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Era Introduction - How Active Was the Fur Trade in North Dakota Before Lewis and Clark?

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Fur Trade in Pembina

The fur trade in North Dakota had been well established by the time of Lewis and Clark, both in Missouri River corridor and in the Red River valley. In the Red River valley, the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies established posts near the Pembina River confluence, in the Pembina Mountains, and in the Turtle Mountains. Some of the noteworthy traders included Charles Jean Baptiste Chaboillez, Peter Grant, and Alexander Henry, Jr. In the journals of Alexander Henry, Jr. mention of the Lewis and Clark expeditions to the Mandan villages is noted.

Missouri River fur traders represented British, French, and Spanish interests. Probably the first to establish active trade relations on the Missouri was one Jacques D’Eglise, a Frenchmen who helped to reintroduce Spanish interests in the area. Spain had contended that it was illegal for any other power to trade on the upper Missouri, part of what the Spanish Crown considered its territory. Others representing the Spanish included James McKay and John Thomas Evans. Evans in particular visited villages in 1796 which would, just eight years later, be among those Lewis and Clark contacted. Among some of noteworthy traders were Rene Jesseaume, who in 1794 established the North West Company trading post between the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. Jesseaume was still in the area when the Corps of Discovery arrived.

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