Along with post-colonial herbalism, Indian Root doctoring, electric cure and Thomsonianism there emerged a cultural lifestyle of the trappers and explorers.  This lifestyle was practiced at first due to personal and economic necessities, but rapidly became popular as a particular way of living.  As the east coast of the United States began to urbanize and develop its metropolitan lifestyle, the urban lifestyle became less attractive to some of the first families to settle this fairly young country.   Countering the urban lifestyle of the economically active coastline states and communities was the  idealistic lifestyle of the trapper and explorer.    Because there was such an active fur trade during the colonial years, the philosophy of the American Indian and that of the trapper were able to begin to hybridize.  These changes at first took place with just the trappers and mountainmen out there making a living for large companies like Hudson Bay Fur Trade. But as the relics industry popularized the Native American traditions involving food, arts and even clothing and medicine, this way of living became a social movement capable reviewed and documented not only as an important form of domestic and occupational life, it led the way to a new socio-cultural way of being philosophically and even religiously.  The social meaning tied to Native American culture and the trapper lifestyle soon became on of the most popular alternative healing faiths in the newly established United States, a way of living that would continue to become more and more popular for decades to come.    

This part of my work on trappers’ history reviews the history of medicine as it related to Hudson Bay’s Fur Company, its predecessors, and its successors, including the United States equivalents of Hudson Bay initiated and promoted between 1790 and 1850.  The US history of trapping begins with a review of the Lewis and Clark exploration, followed by a review of the American Fur Company initiated by John Jacob Astor.  Many of the medical herbs in the various materia medica sections are detailed elsewhere throughout my work. [ Please note, there are no real notes provided as to method of use or theoretical reason of effectiveness, if there was any such reasoning cited.  I am saving that sort of complex review for later.] 

For now, these notes are references are made and plants or materials identified as much as possible.  The earlier in trapper history we review the documents, the less likely we are to find much history about the use of local native herbs.  It wouldn’t be until about 1815-1820 that people began to pay attention to and write down their observations about these “discoveries” (and as most of us know, trappers really didn’t keep that many notes while out there in the field.)

One other interesting correlation has to be made here before I get into the trapper medicines.  The Astor expedition was managed by the American Fur Trade Company and funded by a number of New York businesses.  During this period in Far West exploration, the philosophy of climate and disease was beginning to take center stage in the minds of early epidemiologists.  By the mid-trapper period, ca. 1820-1835, this was the philosophy to know if you were going to describe disease patterns as a physician.  A number of people supporting the Astor exploration, as funders and other types of contributors, had their own industries up and running in new York as well.  These dealt with the new woolen industry established in the Hudson valley, based on merlino sheep growers, a breed popularized by some of Astor’s best friends and business acquaintances–the Livingston Family.

There was a lot of local politics of the mid-Hudson valley that came to play various roles in these early explorations.  The first Captain of the ship to make its way to Astoria was captained by Captain Stephen Thorne, a member of a troublesome family in local history in Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York.  The mutiny his shipmates were considering had much to do with his personal behaviors and family history of these behaviors as it did about any stubbornness the crew felt he was most expressive of. 

Another individual from this region, Bartow White, was a physician and major contributor to the Astor expedition.   He too was a merlino sheep raiser, a physician who strongly believed in the value of wool for preventing diseases and epidemics.   The Astor expedition and fur trade in general perhaps had mostly the rich in mind when producing any clothes from the pelts they gathered.  But this was also during a time when warm clothing made from the best natural products was important to improving upon one’s health and lifespan.  This helps to put many of these pelt businesses in perspective socially and medically.  The fur trade business to some was a much a public health driven industry as it was an industry driven purely by money and catering to the bourgeoisie.

Much of the medical knowledge we obtained from this part of trapper history adds further insight for any one trying to better understand the trapper lifestyle and this period in American medical history.  Based upon what I’ve learned over the year during my university teachings of this material, ca. 1993 to 2000, the following are several of the more  important results of this work to date:

  1. The demonstration of an exceptionally unique cross-culturalism in the form of trading between materia medica and philosophies–the Indian Medicine bag of the Native culture not only complemented western medical drug supplies, but also became a product of the same by introducing European items and medicines into the Native American medicine bag and its philosophy. 
  2. Several highly important medicinal plants introduced to European and Euro-american culture
  3. The introduction of Native American arts, crafts and other trades to the Euro-American communities and European bourgeoisie willing to spend plenty for these products of the New World, for example the hat, coat, and basket industries.
  4. The introduction of several highly important wild food plants and food preparation methods for plants, involving mostly berry-producers native to the mountain settings.

