Trapping Beaver: An Introduction



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Trapping Beaver: An Introduction

When Europeans came to North America, beaver lived in almost every region

that had streams and creeks. The newcomers trapped the beaver for its pelt.

Its soft under-fur was highly valued for making men's hats. As Europeans and

then Americans moved westward, they trapped so much that beaver nearly

disappeared.

From 1800 to about 1840, beaver fur was in great demand for making felt hats.

These were in fashion in Europe and in the eastern United States. The pelts of

beaver brought an average of $4 a pound at trading posts or at the annual

rendezvous. One pelt usually weighed about a pound and a half. The saying "six

dollar a plew, prime," referred to a whole beaver pelt("plew") in "prime" (or the

best) condition.

The beaver coat was thickest in winter. That was the best time to trap beaver.

But since trapping in deep snow during winter time was nearly impossible, the

trappers got most of their pelts during the fall and spring hunts.

Hat Fashions and the Price of Pelts

Beaver has so depreciated [declined] in value within the last few years [the

1840s], that trapping has been almost abandoned; the price paid for the skin of

this valuable animal having fallen from six and eight dollars per pound to one

dollar. Which hardly pays the expenses of traps, animals, and equipment for

the hunt. . . . The cause of the great decrease in value of beaver-fur is the

substitute which has been found for it in the skins of the fur-seal and nutria—

the improved preparation of other skins of little value, such as the hare and

rabbit—and, more than all, in the use of silk in the manufacture of hats, which

has in a great measure superceded [sic] that of beaver. The curse of the

trapper is leveled against all the new-fashioned materials of Paris hats.

Source: George Frederick Ruxton, Wild Life in the Rocky Mountains: True Tale

of Rough Adventure in the Days of the Mexican War, ed. Horace Kephart. (New

York: Macmillan, 1924), p. 146.



Decline of the Beaver Pelt Trade

Beaver fur was at one time extensively used in the manufacture of hats but has

become so rare and valuable that it is now chiefly used for muffs, collars, and

trimming. The early prosperity of New York and Canada was based on the

beaver…which lured on the early explorers and brought here original colonists;

and it was the beaver pelt that, bartered for the manufactured products of the

old world, first made life tolerable for…[people] in the new [world].

2

Source: Ernest T. Seton, Animals: Selected from Life Histories of Northern



Animals (New York: Doubleday, 1926), pp. 101-102.

Making Money from Beaver Pelts

A good hunter can take an average of 120 [beaver] skins in a year…worth in

Boston about $1,000. [The trappers] can be hired for about $400 payable in

goods at an average of $600 per profit.

Source: Nathaniel Wyeth, quoted in David Wishart, The Fur Trade of the



America West, 1807-1840 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), 197198.


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