When Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made his inauguration speech earlier this month, he took time to recognize the contributions trappers made in the development of the state.
“Innovators and entrepreneurs were the leaders in the two major eras in our history. Fur trappers and traders, people in the iron and copper business, people in the lumber and timber industry. They were the people that led us on the way that showed us the power of Michigan in the natural resources era.”
Gov. Snyder couldn’t be more correct. Fur traders in search of raw pelts were some of the first Europeans in the Great Lakes area. They formed the bedrock of Michigan’s economy as the area was developed by French, British and finally American governments.
“The First People and the early European in the Great Lakes area engaged in a centuries-long relationship centered on the fur trade. Fur traders first came as individuals in the 1650s. They found excellent water routes through the Straits of Mackinac and up the St. Mary’s River. They also found a source of wealth—furs. The beaver pelt became the unit of currency.
“As the business of fur trading grew, companies such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North West Company and the American Fur Company were formed. Most fur traders worked for the big companies. They would use no money, but would trade items such as iron cooking pots, blankets, beads, knives, axes, liquor and rifles for the skins of the beaver, deer, bear, mink and other animals that the Indians had trapped. The Indians came to depend on the traders’ goods. This changed their culture as they used iron pots instead of making clay pots and hunted with rifles instead of bow and arrow.”
It’s something to think about the next time you lay a set. You’re adding to a trapping story that’s been written for centuries.