Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fur Trade Project (1990)

In 1990, the Department of Anthropology of the University of North Dakota, undertook a survey and testing project known as The Fur Trade of Northeastern North Dakota: The 1990 Fur Trade Sites Project. Some of the sites surveyed were in and around Pembina.

This project, more properly entitled "Survey and Testing of Fur Trade Sites in Northeastern North Dakota (Ecozone #16), 1738-1861," was financed in part with Federal funds from the National Park Service under grant agreement #38-90-50177-2 with UND and administered by the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
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The fur trade was the commercial medium through which much of the early Euroamerican intrusion into North America was made. Through the fur trade Euroamericans and Native Americans had their first contact. These contacts, in turn, led to the opening of Indian lands to Euroamericans and associated developments. This is also true for the history of North Dakota. It was a fur trader, La Verendrye (aka Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye), and his men that were the first Euroamericans to set foot in 1738 on the lands later designated part of the state of North Dakota. Others followed in the latter part of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. The documents these fur traders left behind form the earliest known written records pertaining to the region. Through these records we can learn much about the early commerce of the region that tied it to world markets, about the indigenous populations living in the area at the time, and the environment of the region before major changes caused by overhunting, agriculture, and urban development were made. This history ties many of us to the early people and interests of the region.

In terms of North Dakota history, the fur trade of northeastern North Dakota provided the context for some of the earliest Euroamerican intrusions into what was later to become the state of North Dakota. The trade along the lower Red River, as well as that along the Missouri River, was the first organized Euroamerican commerce within the bounds of the modern state. Fortunately, a fair number of written documents pertaining to the fur trade of northeastern North Dakota have been located and preserved for study. These documents provide a plethora of data on various historical subjects. They do not, however, provide a detailed accounting of all the activities related to the fur trade. For this we must seek other sources of data, such as archaeological sites. No doubt various remains were left behind by fur traders when they abandoned the region and under favorable conditions of traders when they abandoned the region and under favorable conditions of preservation should be present within the northeastern North Dakota. These remains would be of immense use in learning more about the lives and activities of fur traders and the Indians with whom they had contact. Until the present time no comprehensive study of the fur trade in northeastern North Dakota had been undertaken, nor any systematic attempt to correlate written information on the furt trade with archaeological remains. In an attempt to overcome these deficiencies the 1990 Fur Trade Site Project was initiated...

From Introduction of the project report
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A main goal of the project was to identify the locations of the various fur trade operations (of which there were many) in the Pembina area. There is limited documentation of the locations, and there has been much development of the area disturbing the original sites (not to mention many floods...)

Auger probes were used. The few items found were excavated to be studied further offsite, i.e., clay (kaolin) pipe fragments, bone fragments, ceramic doll parts, cut nails, glass and pottery sherds, brass buttons, ax heads, padlocks, brass bells, gun flints, arrow points, marbles, silverware, beads, and thimbles. So far, I have not found out what information was gleaned from these items, if any, at a later date, but hope to track that information down and share it here.

The project reports concludes saying it was "...designed as a preliminary study of the historical and archaeological data pertaining to the fur trade in northeastern North Dakota between 1738 and 1861." They go on to say that their reconnaissance survey findings greatly encouraged them to recommend further intensive archaeological testing. They feel that despite flooding and modern construction disturbances, using modern analytical techniques such as soil and chemical analysis, to name but two, could still reveal substantial information.

"It is hoped that the fur trade site leads, and insight provided by this project, will be used to guide future studies of this interesting and important topic in North Dakota history."