There were a number of cultural and philosophical differences that existed between the different groups during this time.   For this reason, there is a tendency for some explorers, merchants, government officials, and trappers with certain European ethnic backgrounds to be highly critical of Native American philosophy and thinking.  This contrasted significantly with other ethnic groups where similar treatments due to prejudice and social outcasting activities made these groups understanding and highly supporting of the Native American lifestyles and traditions, and very critical of the government’s philosophy against the Native American lifestyle.  These cultural clashes influenced the long-term goals that many of these other ethnic groups had once they settled down in the rural environment.  Certain individuals raised in these environments helped define where and when the most critical of these social interactions would begin.  The most prejudicial people against Native American culture were the bourgeoisie and government officials, those who benefitted the most from these trade relationships. 

During the past decades, if not longer, there has been a tremendous amount of writing out there about Native American and trapper tradition.  Much of this writing is useful and informative, a lot of it is subjective and perhaps even overly simple and idealizing of the traditional trapper lifestyle and tradition.  Living as a trapper from some time around 1785/1790 to about 1850 consisted of different periods of development, with different regions and different culturally defined lifestyle traditions all around North America.  The Mexican trapper was very different from the French Canadian trapper, the Pacific Northwest trapper of Oregon, Washington and Vancouver was very different from the Great Northwest trappers of the Great Lakes region.    

To prevent the oversimplification of trapper life and the Native American herbal medicine discoveries that I have seen many students and writers undertake, I point out these possible prejudices at times.  Over the years I have seen that we idolize the trapper life and sometimes make judgements that are just completely inaccurate and philosophically off about the life experience of a trapper.  Unfortunately, the best and most traditional trappers are those that never got published.  Those who published the stories themselves can be extremely questionable.  They idolize a lifestyle with their writings, the purpose of writing and marketing such a book, without any idea really of what that tradition consists of.  In some of the more commonly cited examples of these, which I came to learn about later, I had already seen the cultural prejudices that existed within this writers’ book. ‘Why didn’t the others see this?’ I sometimes wondered. It is because we see what it is that we wanted to see once we begin our review of these important indicators for the time.   

Some of the current anthropological and historical teachings on this topic are still unaware of these cultural sensitivities they are ignoring and playing into in the wrong manner.  There are two fairly popular books cited for trapper medicine, Osborne Russell’s and Townsend’s books.  Both of these “trappers” or ‘adventurers” were overly critical of traditional Indian life, and if a trapper had any chance of living this sort of lifestyle, would have been pretty critical of these trappers as well. 

Russell for example has limited knowledge and if he has knowledge, makes no use of Indian remedies.  If he were lost in the woods, without his laudanum, quinine and mercury to keep him happy, he would not have been able to survive the next epidemic he and his team of assistants suffered due to the next mountain fever.  Had he run out of food stores, he would have been well fed due to abundant stores of grouse and deer and bear, but as for his daily fiber intake so to speak, he knew little more about eating young pine tree buds than he did about how to make a tea out of spruce bark, assuming he could identify spruce trees at such high elevations.   A careful review of Osborn’s writings reveals he knows nothing more than the common sense reader learned by reading several books prior to the expedition.  And that which he did know he could barely recall correctly out in the field.

The same is true for Townsend, who interacted with the Pacific Northwest Indians.  The most revealing story Townsend provides us with expressing his ridicule of Indian culture and prejudice is his story about how he outwitted the medicine man unable to treat a young child.  Townsend’s version of this story tells it as if the medicine man could not understand what he was doing.  Well, at least with regard to western philosophy and culture, this may have been true, but Townsend took this chance to make fun of tradition a little further by saying the medicine man was unable to accomplish what Townsend had accomplished.  From a traditional point of view, Townsend was the equivalent of a medicine man perhaps to the Natives, no better, no worse, and effect as a healer by way of his own skills and practice experience.  Such a mutual respect is not seen on behalf of explorers and writers whom we use as examples of our point of view of this period in American history, a period during which the trapper’s lifestyle evolved and developed into one that did match up fairly well with Native American philosophy and traditions.  The most accurate interpretation of the explorer and trapper must include an accurate interpretation of the underlying socio-cultural meanings of these differences.  Only then can we understand what the halfbreed or metis (French Canadian) lifestyle that later trappers undertook really meant to them personally and their closest comrades whom they met with yearly in the Far West at the annual gatherings.

