good men and good
counsel, and at this fortuitous juncture John Jacob Astor and his American Fur
Company stepped in. For twenty years Astor had watched the Chouteaus through
his St. Louis agent, Charles Gratiot, who was Auguste's brother-in-law and
Pierre Jr.'s father-in-law. In 1800, eight years before he incorporated his
American Fur Company, Astor proposed that Auguste Chouteau send furs direct to
him, for he could get him a good price on merchandise from Europe, but Chouteau
declined. In 1819, Astor proposed that the Chouteaus buy him out; again they
In 1819 a catalyst in the form of a new rival supplier, Stone, Bostwick &
Co. of Detroit, determined the fate of the St. Louis traders. Stone, Bostwick
& Co. had moved to St. Louis and outfitted Manuel Lisa in 1819, the
Missouri Fur Company in 1821, Ashley and Henry in 1822, and others. In 1823
Astor ended this new threat by summoning David Stone and Oliver Bostwick to New
York and buying up their goods and contracts. Then he hired them, putting
Bostwick in charge of his St. Louis operation and Stone in charge of Detroit.
Astor then established the Western Department of the American Fur Company at
St. Louis and put Ramsay Crooks (1787-1859) in charge of it. Crooks was a Scot
and a fur trader out of Montreal who had joined the overland Astorians and
stayed on with Astor. In 1825 Crooks married Bernard Pratte's daughter, Emilie.
After Astor retired in 1834, Crooks became president of the company and moved
his family permanently to New York City.
In 1823 the Chouteaus cautiously agreed to sign a year's contract with Crooks
to buy supplies and sell furs through the company. The arrangement was so
profitable that each partner's share amounted to $16,053.65. Astor had made his
point, but it took three more years of competition and disaster for the
Chouteaus to give up their family autonomy.
In 1826 B. Pratte & Co. took its worst beating when it sent Sylvestre
Pratte, Bernard Pratte's son, to Taos to lead a hundred and twenty trappers
into the Rocky Mountains. Young Pratte died in the mountains, but not before
signing what Cadet disconsolately referred to as "these inexhaustible
fur-drafts" that the company was forced to honor. Historian H. M. Chittenden's
judgment that Pierre Chouteau, Jr. turned to profit everything he touched was
far from true.
The losses from the "Taos adventure" may have made up Cadet's mind. In December
1826, Cadet and Astor signed an agreement in New York naming B. Pratte &
Co. the sole western agent of the American Fur Company. Under Astor's tutelage,
Cadet and his associates eventually learned to enlarge their operations and to
master Astor's techniques of dealing with competition, which was simply to
eliminate it by buying it out, allowing no scrap of it to attach to other
rivals. Thus--eventually--Cadet acquired a corps of good partners, traders, and
trapping brigade leaders.
After the merger, no matter how well competitors in the field did against the
big company, they ended up working for it. Traders of the Columbia Fur Company
outmaneuvered B. Pratte & Co. traders at every point on the Missouri in the
spring of 1827, but that summer B. Pratte & Co. took it over intact with
its trading posts and Scottish partners, Kenneth McKenzie, William Laidlaw,
James Kipp, and Daniel Lamont. To accommodate these bright and vigorous
leaders, the company created the Upper Missouri Outfit (UMO).
More experienced mountain men came from the collapse of the Missouri Fur
Company at the 1828 rendezvous, after which B. Pratte & Co. hired
Fontenelle, Vanderburgh and Drips for the UMO's "mountain business." In 1829
Chouteau sent Kenneth McKenzie to the mouth of the Yellowstone to build Fort
Union, which became the principal supply and collection point for rendezvous
and free-trapper trade in the mountains. It also became the major depot for
trade with Blackfeet, Crow, Cree, and Assiniboin. Many other posts were built
in the next two decades, and about three hundred American Fur Company men were
divided into outfits based at Fort Union, Fort Clark, and Fort Pierre, and the
six divisions of the Sioux. Other traders were at the Sacs, Iowas, Osages,
Kansas, Poncas, and Otoes.
The mountain division of the UMO was an annual financial loss for the ten years
of its existence. The company consistently failed to get its goods to the
rendezvous in time, losing thereby the trade of free trappers; worse, some of
its best men were lost as trapping brigades boldly invaded the dangerous
Blackfeet country. The "mountain business" continued until 1839 only because
the company could not afford to abandon the mountains to its rivals.
