THE EARLY FRENCH TRADERS IN WHAT IS OKLAHOMA TODAY
When the French laid claim to lands tributary to the Mississippi River they planned to extend their trade over the region thus acquired. The only things which these Indians had to sell or trade and for which the French traders cared to barter where the skins of furbearing animals. These included the beaver, otter, mink, muskrat, and several others, all of which were then more or less common in Oklahoma and for which there was a great demand in Europe. They also bought or traded for the beautifully tanned buffalo robes which were to be had in every Indian village. In exchange for these articles, the French traders gave knives, beads, axes, hatchets, hoes, brightly colored cloths, mirrors, paints and other things of trifling value which appealed to the fancy of the Indians.
The French traders found their way into remote parts of Oklahoma by way of small boats, canoes made of tree trunks, hollowed out by fire, with which they paddled or poled their way up the rivers and larger creeks. The traders who dealt with the Indians of the southern part of Oklahoma came up the Red River, from Louisiana. Those who came to deal with the Indians of the central and northern parts of the state came up the Arkansas River from the settlements near its mouth. These French traders left little or nothing behind them in the way of written records, yet the occasional finding of relics of that fur trading era, which began nearly three hundred years ago, give hints of the brave men who went forth into the great wilderness to trade and gather furs. A rusted iron bullet mould, which was found in digging a trench at Cushing, might be mentioned as reminders of that period. In Kay County, on the bank of the Arkansas River, there is an Indian village site upon which there have been plowed up not only the bone and stone implements and weapons of the Indians in their primitive condition but also the battered iron axes, hatchets and hoes which had been secured from the French traders. At one edge of the village site is a horseshoe shaped trench which apparently marks the position of a stockaded French trading post.
The French traders always strove to make friends with the Indians and to treat them kindly. For this reason they generally found the Indians peaceable and friendly. In 1763, at the close of the French and Indian War, the French possessions west of the Mississippi River, then known as the Province of Louisiana, were transfered to Spain and, for forty years, were included as a part of the Spanish dominions in North America. In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte compelled the kingdom of Spain to return the Province of Louisiana to France and, shortly afterward, he sold this vast region to the United States. As all of Oklahoma, except the three counties lying west of the 100th meridian, was included in this purchase, most of it became a part of the domain of the United States of America at that time. Although, for forty years, the rulers of the Province of Louisiana had been Spaniards, the people were French, and French traders still continued to paddle their canoes up the rivers of Oklahoma to trade with the Indians.
It was just before the close of this period, in 1802, that the first permanent white settlement was made in Oklahoma. This was a trading post which was established by the Chouteau Brothers (see Biographies of Men Prominent in Oklahoma History), of St. Louis, who came to trade with the Osage Indians, who then ranged over the valleys of the Grand and Verdigris rivers. It was located in the east bank of the Grand River, in Mayes County, upon the site of the present town of Salina.
Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.