The Traditional Trapper Point of View of their History

Trapper history and culture had several phases in its develop to comprehend.

The true east coast trapper experience, with urbanites and urban writers idealizing this very exploitable form of a life as a potential business opportunity.  During this time, a third-party approach was taken to writing the trapper lifestyle and books needed to detail these life experiences.  These books would like many other be published well after this lifestyle first became popular, and their attempts to render the story about this way of life fairly misguided and absent of experiential proof.  This is like the book written about how to travel to California across the overland routes, by taking a short cut through the southern Rockies that didn’t really exist.  This is like Randolph Marcy’s book written at the very end of the overland migration years, in which he tries to make his readers feel he knew what he was talking about, describing the methods of healing practiced in Panama of all places, a place for people to travel by ship most of their way to California.If we take the side of the trapper when trying to subdivide this time in American history into smaller sections, we could argue that the trapper era of 1785/90-1850 has the following periods of time to think about when trying to understand the traditional lifestyle:

  • Pre-1790
  • 1790-1802, Pre Lewis and Clark Period
  • 1802-1805, Lewis and Clark military regimental Period
  • 1806-1815, Trapper-Explorer Period
  • 1815-1835, Trapper-Mountainman Period
  • 1835-1850, Idealized, Maturing Trapper-Mountainman Period
  • 1850-1900, and onward, Trappers’ Retrospective Period


Pre-1790.  From 1785 to 1790, the post-war recovery was taking place along the East Coast.  Canada continued some of its fur trade business, but  the newly established US had little control on the growth and redevelopment of its industry during this post-war depression period.  By 1790, some success was seen with the fur trade business in Canada in and around the Great Lakes region, but non in the former thirteen colonies.  In some ways, the old pastoral way of being was still in the minds of the new United States citizens.  Before the war, the farming-agriculture system was the predominant local industrial setting.  Even though there were still ample amounts of forests that could be found in the former colonial settings, the industries and skills that prevailed within the coastal states were more like those of the overharvested lands in Europe.  The best chances for trapping businesses being successful during this time was to locate and lay claim to areas where the Canadian and British fur trade companies were already laying claim to, west of New York up and down the Great Plains region, as far west and the western shorelines.   If the United States was going to begin to play a role in this natural resource its lands bestowed to only its most enthusiastic explorers, the United States was going to have to explore these new regions.  Thus began Thomas Jefferson’s plans for territorial expansion, the Manifest Destiny of the United States.

1790-1802.  In the years just prior to the Lewis and Clark expedition, Americans were becoming more aware of their natural surroundings and resources.  In particular, the common people were becoming increasingly interested in anything to deal with plant medicines.  Regular physicians were slow to respond to this new alternative for medicine being practiced.  Whereas the common person was interested in natural products like plants for medicines, they were focusing on the uses of mineral and soon after this end of a century, physicians learned that specific chemicals could be extracted from plants for use as medicines. 

It was also during the 1790s that American businesses began replacing the European remedies with their own equivalents.  Whereas Dogwood was considered to be a viable substitute for cinchona during the war, now it was exploited as a substitute fever remedy, by regular and alternative doctors alike.   Other American herbs with a little bit of colonial history became popular in regular medicine as well.  The Ipecac for example shipped to the United States by European businesses could now be replaced by one or two American versions of the Ipecac.  The European and Asian laxative plants were substituted for with their own North American laxative and purgative substitutes.   The American ginseng once marketed heavily for China, was now a commodity used to treat local citizens.