The American Fur Company did not countenance rivals. B. Pratte & Co. bought
out Joseph Robidoux in 1828 and paid him $1,000 to stay home for a year. In
1830 the company bought out Papin & Co., a shaky little organization called
"the French Fur Company" for $21,000 and hired its leaders, Pierre D. Papin,
Pascal Cerré, and Honoré Picotte at salaries of $1,000 a year,
which was good pay for men that the company had no reason to trust.
New companies were formed from partnerships that had dissolved, but none lasted
more than a few seasons. William H. Ashley, whom Cadet described as "always in
my way," sold out to Jedediah S. Smith, David Jackson, and William Sublette in
1826. These men in turn sold out in 1830 to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company,
whose partners were Fitzpatrick, Bridger, Milton Sublette, Henry Fraeb, and
Jean Baptiste Gervais. All seasoned fur men, they were absorbed by the superior
resources of the American Fur Company (Pratte, Chouteau & Co.), which
bought them out in 1834.
The most challenging competitors that the company faced in the 1830s were
William Sublette and Robert Campbell, who sold out in 1834 to Fontenelle,
Fitzpatrick & Co. and returned to St. Louis as merchants. Fontenelle and
his partners sold their assets to Pratte, Chouteau & Co. in 1836, who then
hired them as "the Rocky Mountain Outfit."
In 1832 the company began using steamboats for transporting goods as far as
Fort Union. The first of these, named the Yellow Stone, carried
important com-pany guests--royal scientists Prince Paul of Württemberg and
Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied; artists Carl Bodmer, John J. Audubon, and
Increased company investments in posts and transportation did not curb the
decline in the beaver trade in the 1830s, caused by scarcity of the animal, the
vogue for silk top hats, and the advantage enjoyed by the Hudson's Bay Company
in price and quality of trade goods. In 1834 Chouteau competitors built three
important trading posts whose locations reflected the decline. Nathaniel
Wyeth's Fort Hall on the Portneuf near Snake River became a strategic location
for the Hudson's Bay Company, which bought the post in 1837. Bent's Fort on the
Upper Arkansas and William Sublette's Fort William on the North Platte (an
American Fur Company post by 1836) were built to trade with Plains Indians,
whose product was buffalo robes, not beaver.
In 1834 Astor responded to the beaver decline and other pressures by selling
the Western Department to Pratte, Chouteau & Co. Without Astor's guidance
Cadet began to make mistakes. He allowed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to
reorganize and compete with him; he reorganized the Upper Missouri Outfit and
forced good men like Laidlaw and Lamont to quit. Lamont became a partner in
Powell Lamont & Co., which bought and sold to the Arkansas Valley and Santa
Fe market that the company had coveted. To the annoyance of his employees,
Cadet spent most of his time in Washington both lobbying for payment of tribal
debts to traders as specified in Indian treaties and bidding for annuity
Pratte, Chouteau & Co. was reorganized in 1839 to become P. Chouteau Jr.
& Co., but it remained a closely held family business. The reorganization
marked the end of the mountain business, for beaver was scarce and in little
demand. Beaver recovered during the 1840s, both in the streams and in the world
markets, but by then buffalo robes had become the companies' principal
Trade in buffalo robes changed the nature of the business. The field of
operations shifted from mountains to plains, from trapping to Indian trading in
the valleys of the Missouri, the North and South Platte, and the Arkansas. The
company acquired trading posts among the Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne, and
bought robes from subsidiaries like Bent's Fort and Fort Laramie and from
independent traders at Fort Pueblo and Hardscrabble on the Arkansas.
The financial panic of 1837 devastated markets in the East, and by 1841 the fur
trade had foundered. Fur markets in Europe closed and the price of fur
plummeted; money was tight, credit non-existent; smallpox ravaged the Indians
and they stopped making robes. In the 1840s, fur company executives retired or
changed occupations, and settlements of out-of-work trappers and small traders
sprung up on the Arkansas at Pueblo and Hardscrabble, at Taos in New Mexico, at
French Prairie in Oregon, and in California's Napa Valley.
In 1846 the Mexican War with its soldiers and supply wagons along the Santa Fe
Trail made enemies of friendly Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache,
destroying Indian trade at Bent's Fort and Fort Pueblo by 1848. Along the
Oregon and California trails, emigrants ruined trade at Fort Laramie, which was
sold to the U.S. Army in 1849 and dedicated henceforth to safety of emigrants
and control of Indians.
