The picturesque figure of the trapper follows close behind the Indian in the unfolding of the panorama of the West. There is the explorer, but the trapper himself preceded the explorers—witness Lewis's and Clark's meetings with trappers on their journey. The trapper's hard-earned knowledge of the vast empire lying beyond the Missouri was utilized by later comers, or in a large part died with him, leaving occasional records in the documents of fur companies, or reports of military expeditions, or here and there in the name of a pass, a stream, a mountain, or a fort. His adventurous warfare upon the wild things of the woods and streams was the expression of a primitive instinct old as the history of mankind. The development of the motives which led the first pioneer trappers afield from the days of the first Eastern settlements, the industrial organizations which followed, the commanding commercial results which were evolved from the trafficking of Radisson and Groseillers in the North, the rise of the great Hudson's Bay Company, and the American enterprise which led, among other results, to the foundation of the Astor fortunes, would form no inconsiderable part of a history of North America. The present volume aims simply to show the type-character of the Western trapper, and to sketch in a series of pictures the checkered life of this adventurer of the wilderness.
The trapper of the early West was a composite figure. From the Northeast came a splendid succession of French explorers like La Vérendrye, with coureurs des bois, and a multitude of daring trappers and traders pushing west and south. From the south the Spaniard, illustrated in figures like Garces and others, held out hands which rarely grasped the waiting commerce. From the north and northeast there was the steady advance of the sturdy Scotch and English, typified in the deeds of the Henrys, Thompson, MacKenzie, and the leaders of the organized fur trade, explorers, traders, captains of industry, carrying the flags of the Hudson's Bay and North-West Fur companies across Northern America to the Pacific. On the far Northwestern coast the Russian appeared as fur trader in the middle of the eighteenth century, and the close of the century saw the merchants of Boston claiming their share of the fur traffic of that coast. The American trapper becomes a conspicuous figure in the early years of the nineteenth century. The emporium of his traffic was St. Louis, and the period of its greatest importance and prosperity began soon after the Louisiana Purchase and continued for forty years. The complete history of the American fur trade of the far West has been written by Captain H. M. Chittenden in volumes which will be included among the classics of early Western history. Although his history is a publication designed for limited circulation, no student or specialist in this field can fail to appreciate the value of his faithful and comprehensive work.
In The Story of the Trapper there is presented for the general reader a vivid picture of an adventurous figure, which is painted with a singleness of purpose and a distinctness impossible of realization in the large and detailed histories of the American fur trade and the Hudson's Bay and North-West companies, or the various special relations and journals and narratives. The author's wilderness lore and her knowledge of the life, added to her acquaintance with its literature, have borne fruit in a personification of the Western and Northern trappers who live in her pages. It is the man whom we follow not merely in the evolution of the Western fur traffic, but also in the course of his strange life in the wilds, his adventures, and the contest of his craft against the cunning of his quarry. It is a most picturesque figure which is sketched in these pages with the etcher's art that selects essentials while boldly disregarding details. This figure as it is outlined here will be new and strange to the majority of readers, and the relish of its piquant flavour will make its own appeal. A strange chapter in history is outlined for those who would gain an insight into the factors which had to do with the building of the West. Woodcraft, exemplified in the calling of its most skilful devotees, is painted in pictures which breathe the very atmosphere of that life of stream and forest which has not lost its appeal even in these days of urban centralization....