Some of the most important herbs during this period in American medical history were heavily exploited.  The Carolina Pink became popular.   The emetic effect of Lobelia was also documented during this time, but took another decade to being to define its particular uses as a medicine (Thomsonianism).  Nearly all of the famous snakeroot drugs of the colonial years found their place in the American version of herbal medicine.   Polygala senega or Seneca Snakeroot was the first to be heavily marketed, followed very closely by Caulophyllum, the Black Snake Root remedy of New York popularized by Cadwallader Colden.  Other Indian derived root drugs that became popular during the 1790s were  the Boneset (Eupatorium perforatum) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium perfoliatum),  American Mayapple or Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum), Oak bark (var. Quercus), Butternut (Juglans cinerea) bark, and a number of Docks (Rumex spp.).  Likewise, some orchids (esp. Cypripedium spp.) and Scullcaps (Scutellaria spp.) native to the US were heavily harvested.  Further west, a new snake root was discovered, Ratibada, which became very much in demand and it too was overharvested as the American herbal medicine market and its customers moved west into Ohio.

The first American botany writing written and published by an American physician was produced during this time.  This opened the door for others to try to develop their own versions of herbal medicine across the well-defined 13, 14, and finally 15 states formed in the United States by around 1800.  Several new alternative forms of herbalism were being developed as well.  More than half of these were simple reconstructs of European methods and beliefs relying upon European herbs for the most part.  Very few were constructs based primarily upon local ethnobotany and herbology, and nearly all of these covered very few plants.

By the very early 1800s, even though an American herbal medicine was established, three things were getting in the way of popularizing the herbal medicine industry.  First, plant medicines were being replaced by mineral remedies, which were found to be more effective in inducing the effects considered to lead to the “cure”, like vomiting, diuresis, diarrhea, etc..  Second, plant toxins or toxic extracts were being identified and isolated.  Opium latex was replaced by the more concentrated and potentially toxic laudanum for example.   Cinchona bark, due to its coarseness and limited shelf-life in humid settings, was used to produce extracts rich in cinchonine and quinine, the alkaloids responsible for its therapeutic effects.   Third, medicine and medical training was going in the direction of required military sponsored training activities.  People who wanted to become physicians during this time were required to provide services in medicine with the military before practicing in the local community.  This requirement to practice was contested by the regional physicians groups and was a major thorn in the side of state and regional governing councils and the physician’s own local groups developed to monitor the skills of their new doctors.  Finally, due to experiences in the field, in particular those associated with the French-Indian War and a variety of European skirmishes preceding this event in Belgian, Dutch and French history taught the military that plant remedies were not always the way to go in the battlefield environment or depot warehouse setting.  Plants, especially powdered woods, roots and barks, and crushed leafy plants, had incredibly short lifespans on the shelves within a quartermaster’s quarters.  Leaves tended to brown.  Roots that were not completely dried tended to go moldy and rot.   This meant that to the government as well as the military, dried simple herbs were no longer the way to go with individual or group provisions.

1802-1806.  When Lewis and Clark and team began their trip to the Northwest, they brought with them some basic military medical provisions.  The only new material really was Benjamin Rush’s herbal formula.  This group had to carry enough medicine with them to last them at least half of their journey to and from the Pacific Coast.  They brought enough with them apparently to suffice, and only on a few occasions made any use of local natural products as medicines.  The one major resource used for medicine was pine pitch or tar, a medicine unmistakable in and around any part of the world.  Lewis and Clark did not make use of any of the local herbs unique to the Midwest and Far West as medicines.  Even though Clark brough with him the three-volume botany set written by Bartram, this could not be used to determine what medicines if any were out there for his men to make use of.  Bartram had produce another writing which in terms of medical value would have been of more service to the team in the Far West.  His two-volume writing on the new American plant remedies would have been a helpful addition to their library.  Fortunately, no one really had desperate need for this information, in particular any information that would have been of use out west.  This book consisted mostly of short descriptions of plants mostly native to just the east and eastern Midwest.

Now there are a number of domestic medical guides in need of brief review here as well with regard to trapper life.  The first thing to note is that a trapper is as likely to carry one of these books as he is to carry a full-blown family sized copy of the bible.  Most domestic books were full of information, of which very little had any direct application to the trapper lifestyle.  They were too large to fit in a pocket, small enough to pack, but of very little use, except perhaps for igniting a fire.  The trapper who was aware of the recipes and teachings of these books however did benefit from this knowledge.  These books are those that tended to have such recipes as charcoal and gunpowder for treating wounds, or the use of a poultice made from onion tops and glauber’s salt to treat and abscess.  So the knowledge was good for a trapper to have, not the book. 

