The Coureur de Bois Lifestyle

Alfred_Jacob_Miller_-_-Bourgeois-_W---r,_and_His_Squaw_-_Walters_37194078In the past centuries, thousands of men traveled along the waterways and into the deep forest of North America to search for beaver skins and pelts. These men were known by different names, depending on the period and their actual status: coureurs de bois, voyagers, pedleurs, the men of the north, the eaters of the lard, and the trappers. As fur became a big part of European fashion, coureur de bois were basically fur traders, they were considered to be unregulated traders in the 16th and 17th centuries.


The life of a coureur des bois was very dangerous at that time, considering that they weren’t recognized traders by the French authorities. They also travel as far as 2,000 kilometers, or more from home just to make trades. These traders were very determined and even the regulation by the French authorities did not stop their transactions.


These traders lived off their lives ofthe beaten trails and they had enjoyed a great deal of freedom. They have lived on the fringes of the French colony running through the woods. The coureurs des bois were often wet, could be a result of a heavy rain, sweat, or during times that they get out of their canoes. This is also why they had preferred to wear fabric clothing instead of the skins since it actually dried better. Their outfits often include cotton or a linen shirt including a knee-length canvas pants. On their heads are often wool toques or a scarf so they could keep the sweat off their faces. They also wore those brightly colored wool belts, where they hang a cup or a bag that has pipe or tobacco and a lighter. During cold days, coureur des bois occasionally wore a coat made of moose or a woolen capote. They had well-sealed horn where they store their black powder. They also carry knives and sometimes a gun for protection.

Since they were far from most civilization that often had poor hygiene and healthcare. The United Medical Education has done extensive research into finding out exactly how the health of the coureur des bois was handled. While United Medical Education usually performs training in ACLS recertification online, they also do extensive study on the past history of medicine in certain civilizations. Besides teaching ACLS recertification online they also teach PALS certification and BLS certification.

They set up camps every evening and some other evenings they sleep under the open sky. They would lit the fire and prepare their meal. They used overturned canoes covered by tarpaulin for their shelter. One man is always in charge to watch out for the fire and their merchandise, and is also in charge in waking up his companions before dawn. And when winter comes, they would bundle up to sleep close to the fire. Every now and then they also dig holes under the snow to seek for protection, and then they would cover the ground with pine branches. During dangerous times, they would pray and make vows, this they all respect.


The coureur des bois spent twelve to fourteen hours every day just moving ahead, making sure they get down with their merchandise, they only stop when the weather permits, surely not a job for a lazy man. Even if they wanted to, they could not afford a delay to make sure that they will arrive at the meeting point and will be able to return before winter comes.


Coureur de Bois Societies and Territories

Coureur_des_boisIt was in 1645 that the coureurs des bois were founded in New France. Over time, the coureurs des bois played an important role in trading furs. There had been around 500 coureurs des bois in the region of Great Lake.


The native people went to see the French at their trading posts in the St. Lawrence Valley. The market for the trade went big and later on, more French men began to see the Native people so they could trade directly with them. Later, these men were called the coureurs de bois or the wood runners. They used goods as a currency in exchange of the furs of the Native people.


Many young men hoped to prove something by going deep into the woods. They came from different backgrounds. Some were sons of farmers, merchants, and soldiers. These men were generally young at around twenty to thirty five years old. They became traders of fur and were known to be wood runners.


Ottawa River was the best route for the trade. The route was formed by lakes, small rivers, rapids and waterfalls. From the river they take the Abitibi River to reach the Hudson Bay. And then to reach the great lakes, the traders had to turn left at the Mattawa fork, and then take the small river, crossing the Lake Nipissing, and later the Riviere des Francais so they can reach Lake Huron. Michillimakinac was an important trading post and is located at the junction of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, around 1500km from Lachine. Coureurs des bois reached the post within a month of paddling including 36 portages. The posts were occupied by fur trade employees and also military people, tradesmen including missionaries. Also, a few Aborginal people will settle around the trading posts to develop bonds with the people there.


After Michillimakinac, the coureurs des bois began to continue their exploration. They were able to establish many other trading posts which include the one at Detroit. They had traveled along the Mississippi River and it took them to Louisiana. They also travelled over the Rocky Mountains, and were able to reach the Arctic Ocean. After such conquest, a network with central point at grand-portage was established by the Northwest Company. It was a trading post located at the western end of the Lake Superior. After the post, many other trading posts were established, as far as the Pacific Ocean, some of which also became one of the few department stores during the 20th century.


The North American continent rivers led those that took part in the fur trade away from the homes of the colony. The drive of the people hungry for more exploration led to this break through exploration. While they continued the trading, some actually traveled by foot, also others by dog sled or canoe moving from one trade post to another. Some others traveled to Montreal. The workers at the posts includes armories, they worked with iron and coopers.


