Montana Historical Society

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Chapter 5 - Beaver, Bison, and Black Robes: Montana's Fur Trade, 1800-1860


Learning From Historical Documents


Broadside Announcing the Auction of Buffalo Robes, 1877. Benning & Barsalou Auctioneers records, 1876-1877. Small Collection 2366 . Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives.


Context for the Broadside:

Fur trading was the beginning of a new economy in the West. In 1840 the American Fur Company shipped 67,000 bison robes. Thirty years later, hide hunters were killing an average of 1.5 million bison per year. A keen marksman could shoot several hundred bison and good skinners could skin 50 animals a day. Only the robes and tongues were valuable to the bison-hide trade.


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About Primary Sources:

Letters, diary entries, census records, newspapers, and photographs are all examples of "primary sources," material created at a particular moment in the past that has survived into the present. Primary sources can provide clues to the past. They are our windows into an earlier time. The Montana Historical Society contains thousands of primary sources. The above item from the Society's collection relates directly to this chapter.


Free Trappers
Detail, Free Trappers, 1911, C. M. Russell, Montana Historical Society Museum