Like everyone else in the mean 1840s, Pierre Chouteau, Jr. wanted out of the
fur trade, and began to groom his son-in-law John F. A. Sanford (1806-1857) and
his son Charles Pierre (1819-1901) as his successors. Sanford was a former
Indian agent and trader who had married Cadet's daughter Emilie in 1832 and
joined the company in 1834. Despite Emilie's death in 1836, Sanford remained in
Cadet's service for the rest of his life, as Cadet's right-hand man and
lobbyist in Washington. Sanford died in 1856, and Cadet's expectations then
centered on his son, Charles Pierre Chouteau (1819-1901).
Charles followed the family pattern. He started working for the company at the
age of eighteen and married his cousin Julia Gratiot in 1845. In 1850 he
assumed supervision of the American Fur Company, which now operated only on the
Missouri and declined year by year.
Cadet spent his retirement developing railroads that became branches of the
Illinois Central; an iron mine and summer resort at Iron Mountain near Ste.
Genevieve, Missouri; a rolling mill in St. Louis; and real estate in St. Louis
and Minnesota. He died, totally blind, on September 6, 1865.
So ended the influence of the Chouteaus of St. Louis whose name had been
central to every facet of the western fur trade for a century. Just before
Cadet's death, his son Charles sold the western interests of the company, which
was weakened by charges of transport and sale of illegal liquor, of
manipulating bids for shipping annuities, and of cheating Indians. Indian
trader James Boyd Hubbell of Mankato, Minnesota bought it and sold shares to
his partner Alpheus F. Hawley and other investors. Hubbell carried on the
faltering business as the Northwestern Fur Trade centered at Fort Benton, at
the head of Missouri River navigation, until the end of the Civil War.
Historian and author
American Fur Company, Calendar of the American Fur Company's
Papers, ed. Grace Lee Nute. American Historical Association.
Annual Report for 1944. 2 vols. (Washington: Government Printing Office,
American Fur Company papers. New York (City) Historical Society.
Billon, F.L. Annals of St. Louis in its Early Days. (St. Louis, 1886.)
Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West. 3
vols. (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1902.)
Chouteau Papers. St. Louis Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
Clokey, Richard M. William H. Ashley: Enterprise and Politics in the
Trans-Mississippi West. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.)
Cunningham, Mary B. and Jeanne C. Blythe. The Founding Family of St.
Louis. (St. Louis: Midwest Technical Publications, 1977.)
Din, Gilbert C. and Abraham P. Nasatir. The Imperial Osages: Spanish-Indian
Diplomacy in the Mississippi Valley. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
Ewers, John C. Indian Life on the Upper Missouri. (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1968.)
Foley, William E. and C. David Rice. The First Chouteaus: River Barons of
Early St. Louis. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.)
Haeger, John Denis. John Jacob Astor: Business and Finance in the Early
Republic. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.)
Hafen, LeRoy R., ed. The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West.
10 vols. (Glendale, Ca.: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1965-72.)
Kinnaird, Lawrence, ed. Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765-94:
Translations of Materials from the Spanish Archives in the Bancroft
Library. 3 vols. Annual Report of the American Historical Association,
1945. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Printing Office, 1949.)
Lavender, David. The Fist in the Wilderness. (New York: Doubleday and
Lecompte, Janet. Pueblo Hardscrabble Greenhorn: The Upper Arkansas,
1832-1856. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.)
McDermott, John Francis, ed. Frenchmen and French Ways in the Mississippi
Valley. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1969.)
Morgan, Dale L., ed. The West of William H. Ashley. (Denver: The Old
West Publishing Company, 1964.)
----, and Eleanor Towles Harris, eds. The Rocky Mountain Journals of William
Marshall Anderson: The West in 1834. (San Marino, Ca.: The Huntington
Nasatir, A.P. Before Lewis and Clark: Documents Illustrating the History of
the Missouri, 1785-1804. 2 vols. (St. Louis: St. Louis Historical Documents
Oglesby, Richard Edward. Manuel Lisa and the Opening of the Missouri Fur
Trade. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.)
Phillips, Paul C. The Fur Trade. 2 vols. (Norman: University of Oklahoma
Porter, Kenneth Wiggins. John Jacob Astor, Business Man. 2 vols.
