By: Bears Butt

It dawned on me that perhaps some of you readers might not know what a “Free Trapper” is.  To explain that to you I must explain about the “Company Trappers” of the past.

Demand for beaver pelts was nearing its peak in the early 1800’s by men who liked to wear top hats made from these pelts.  It made the men look “stately” and showed others they “had money”.  Of course we all know that a lot of men wearing such a hat were pretending the above.  At any rate the demand was there, both in the United States and in Europe.  Many beaver pelts were made into hats.

In order to gather up the most pelts  possible during the time that beaver hides were at their prime, meant that a bunch of trappers had to be in the forests and mountains trapping in February, March and April.  This is the time of year the streams and lakes were thawing out and the beaver were busy scurrying about, exercising from a long winter under the ice.

So, there were companies formed like the Hudson Bay Company, who would hire men to trap for them and in exchange would give the trapper a gun (usually a shotgun), powder, ball, shot etc.  A few traps, usually 6.  A horse, some food supplies and other items that should sustain the man during the months in the mountains.  The hired men would travel in groups and would trap streams and lakes along a designated water way.

When they were done with their trapping, skinning and stretching.  They would ride back to a designated meeting place and give up their furs to the company man in charge.  The company would pay for these furs with a “token” amount of money, as compared to the amount a man not hired by the company would get for the same pelt.

Because the company had “outfitted” the trapper with all the essentials to do his trapping, was the justification to pay a “token” amount for the furs.

Travel and trapping  in the mountains by the company men was safer, because of their numbers.  A single trapper was constantly at risk of  “going under” from the knife or arrow or even from slipping and breaking a leg or being attacked by a grizzly bear.  Enough history already.

You should have the idea of what a “Free Trapper” is by now.  A “Free Trapper” supplies all of the necessary items for his time in the mountains.  He provides his own safety.  He provides his own travel route and can change his direction at the pull on a reign.  He can begin his trapping season whenever he wants and end it when he feels the pelts won’t bring him a good price.  He cashes in his pelts at a place he feels will give him the best price and accepts or denies the purchase of his pelts at his discretion.  He owes no allegiance to anyone but himself.  He is, after all, a “Free Trapper”.

We have all read stories about Free Trappers who group up on occasion, but if they disagree with the others they can go their own way at any time.  Of course they were not stupid men, by any means, and while trapping in areas where it was known there were hostile folks abounding, it was always wisest to stay in small groups.  And of course at the rendezvous, when they met to trade their pelts for “supplies” and cash, survivors of small groups could inform the others that “so and so” had “gone under” and tell the story of how their demise happened.  Not so, if a trapper traveled alone all the time.

I’m not a very learned man, but that is my take on the Free Trapper deal.

Bears Butt

Written on June 26th, 2011 , Uncategorized

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Just some of my old stories, new stories, and in general what is going on in my life.