Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri immerses the reader in the life of a merchant in the Missouri River from the 1830s to the early 1870s.
An autobiographical chronicle which sheds a light into a period and profession of history often ignored in the modern day, Forty Years a Fur Trader is an illuminating and lively chronicle of Charles Larpenteur's career as a fur seller. A man of tough resolve and hardy constitution, Larpenteur condenses his many years traversing the Missouri wilderness and trading posts into a series of episodic highlights, chronologically arranged.
The Missouri River and Rocky Mountains were, at the time, dangerous but potentially lucrative proposition for a trader to undertake. Rough terrain, numerous wild animals, and the presence of Native American tribes made life as a fur trader unpredictable and fraught with danger. Yet a good set of high quality pelts would fetch high sums, demand being high especially for animals whose fur had scarcely before seen market.
Through Larpenteur's authentic recollections, obtained from notes and diary entries penned through his life, we gain an impression of the characters populating the Western frontier. The fur companies, formed from bands of hunters seeking to work together and split the proceeds, for decades saw a lively and competitive existence. Encounters with the Native Americans, whose chieftains generally commanded respect, are also mentioned.
An enterprising soul, Larpenteur would take risks in pursuit of sales. One encounter, wherein he presents an Native American tribe with 'fire-water' (alcoholic spirit). In the euphoric atmosphere which followed, the tribe purchases his stock of 150 robes. A sudden rush of cold weather shortly afterwards sees the entire group, and Larpenteur himself, thankful for being well-equipped.