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931.)
Ronda, James P. Astoria & Empire. (Lincoln: Unversity of Nebraska
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Saint Louis City and County, from the Earliest
Periods to the Present Day. 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts &
Sunder, John E. Bill Sublette, Mountain Man. (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1959.)
----. The Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri, 1840-1865. (Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.)
Swagerty, William R. "Marriage and Settlement Patterns of Rocky Mountain
Trappers and Traders." Western Historical Quarterly 11 (April 1980):
----. "Relations Between Northern Plains Indians and the American Fur Company
to 1867." Papers and Comments from the Newberry Library Conference on Themes in
American Indian History, No. 9 (1988).
Trennert, Robert A., Jr. Indian Traders on the Middle Border: The House of
Ewing 1827-54. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981.)
Weber, David J. The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest,
1540-1846. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.)
The Chouteau Collection comprises five series of related items including:
Papers, 1752-1975 and Undated; Unprocessed Materials, 1775-1854; Pierre
Chouteau, Jr. & Co. Letterbooks, 1856-1861; Charles P. Chouteau
Letterbooks, 1884-1888; and Estate Papers and Miscellany, 1802-1874 and
Items are filed in folders arranged chronologically within series. January
listings for a year include groups of documents spanning the entire year and
items for that year with the month unknown. Accounts are usually filed at the
date of first entry, but may also be filed at the settlement date. Related
documents such as bills and receipts, bills of lading, packing lists, accounts,
contracts, legal papers, estate papers, cancelled checks, and correspondence
are often filed as a group at the start of a month.
File folders are microfilmed with each item or group of items. Folders indicate
the number of documents or pages, language (if not English), place of origin,
sender, recipient, subject, and persons and places mentioned. Many French
language items have translations appended.
The Reel Index does not itemize folders, but lists the location on the
microfilm and number of frames for chronological groups of folders. It was not
feasible to list each folder, since there are nearly ten thousand individual
folders. Indented below the main entries in the Reel Index are itemized
listings of volumes and occasional misfiles.
Researchers interested in a particular subject or person should determine what
time period is relevant. By referring to the Reel Index, they can determine
which reels or parts of reels within each series come within the scope of their
The collection microfilmed in this edition is a holding of the Missouri
Historical Society, Library and Archives, 225 S. Skinker Boulevard, St. Louis,
The Chouteau Collection has been microfilmed in its entirety. Several
photostats of documents from other repositories are omitted due to copyright
restrictions, but descriptions of these items are included with a target on the
film indicating omissions.
The four-digit number to the left of each entry indicates the frame number at
which a particular document or series of documents begins.
The American Fur Co. account books were donated by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and
other members of the Chouteau family circa 1920. The collection consists of 74
account books, primarily of the Western Department of the American Fur Co. (St.
Louis), and its successor, Pierre Chouteau, Jr. & Co. Also included are
account books of Pierre Chouteau, Sr.; Chouteau & Sarpy; Bernard Pratte
& Co.; James A. Harrison; the Pacific Fur Co.; and the St. Louis Missouri
Fur Co. Included are journals, ledgers, inventory books, cash books, day books,
letterbooks, and receipt books. A key to terms follows on page 29. The
collection spans the years 1802-1871, with the bulk of the account books
falling between 1822-1860.
The first 54 volumes, each assigned a letter of the alphabet A-Z, AA-ZZ, and
AAA-BBB, are arranged in a rough chronological order, since most of them
overlap the following volumes somewhat. The last 20 volumes, which were added
to the collection later, were not assigned an alphabetical designation but were
The index to the American Fur Co. account books is reproduced on the last reel
of this microfilm set and includes proper names and geographical locations. The
index lists the volume letter and page number in each volume where a person or
place is mentioned. With the exception of volume 3, the last 20 volumes are not
included in the index. Volumes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 each contain their own
indexes. Volumes 8-20 were never indexed. The researcher should not assume that
there are no references simply because the person or place does not appear in
Descriptions of each volume appear in the Reel Index.
The collection microfilmed in this edition is a holding of the Missouri
Historical Society, Library and Archives, 225 S. Skinker Boulevard, St. Louis,
The Fur Company Ledgers and Account Books were microfilmed for the
Missouri Historical Society in 1984. The microfiom in this part does not have a
frame counter; however, the pages within each volume are numbered.
Catalog-Gopher entry for this collection.