Fort Laramie and the Fur Trade

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In the early 1800s the wealth of the wilderness was measured in the furs of wild animals, and the beaver was the most important. During that period a new breed of western explorer appeared upon the scene, the mountain man. Essentially a trapper of beaver, he was a staunch individualist and romantic adventurer who roamed the mountains and explored the rivers.

The river below, once abundant with beaver was named for one such trapper-explorer, a French-Canadian, Jacques La Ramee, (Laramie). His arrow-pierced body was found in the spring of 1821 near the mouth of the river that bears his name.

In the 1830s silk replaced beaver in fashionable hat styles. This combined with the increasing scarcity of beaver, signaled the end of the trapping era and the mountain’s rendezvous, (where trappers and traders met to exchange furs for goods). A flourishing trade in buffalo hides and robes soon took its place and the need for permanent trading posts to store the bulky hides became apparent. Thousands of buffalo hides were shipped east from Fort Laramie in the 1840’s.

In 1834, during the decline of the beaver trade, Robert Campbell and William Sublette established the first Fort Laramie, christened Fort William, the small fort constructed of cottonwood logs remained in existence for eight years. Fort William was then replaced by Fort John (1841). Like its predecessor it was commonly known as Fort Laramie.

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