An additional disadvantage of these books for trappers is they are not composed in “the trapper spirit.”  Now, this might seem a little too judgmental of these books, but some of the later versions of the most popular of these domestic medical guides by William Buchan, had some very sharply judgmental statements made about the American way of practicing medicine.  In particular, the American equivalents for European herbs marketed to the United States by Western European businesses were considered inferior to their European counterparts.  The most culturally-bound example of this with a herb is the Bear’s Foot used in midwest medicine, and by trappers.  Buchan’s writings, which refered to it as Bastard’s Bear Foot, claimed this herb to be everything from a weak fake or bootleg, to a poor substitute for the European panacea Mandrake, one that any herbalist could find in the wilderness, but not at all as available as the European import by the same name. 

More than likely, Buchan’s writings were not anything that met up well with trapper philosophy and tradition.  In early 19th century medicine there was this common belief that God placed the plants where you find them so they will be there for you when you need them.  Buchan’s statement simply dishonours this traditional pantheistic (or panentheistic) medical belief definitive of much of the trapper tradition.  Trappers were not atheists or even agnostics perhaps, they were only “shepherds” out there in search for the truth according to easter coast onlookers, and to a fellow trapper, one of the many out there simply hoping to learn the truth about life, in some sort of natural philosophy method of learning, with nature by your side and a source of assistance and as a guide.  

The first form of trapper medicine as we think of it today was practiced near the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  This is when a member of the team left to fend for himself in the wild and begin his life as an independent trapper.  His medical philosophy at the time would have been influenced by the teachings of Bartram and others back east, but he did not have much of any supply of medicines to last him that long, nor could any have been adequately provided by the Lewis and Clark team.   The only medical tradition he would have to share with the team would have to be some of the non-plant remedy activities they engaged in for the cure, such as a hot or cold submersion in water, a sitting by the fire to induce a sweat, a drinking of a tea or removal of pitch from the local pine tree in order to treat a possibly infected wound.   This trapper essentially was beginning his training in outdoor medicine from scratch.  He began this lifestyle with little to no medicine, and so his job became to make sure he maintained a healthy state such that he would never miss those medicines the Lewis and Clark team had.

 1806-1815.  These next ten years in trapper history I call the Trapper Explorer years.  This is the timeframe when anyone else who subsequently became a trapper was also learning the skills of this lifestyle from scratch, with nothing other than military, fort, and previous medical experiences to base the decisions on as to what to do regarding illness.  The trapper not only explored the wilderness and its offerings much like New York explorers did in the Catskills, Appalachia and Adirondacks from about 1680 to 1730, he had to learn some lessons and draw some of his own conclusions about how he was going to view health and disease, life versus possible death.  During this time, the trapper was during his most vulnerable years.  Experiences would define whatever way his beliefs about health and disease would move towards.  Such a trapper might ask: Was health due to my inner makings?  Are diseases the consequences of natural events?  are they developed as some form of divine punishment?  what does nature provide for me to remain alive?  does this have anything to do with god?

The trapper is going to learn some common sense philosophy during this time.  The trapper will redefine the old tradition of phytognomics, in which a plant tells us what it is to be used for by the way it looks, and where it grows.  Trappers will know about the native snake root tradition, and its various redefinitions and newly designated applications to other parts of the body.  The trapper is going to look for fever remedies will the water rests as a marsh or swamp.   The trapper will know that the very cold environmental settings of the mountain tops will also have conifer trees there to provide you with the resin you need to treat your colds and influenza this environmental is most likely to give to you.  The trapper will know that dark clouds, noisy storms, and falling temperatures are a unique event for the  place and time, and that you’d better stay warm, avoid the cold water and dank or hot humidity, try not to sweat too much during the worst of times, and make sure that you stay healthy, or if not, allow yourself time to recover once this miserable event is over.  Like a deer, you stay under your protective tree.  Like a bear, you stay inside or next to your den.  These first ten years were certainly the learning years and defining years of trapper medicine, its philosophy and more.

