Date of Award

8-2018

Degree Type

Report

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

John Barton

Second Advisor

Rebecca Andersen

Third Advisor

Robert Parson

Abstract

Much has been written about the North American trade dealing in beaver and otter pelts. The drive to acquire valuable hides drove the early colonial economy and served as one of the industries which pushed Americans to expand their national reach beyond the Rocky Mountains, the British, Scots, and Russians to move southward from Canada and Alaska, and the Spanish to assert their claim to the North. Admittedly, the Spanish were latecomers to the fur trade and often lacked the population and practical experience to pursue trapping as a nationalized industry, however, the portion of North America they laid claim to boasted far greater riches in fine furs than in the mineral resources typically sought after by Spanish. One region often dismissed by historians as being rich in fine furs is Texas, excluded from fur trade studies due to a perceived inhospitable climate for the animals, language barriers, and limited documentation. Nevertheless, evidence from Mexican inspectors and American travelers making their accounts of life in Texas, particularly between 1821 and 1836, show that the fur trade was a vibrant and as much of a dynamic industry in this frontier region as it was throughout any other part of the Southwest.

This paper will provide an opening perspective to the fur trade in Texas as a part of the larger Southwestern history, seating Mexican Texas into the same regional context as the rest of the Southwest to contextualize this part of the fur trade as an international industry and illustrate the nuances that occurred particularly in the Texas trade. The region proves impossible to limit its context to either “wilderness” or “settled;” moreover, the trade that took place was not limited to American Mountain Men, but was seen as a lucrative endeavor by most immigrants. Texas’ fur trade was a combination of the old American Factory System, the realm of the more widely considered “Free Trappers,” a method for African American slaves to acquire the funds necessary to purchase their own freedom and dispossessed Native Americans to thrive in their new home.

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