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Chickasaw Nation Fur Trade Rendezvous at Ft. Washita April 1 - 5

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Fur Trading and Fashion

Fashion designers in Paris and London played a huge part in expanding the U.S. to create what America is today. Affluenza, as it does today, demanded the latest fashions. Wealthy Europeans and Americans could not live without fashionable accessories made from beaver and otter skins. This demand also created serious environmental concerns and caused a lot of friction between different factions living and trapping animals in the habitats of beavers and otters.

Above all, the fur trade was a hard-ball business operated by major-league businessmen. Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and the northern Missouri and Mississippi Rivers had more animals per square mile with thicker, more valuable pelts than the southwest. At the beginning of the fur trade machine, it depended on Indians to supply the pelts. Then, Americans and Europeans began trapping the animals. Company men who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, American Fur Company, or Rocky Mountain Fur Company were dependent on the company and the set price the company paid per hide or pelt. Eventually, these regions became over-populated with company men who fought relentlessly with each other over trapping territories.

The Southwest offered a way for fur trappers and traders to make their money selling hides and pelts to the highest bidders through trading posts and rendezvouses. Many of the company men left for the more lucrative life of a “free trapper” in the milder winter climates of the Southwest. General William Ashley of the Missouri militia designed what was known as the brigade-rendezvous system in 1824 in order to bypass the trading posts. At that time, it was a rough journey back to the East Coast from the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains.

William founded the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1822, and in July 1822, the U.S. passed a law forbidding the sale of alcohol to Indians. The trading posts traded alcohol to the Indians for hides and to get them drunk and cheat them out of the true value of the hides. William took some of his trappers on an expedition in 1824 that covered today’s Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Along their way, they spread the word to the trappers that the Rocky Mountain Fur Company would bring a large variety of trade goods and buy the hides at Henry’s Fork on the Green River in Wyoming.

In, 1825, William organized his first successful rendezvous. This solved a few problems. The trade goods reached their destination by overland routes which brought some of the business of operating the fur trade out of the waterways. The trappers could buy all of their supplies in one place and stay out trapping for longer periods of time. The rendezvouses became once-a-year festivals that lasted several weeks.

Fur Trading in Texoma

The fur trade brought fierce competition to the Red River, and it was conducted through trading posts. Even though Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1810, Spain ruled much of Texas until 1821 while the Spanish War for Independence raged on. Spain feared that the Americans wanted to take their land and profit from it. So, fur traders set up trading posts on the opposite side of the Red River. They wanted the business of the Indians, but Americans also ventured into Spanish Texas and risked discovery for the profits.

An early trading post owner, John Fowler, set up a trading post on the north side of the Red River from 1818 to 1820. He traded with the Caddo and Comanche for deer and buffalo hides. He was able to obtain beaver and otter pelts from the removed Delaware and Cherokee Indians. John’s records show that he bought 455 beaver pelts, and 1,183 bobcat, fox, otter, and raccoon hides. Because trappers snuck in and out of Spanish Texas and avoided tariffs, there is not much information on how many animals they trapped. The trading posts near the eastern Texas border provided the most accurate logs.

Trapping in Texas and Oklahoma on both sides of the Red River proved extremely dangerous during the second decade of the 1800s. The Americans competed with the Indians for furs and war parties massacred trappers. Nathaniel Fillbrook and a few trappers were killed on the Blue River, 30 miles north of the Red River, by an Osage war party. In 1822, The Robert McKnight Expedition to Santa Fe wound up in a Spanish prison for ten years. The Choctaws looted and pillaged John Bougies post on the Verdigris River east of Broken Bow because he traded with the Osages.

Nevertheless, traders continued to operate on the Red River. Holland Coffee and his partner, Silas Colville built several trading posts on the Red River with Holland’s last post at Preston Bend. By the 1850s, the beaver population had been harvested into the endangerment of the species. The silk hat was all the rage and beaver pelts fell out of favor with fashion designers. The trading posts turned into general mercantile stores and roads used by fur traders gave birth to settlements and are still in use today. The westward expansion of America was fueled by the fur trade.

Ft. Washita Fur Trade Rendezvous April 1-5

This is a free event. The staff expects 7,000 guests during the five-day celebration if the weather is good. Attractions and activities are geared for school children on April 1 - 3. The rendezvous began in the 1980s. Reenactors come from all over the country to participate and teach the history of this era in America. There are 3 areas on Ft. Washita grounds for the event. Walking is a big part of attendance. The modern food vendors set up in one area. The reenactor’s campground where they camp in period style and costumes and have demonstrations is in a separate area. The sutlers set up with period items for sale in another.

The demonstrations include butter-making, soap-making, blacksmithing, chuckwagon cooking, blacksmithing, and many more. Dulcimers and banjos provide the music. The Virginia Reel and Chickasaw Stomp Dancing are popular dances at the rendezvous. Tribal and other games are great activities for the children.

Check out two websites for information:

Step back in time at the 29th Annual Fur Trade Rendezvous at Fort Washita on April 1-5, 2020 at Fort Washita in Durant, Oklahoma. Since 1981, Fur Trade Rendezvous at Fort Washita features a Living History Festival of America’s early explorers, trappers and traders. For a full week, you can experience the commerce of the wild frontier as reenactors take visitors back to the time of fur trappers and traders at the Fur Trade Era Rendezvous, held at the Fort Washita Historic Site near Durant. Learn about the lifestyle of the time period between 1820 and 1850 through high-spirited competitions, educational stations and much more.


This is a long video, but you can skip through it to get an idea of what the event has to offer. 


1. Badger, J. Ryan, "Texas in the Southwestern Fur Trade, 1718-1840." (2018). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports. 1277.



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