John Jacob Astor and the American Fur Company, Fort Astoria area, March 1811

1815-1835.  Between 1815 and 1835, trapper period became solidified and defined as its own unique personal, cultural way of being and surviving.  There was enough second-hand knowledge out there by now about the trapper’s life experience to teach others how to behave if they should choose to  live the same lifestyle.  The most important knowledge is once again some of the writings of the Hudson Bay people.  But by now, some of the American experience or trapping had trickled down from the Astor Expedition group as well.  The Astor expedition team was much like the Lewis and Clark in terms of its provisions.  It offered more background about the wilderness experience in the Far West, and even had more to offer about some of the Native American lifestyle and practices.  As other explorers now began heading westward, like David Douglass, trappers began officially forming their manner of living as its own distinct sociocultural group.   Once they began holding annual events, the life of the trapper became solidified, a true way to live and be who and what you want to be.  For this reason, the trapper, although he is still exploring as part of the life experience, is now engaged in what we might today refer to as some sort of semi-traditional trapper-mountainman lifestyle.  The practices of keeping a fire, building a shelter, find your foods and medicines, and staying alive, were all now pretty solidified, not published, but passed around with other members of the group as some form of oral history.  (In the four Stage method of reviewing trapper economy and history, this is Stage 3.)

Fort Vancouver, 1845

1835-1850.  By 1835, people have heard plenty about the trapper lifestyle.  Biographies are published or sensationalized in the press.  Many now want to be a trapper, or live the life of a trapper, even if they remain seated in their rural home town setting.  Between 1835 and 1850, the missions migrated westward, and began to serve as companions to the trapper lifestyle and industry and the nearby fur trade fort settings being established as well out there in the wilderness.  This placement of the missions close to trapper regions makes it more likely for some of the religious teachers to document their experiences with these unique people–many were probably at first considered atheists, only to later be better understood as being some of the best human examples to exist of natural theologians.  The mixed breed social life of a trapper was witnessed more during this time as well, and the impacts this had on both native and euro-american culture were being documented.  The Canadian writings about this time and the Quebec missions provide some examples of this.  How both the missionary leaders and trappers felt they were spiritually in touch with the creator, understood such natural events as the fire fly and such, and applied these concepts to other parts of nature in order to make the best use of this natural force to help people get better, or have a better life experience. 

During this time, the transcendental movement had taken hold, perhaps as a direct consequence of the trappers’ unique relationship with God and Nature.  This makes 1835-1850 the most mature period in trapper history.  It is a time when trapper life was at its peak as a culture, but about to become diminished in value in terms of needs and its required assets for being.  By now, some of the natural resources that defined trapping are diminishing.  The beavers are getting harder to find.  The buffalo is almost gone.  The cost for pelts when you do manage to get them has diminished so much that the money is no longer what you maintain this lifestyle for.  In the meanwhile, people are now moving into the last areas of wilderness.  The Gold Rush in 1849 stakes its claim on its first victim culturally, the trapper profession is no longer surviving in a state of glory in the Far West.

1850-1900.  From 1850 onward, trapper stories are now being published and circulated as past events.  There are a few trappers still out there, just as there a a few of the remaining buffalo.    Wild Bill Hickok has his new pathway to set.  So too does  the trapper.  The books published during this time about trapper life tell us the ideal and sometimes exaggerated claims about this way of living.  There are a number of doctors out there practicing medicine, calling themselves mountainmen, Indian Doctor and even trappers to market themselves.  As the decades pass, interestingly, some of these mountainmen take to unique practices.  The long-haired look-alike for Wild Bill Hickok for example became the character for a very unusual foot doctor residing in Portland, Oregon.   Originally a chiropod, very popular in the downtown street setting, he later became a podiatrist once this medical sect decided to change its name at the turn of the 20th century.


An Industrialist View of this Period

If we try to interpret this way of life from the Eastern States’ and Canada point of view, the place from which most of the money for this lifestyle and the tradeable commodities came, we have the following periods in history to consider:

  • Stage 1.  The period of birth, growth and naivite–books or pamphlet may be published but are for the most part speculative and non-experiential
  • Stage 2.  The period of success and exploitation–industries are established, entrepreneurs take hold of their industry, investors step forward
  • Stage 3.  The period of reduced economics–industries are starting to reduce in productivity and size, customers are less interested in the final products, attempts to revive the market are made.  
  • Stage 4.  The period of idealization and a recall of the past.

There is no clean way to define the time periods for the above four stages.  They are of course dependent on where and when the trapping life took hold, and how and when these more commercial interpretations of the trapper’s career and value in this barter and trade industry fit the events for the time.

