The beaver were the first natural resource to be claimed by European expansion. Without beaver, the fur traders would never have come to the Columbia district. Without fur traders, Frenchtown would never have happened.
Between 1818 and 1848, the United States and Britain claimed joint custody of Oregon Country. In 1821 the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) of London bought out the North West Company of Montreal and was granted a monopoly to the North American British fur trade. The new HBC decided to effectively strip-mine the Snake River watershed of beaver to discourage the Americans from claiming the territory. HBC officials called for sustainable trapping of beaver in the north, and aggressive trapping in areas most likely to fall claim to the United States.
Americans practiced similarly competitive trapping in the region–Ogden’s HBC journals tell of changing paths to avoid rivers already emptied by American camps. In 1823-1824 the Snake Country Expedition yielded 4,500 beaver; ten years later, the annual yield for the same area was only 665.
“If properly managed no question exists that [the Snake Country] would yield handsome profits as we have convincing proof that the country is a rich preserve of Beaver and which for political reasons we should endeavor to destroy as fast as possible.”George Simpson, Fur Trade and Empire; George Simpson’s Journal, ed. Frederick Merk (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931), 46.
“…as we cannot expect to have a more Southern boundary than the Columbia in any Treaty with the Americans (altho’ we are entitled to it from occupancy) it will be very desirable that the hunters should get as much out of the Snake Country as possible for the next few years.” HBC Governor and Committee, London, to John D. Cameron, July 22, 1824.
“From the Country we explored this year we obtained only 100 Beaver not from the want of Streams but there were none and the privations we endured were great, however we have the satisfaction to know that the South side of the South branch of the Columbia [the Snake river] has been examined and now ascertained to be destitute of Beaver.”Ogden to Governor Simpson, Burnt River 1 July 1826
Want to attend a meeting ?
Hey, did you know that the bylaws of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation require that we publically advertise our meeting dates? Me neither!
However, this seems like a great idea. Interested parties are invited to join us at the Fort Walla Walla conference room on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 1:30 pm.