Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana         "The Trade"
"The Trade"

by Pat Baker

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The Corps of Discovery

more commonly known as:

the Lewis and Clark Expedition



















                             Lewis & Clark camp site on September 7, 1805             Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Our sheep graze one of the Montana meadows used as a camp site by Lewis and Clark on the night of September 7, 1805.



Targee Merino rams: Fed, Bill, Aram, and Zip

Some of the guys.

Cal     Click to enlarge




 During the 1500's trade began in North America between coastal Indian tribes and the Europeans. There soon began a brisk, mutually beneficial exchange of Indian furs for manufactured goods such as blankets, tools, cooking utensils, cloth and guns. It wasn't long before standards of value were established.

 On blankets, this value became permanently attached in the form of "point" stripes–little lines on the blanket indicating its value in beaver pelts: one line per pelt. 

 The early blankets were all hand loomed and dimensions varied even within the established sizes. 

 The three point size was the most popular size and they were loomed double LONG, because it saved time in warping the loom, making them DOUBLE 3 point trade blankets, each having a 6 pelt value.  For 3 pelts you could split the blanket and receive half of it which is known as a SINGLE three point blanket.

 As trade routes and traders became more competitive and the animal populations were depleted, Europeans began to move their trading posts and rendezvous sites deeper into the interior of North America.  Major fur trading companies became bitter rivals for acquiring Indian furs resulting in wars and disagreements between and among both traders and tribes which kept the dynamics of the fur trade in constant flux.

 The push by governments for trade expansion lead to exploration and, in 1793 Alexander Mackenzie made the first trans-continental trip across Canada to the Pacific Ocean. In 1802 when Thomas Jefferson read Mackenzie's account, he began to plan the Lewis and Clark Expedition as he did not want Great Britain to lay claim to the Columbia River Basin.
 With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the stage was set for the Corps of Discovery to explore, map, and report on the new lands and hopefully find the fabled " Northwest Passage".  

Jefferson, Lewis, and Clark all realized they would need Indian help along the way so they took many trade items with them to exchange for assistance and to promote good will. Among these items were double 3 point trade blankets in three colors–natural, cochineal red, and indigo blue–all with 4 wide black stripes and six points. 

 By 1806 the Lewis and Clark Expedition was successfully completed. Much of that success was due to skill, preparedness, and good fortune. However, without the help from many Nations of people along the way they undoubtedly would have simply disappeared as they bartered for food, shelter, guidance, and horses that played a vital role in the success of the endeavor. 

 Unfortunately, the ensuing years spelled disaster for these same Nations of people. Both alcohol and disease entered the trading scheme. Indian fur routes were disrupted and Europeans lay claim to tribal lands.  When Europeans quit wearing beaver hats, the demand for beaver pelts diminished as had the animals bearing the fur.

 Trade blankets, though, have never lost their popularity. As technology improved and weaving was done on increasingly sophisticated looms, patterns of great color and complexity emerged.  Today there are woolen mills weaving entire pictures and beautiful graphic art into blankets.

 The simple, two colored, double three point trade blankets have not been made for some time. In making our North American Trade Blankets, we recognize the Lewis and Clark Expedition's bicentennial commemoration, and remember the many Nations of people who helped make that Expedition a success.
  In purchasing one of our North American Trade Blankets, you can own a limited edition, numbered replica of the early fur trade days. Let your imagination take you over the old trails. You can relive this historical time wrapped in  "WoolSoft" comfort not experienced by those in the Corps of Discovery 200 years ago.

"Quality wool products without the itch."™

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