There are two 5 Compass museums in the western United States devoted to the fur trade, the 1st fortune-creating business in North America with a huge St. Louis connection and generator of America’s 1st multi-millionaire. One museum is in Pinedale, Wyoming, the Museum of the Mountain Man. The other, the Museum of the Fur Trade, is in Chadron, Nebraska. The Wyoming museum is excellent but the Nebraska one is far more comprehensive and, well, exhausting. It’s the kind of attraction, like Walt Disney World, that one leaves feeling frustrated that he or she didn’t see enough.
The Museum of the Mountain Man’s strength is its focus on the first men who explored The West. I say men because Ruth isn’t here right now and I’ve never heard of a Mountain Woman who was engaged in the fur trade. These rough guys are the early explorers who are celebrated in the Academy Award winning movie The Revenant. The Museum of the Fur Trade is far more comprehensive because it attempts to tell the entire tale of the development of the fur trade in North America. I was not surprised to learn that a historian/author named Jim Hanson is using its research library to craft a 6 volume encyclopedia of the fur trade. He’s half way through this project. Hanson has also written a book called When Skins Were Money that has been adapted into a film. We saw it before exploring The Museum of the Fur Trade.
Another difference between these 2 museums is that modern Mountain Man sits atop a hill overlooking Pinedale while Fur Trade is 3 miles east of Chadron. It’s outside the town because it’s on the site of the Bordeaux Trading Post. This trading house was built in 1837 by a Missourian named James Bordeaux, who ran it for the Sioux successfully while marrying 2 Sioux sisters. He finally moved on to Fort Laramie.
He was not, however, America’s first multi-millionaire. The fur trade king was John Jacob Astor who established the American Fur Company and looks pretty self-satisfied in his portrait below. It does not surprise me that Astoria, Oregon, exists but it does surprise me that neither man has been the subject of a big movie. The Revenant, Part 2?
The Museum of the Fur Trade’s logo is a clever fox in a circle. It was invented as an inspector’s mark on guns made exclusively for the Native American trade. Indian customers knew to look for the fox on the lock and the barrel to know that the gun had quality. This museum contains room after room of weapons, costumes, beads, feathers, etc. I liked the masks, especially the Cherokee Rattlesnake one. Ruth doted on the historic textiles and blankets, and she often came to get me to see her favorites.
If you think that Canada, Russia, the Arctic, etc. have been left out of the story of the fur trade, head for Chadron and be astounded.