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
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
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has in a great measure superceded [sic] that of beaver.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.
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].
Source: Ernest T. Seton, Animals: Selected from Life Histories of Northern
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