If we apply this to the New York setting, Stage 1 took place from approximately 1680 to the Revolutionary War, with Stage 2 being approached around 1740/50, lasting until 1757/9, when changes were brought about due to the events leading up to the French-Indian war.  Stage 3 in this region initiated during the Revolutionary war due to this war, continued up north and out west a little in spite of the war, but reached it ends east of the Great Lakes probably sometime around 1820/30.   Meanwhile, the 1820s and 1830s west of Ohio were lucrative, so long as bear and beavers could be found, which was more an Appalachian and northern US-Canada forest experience.    By the 1840s, the Midwest was wiped out of this economic potential as well, forcing trappers to station themselves deep in the Rockies if not well west of the Rockies by this time.

Stage 4 in social development for the trappers’ history is interesting because it often takes surprisingly little time to erupt, maybe one or two generations at most.  After the Revolutionary war for example (war ended 1783, treaty signed 1789), it took only 5 or so years for prisoners to write and publish their diaries and journals detailing their experiences on board British Prison Ships heading down to the Carribean.  There weren’t really any trappers who had kept notes, letters or diaries that were made available publicly between 1790 and 1820.  Around the Great Lakes, where Stage 2 was about to start, one trapper did keep a fairly extensive and reliable journal of his experiences.  This marks the first such published document on trapper life during the period of economic boom in the business of Midwest US-Canadian trapping (Stage 1 to Stage 2 transition).    Some hints of Stage 4 in the midwest might start to appear around the 1840s or 1850s, in which recounts of past generations of experience are provided in the popular magazines.  But still, there is little idealization of trapping being published at this time.  The 1840s and 1850s represented a time when trapping in the Far West  was now just passing its peak economically.   The mid-1830s were perhaps the most successful time in Rocky Mountain and westward trapping history, about 5 to 10 years after David Douglass made his journey as a botanist into the Far West Oregon setting, trying to document plants and animals, and the local ethnobotany and ethnozoology history.

Sequent Occupancy

A number of times I use the term sequent occupancy to define the cultural and political changes taking place within an economically developing region.  This term received a lot of backlash back in the 1950s and 1960s due to the politically improper insensitive statements sometimes made with this way of interpreting cultures, place and style of living, and poverty.  Those most attached to this negative history of this philosophy appear to be interpreting sequent occupancy as a theory that claims some path has to be taken and is always taken by societies and their parts (the theory of determinism).  Such is not the implication in my manner of applying this way of interpreting cultural history.  I view sequent occupancy as some sort of model that can be used to lay your discoveries upon, and then define what you can from them. 

The place for trappers on this figure is obvious.  The first and second stages are what the trapper lifestyle prefers.  Once too many pioneers settle in an regions become mildly urbanized, it is time for trappers to move out, along with the Native American groups.

Sequent Occupancy Figure, from Asiatic Cholera on the Oregon Trail Thesis, Brian Altonen, 2002

Information Sources

To study the first period, we can review governmental documents and items pertaining to the commercial history of the very early trapping years.  Hudson Bay documents provide a lot of this information for us.  For the earliest years of these explorations, the documents of New France may help to provide some insights, as well as the New York Colonial documents edited by Edmund B. O’Callaghan.

Now this is a fairly extensive study based on a rather lengthy period of review of trapper materials.  The bulk of my reviews are on the original diaries, journals, booklets, and other tales, legends or stories republished.    These multivolume sets include works on the Hudson Bay Company, the Mountain Man, the Explorers and Fur Traders, and the Travellers who kept diaries and published books about their experiences.  A number of these reviews were also of books pertaining to the Canadian part of this story, since Canadian influence had penetrated into territories later claimed by the United States, long before their first settlements.

The material I present elsewhere in the medicine section focus on medicine and the use of specific local plants or engagement in certain ceremonial medical practices.  In general, I am looking for local ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology information, and a little on the history of European products utilized as well during the course of a trapper’s lifestime.  But since this work is focused on the hardest group to study–the trappers–the lack of information on specific uses for plants in the field is not unusual, or unexpected.  There is a little bit of cross-cultural influence that took place in trading posts was uncover, such as the use of a purely European and/or American product by a traditional medicine man for his medicine bag, but for the most part the goal of this work is to find out what herbs were discovered where and when.