From Genealogy Gems: News from the Fort Wayne Library
No. 62, April 30, 2009
Papers of the St. Louis Fur Trade
by Steve Myers
The Chouteau family occupied the central place in the booming fur trade that spurred development of St. Louis into the “Gateway to the West.” Fortunately, researchers interested in this time period have ready access to a vast archive of family and company papers collectively microfilmed as the “Papers of the St. Louis Fur Trade.” The collection is divided into three parts which are fully introduced and described in two printed guides of the same title (call number 977.802 Sa227pa). Reel indexes for each part provide microfilm frame numbers for the beginning of each record series to facilitate use.
Part one contains “The Chouteau Collection” with documents dating as early as 1752, although the bulk of the items are from the pre-Civil War nineteenth century. Accounts, bills, contracts, correspondence, and legal papers are all arranged in one chronological series. Part two contains the Chouteau family’s “Fur Company Ledgers and Account Books, 1802-1871” which record payments for goods and services with the names of the person or company paid. Part three contains the “Robert Campbell Family Collection” including indexed letter books and ledgers of another fur trading company.
For the researcher tracing individual family members who were active on the frontier or had connections with St. Louis and the fur trade the financial ledgers may prove especially valuable. One entry records Thomas Murphy’s payment of $27 on April 8, 1825 for “Green Blankets sold him 29 November.” Genealogical connections are even possible occasionally. On the same page, the account of Jabez Warner was “paid by his brother Jude.”
While most of the accounts center on affairs in St. Louis and environs, some detail activities in the far flung corners of the Chouteau business empire, such as Michilimackinac in Michigan Territory. A journal entry there on August 19, 1836 records the names of several men, including “Joseph Chaput, boatman & striker,” for “Cash advanced them in Canada and Goods sold them on the way from Montreal to Mackinaw.” Besides their usefulness in tracing individuals, the seemingly routine accounts can be interesting reading, providing the prices of everyday necessities, along with the mention of now unusual items such as “buffalo robes.” Reel 23 of Part Two helps provide access to the account books through its 1,398 page index of personal and place names, and includes dozens of references under the names of specific Native American tribes.
This electronic newsletter is published by the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center, and is intended to enlighten readers about genealogical research methods as well as inform them about the vast resources of the Allen County Public Library. We welcome the wide distribution of this newsletter and encourage readers to forward it to their friends and societies. All precautions have been made to avoid errors. However, the publisher does not assume any liability to any party for any loss or damage caused by errors or omissions, no matter the cause.
To subscribe to “Genealogy Gems,” simply use your browser to go to the website: www.GenealogyCenter.Info. Scroll down toward the bottom of the first screen where it says, "Enter Your Email Address to Subscribe to "Genealogy Gems." Enter your email address in the yellow box and click on "Subscribe." You will be notified with a confirmation email.
Steve Myers & Curt Witcher, co-editors