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Unit 4


A Changing Land


Lesson 2
The Rise and Fall of the Fur Trade



Fort Aux Cedres built
Lewis and Clark revisit South Dakota
United States and Great Britain are at war
Arikaras attack fur traders
Fort Pierre built
Eight tribes meet with United States at Fort Laramie
Yanktons sign treaty with United States
Dakota Territory formed
Red Cloud’s War begins
Fort Laramie Treaty signed
Custer leads expedition to Black Hills
Black Hills opened to settlement

     The fur trade along the Missouri River changed. Beaver and other small animal pelts were less important. Traders wanted buffalo hides and robes. They also wanted buffalo tongues. People on the East Coast ate them as delicacies. Thousands of pounds of buffalo tongue sailed down the Missouri River each year. The Tetons, or Lakotas, made good profits from this trade. Their camps were close to the buffalo. They were also close to the trading posts. They grew rich with trade goods—rifles, food, and tools.

     Yet the fur trade also brought conflict. Indian nations fought over it. American traders did too. The two groups also fought each other. Everyone wanted to control this booming business. The United States government built a military post. It was near Council Bluffs, Iowa. Soldiers there kept an eye on the fur trade.

     Trouble broke out four years later. It was 1823. The place was near the mouth of the Grand River. The Arikaras fired on a group of American traders. Soldiers from Fort Atkinson marched north. They were going to punish the Arikaras. Fur traders and Teton warriors joined with the army. The Arikaras slipped away in the night. Their village was burned.

     Soon the United States sent an official commission to the area. These men met with the Indian tribes. They negotiated with the leaders. They asked them to sign treaties of goodwill. Leaders from the Arikara, Cheyenne, Yankton, and Yanktonnais tribes signed. Some Teton leaders did too. These were the first treaties between the United States and these Indian nations.

Winter Count
Winter Count


     The fur trade kept growing. Such legendary fur traders as Jedediah Smith and Hugh Glass crisscrossed the prairie. They met to trade with Indians and other trappers each year. Such a meeting was called a rendezvous. One was held on the James River near what is now Redfield. Here the traders and Indians traded furs and news. They also danced, sang, and feasted together.

Fort Pierre
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     A new company came into the Missouri River country. It was the American Fur Company. Pierre Chouteau, Jr., built a fort for the company. It was Fort Pierre at the mouth of the Bad River. The year was 1832. Fort Pierre became the most important trading post in the region. It was the first permanent American settlement in the state. It was more than a little cluster of cabins. Fort Pierre had its own farm and a blacksmith shop.


     Pierre Chouteau, Jr., had sailed up the Missouri River in a steamboat. It was a new kind of boat driven by steam power. It was called the Yellowstone. This steamboat was loaded with trading supplies. It sailed all the way from Saint Louis to central South Dakota. The Yellowstone was the first steamboat on the Missouri River. A steamboat could go faster than keelboats or bullboats. It could go longer distances. It could carry more cargo.

Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Steamboat Ticket
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Steamboats also brought visitors to South Dakota. Artists and writers steamed up the river. They came to see the Indian way of life. They wanted to learn about the Great Plains. Artists George Catlin and Karl Bodmer came to paint the Tetons and the Mandans. John James Audubon came to paint the birds and the animals. Missionaries came as well. Father Pierre De Smet worked among the Yanktons. Later this Jesuit priest worked with the Tetons. Presbyterian minister Stephen Riggs came to look at the country.


     Sadly, visitors and traders brought more than trade goods. They brought more than curiosity or religious ideas. They did not know it, but they also brought smallpox. This disease was deadly. It spread quickly through the Arikara villages. Many, many people died. The Arikaras were hit hard. So few people were left that they joined the Mandans in North Dakota.

     Soon the buffalo herds began to dwindle. There were no more furs to trade.

booming (adj.), growing fast

commission (n.), a group of people sent to do a job

dwindle (v.), to get smaller

legendary (adj.), being famous or a part of an important old story

missionaries (n.), people who teach their religion to others