This is how the coureur de bois had been identified in society and with their territory.



What Are The Courier Des Bois?

Pierre_Le_Royer,_coureur_des_bois,_en_1889Coureurs de bois were known to the English on Hudson Bay as “wood-runners” and to the Anglo-Dutch of Albany as “bush-lopers”. The term coureurs de bois means those who engaged in the fur trading, however the way they do their trading was considered to be outside the mainstream. This meant finding a way around the normal channels by crossing the wilderness just to trade. After then, soon enough they involved in trading without the permission of the French authorities. Coureurs de bois were the labeled unlicensed fur traders in New France.


There were few French colonists that ventured west of the Ottawa River during mid-1600s, until there was a sudden drop in the pricing of beaver. It was the arrival of 3,000 indentured servants including soldiers, as well as peace with the Iroquois that had made a significant change necessary.


In 1680s, 500 coureurs des bois were still attempting to outdistance the Aboriginal middlemen in the Lake Superior despite the clear prohibitions from the church and as well as the colonial authorities. This incident results to fewer Aboriginals sold furs to trade at Montreal and Trois-Rivieres. This also pushed colonial merchants to hire coureurs des bois so they could remain operational in business.


The fur trade became very lucrative during the 17th century. The competition became so fierce, and there were many colonist who were willing to risk the journey west and north through the hostile iroquos territory. This leads the French authorities to realize that these traders had to be controlled so they can maintain the industries profitability.


CoureurLater on in the event, as a way to cut off unregulated trade of independent businessman and unregulated traders, authorities finally introduced licensing to the market so as to control seasonal exodus trading into the hinterland. Coureurs de bois were treated as outlaws during those times, considered to be unlicensed traders. However despite the authorities’ persistence, coureurs de bois continued to do the trading even without the permission of the authorities. As a result, professional voyageurs came into the picture; they were usually associated with a particular interior post. In the 18th century, when New Orleans became an alternative focus of the trade, some renegade traders still persistent and soon became the primary bearers of the designation “coureur des bois”.


The coureur de bois together with the voyagers both played significant roles in the North American fur trade era. Coureur de bois were use by French to help them in their exploration for the new world. They played a vital role in the European exploration, as the fur trade moved further into the continent. They also helped in establishing trades with the Indians.


Generally, coureurs des bois were primarily just fur traders and entrepreneurs who aren’t individually well known. There were however some traders who also became explorers and had gained quite a fame. Like, Etienne Brule who was the first ever European that was able to see the great lakes. He was traveling to New France with a friend Samuel de Champlain. Also a French coureur de bois, Jean Nicolet became famous for exploring the Green Bay which is now known to us as the U.S state of Wisconsin.

Who Were the Coureur de Bois?

The coureur de bois were the traders of fur known as “wood-runners”. These wood runners were relatively young men ranging from twenties to thirties. They were labeled unlicensed traders when the French authorities decided to regulate the traders to keep the fur industry as profitable as they can. Since furs had become a big part of the European fashion during the 16th and 17th century, thousands of men risk traveling across the waters through the forest of North America just to seek for beaver skin and pelts. It was a growing industry and coureur des bois travels long ways into the woods for trades.

The furs that are being trade from Russia and Scandinavia were very expensive for the French Furriers and they happen to not always be the best qualities of fur. This made most merchants realize that they could definitely make the most out of the North American furs, which were very abundant and diversified at that time, due to the harsh climate. The fur trade became a big part of the French colonization efforts. It was the fur trade that allowed the exploration of different territories including the establishments of good trading relationships with the Aboriginal people.


During the end of the 17th century, they had estimated the men of the colony and there were around one-third of these able-bodied men were coureurs de bois. Coureurs de bois had played a vital role in the development of the fur trade including the exploration of different areas under the French regime. The coureur des bois was also the one that forced the exploration of more lands.

These men were dedicated to the fur trade. They had white wives (beautiful American women that were easily available) that are often left in the valley of St. Lawrence for some good parts of the time. Some of the coureurs des bois had planned to have a life and settle down in the pays d’en bas or the known as the lower country. This is when the time came for them to retire and just live off the money they have saved from their trades. They had wanted to have a family and many got married during their early 20s. The wives knew the risk and temptations that their husbands might face. Still, they choose to marry them. It had been said that coureurs des bois keep these women in their thoughts during hard work in the woods.

The women knew they had to be strong and patient during the early years of marriage even when they were alone for several months, sometimes even years. There were few white women that actually dared to take the venture into the woods. When coureur des bois retired as they had planned, they returned to them.

These men were ordinary men who happen to have an extraordinary love for trade and sometimes adventure. They seek freedom in their lives. They wanted new things to explore and this had always brought them joy. And sure they weren’t afraid of the danger brought by their adventure.