People of the Fur Trade

People of the Fur Trade

from Native Trappers to Chief Factors

by Irene Ternier Gordon

Amazing Stories Series

Published by Heritage House, 2011, Victoria, B.C.

The following blurb about People of the Fur Trade comes from the Heritage House catalogue:

The years from the fall of New France in 1763 to the amalgamation of the Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company in 1821 were marked by fierce competition in the fur trade. Traders from the warring companies pushed west, undertaking incredible voyages in their search for new sources of furs. Irene Gordon explores the eventful lives of those who worked in the trade, including Alexander Henry the Elder, a trader and merchant who left a vivid written account of his experiences; Net-no-kwa, a woman of the Ottawa tribe who was so highly regarded by the traders at Michilimackinac that they saluted her with gunfire every time she arrived there; and the bold and flamboyant Scotsman Colin Robertson, who used “glittering pomposity” to impress those he dealt with. From chief factors to servants, independent traders, Native trappers and Metis, the people of the fur trade left an indelible imprint on North American history.


On June 2, the Ojibwa announced that they were going to celebrate the king’s birthday on June 4 by playing a game of lacrosse (or baggataway, as it is known to the Ojibwa) against the neighbouring Sacs for a high wager. Everyone at Fort Michilimackinac was invited to the game. Even the fort’s commander accepted the invitation, and he “only smiled” at Alexander Henry’s suspicions of the Ojibwa’s motives. Henry did not go to the game and spent the afternoon writing letters.

As lacrosse is attended with much violence and noise, nothing would be less liable to excite alarm than to have the ball tossed over the fort wall, with all the players following after it. Suddenly, Henry heard loud noises “of general confusion.” Rushing to his window, he saw Ojibwa rushing into the fort and “furiously cutting down and scalping every Englishman they found.”

Henry snuck out of his house and over to his Canadian next-door neighbours, where the servant girl hid him in the attic. Finally, he heard shouts of, “All is finished.” At the same instant, some Ojibwa entered the house where he was hiding and demanded to know if there were any Englishmen there. The neighbour replied that they might look for themselves if they wished. The servant had locked the door into the attic after hiding Henry, so he had a few moments to hide in a heap of birchbark maple-sugar containers before the door opened. Four blood-smeared men armed with tomahawks entered and looked around. They did not immediately see Henry in the dark attic, but would they search more carefully?

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