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Gerstell on Traps

As trapping season approaches and I think historic traps more and more; I ordered a copy of The Steel Trap in North America by Richard Gerstell on Inter Library Loan. I have done this before, but there is so much in this book and it covers the total history through North America which is immense and much of it is beyond my area of interest. I decided, for my own records and to make the book more digestible for what I do, to take some very simple notes.

I went through the book and took notes on items related to the Great Lakes Fur Trade from the beginning of the British period until about 1815 (arbitrary date on my part but mainly based on what I reenact). I focused on the NorthWest Company (NWCo). and when applicable others that were dealing with WI in that period. I do mention the AFC and HBC, but mainly as it relates to WI or the NWCo. Anything beyond this, I did not take notes on as it pertains minimally or not at all to my historic interests.

The following is a copy of my notes, in chronological order. This is not a complete representation of Gerstell’s book or a complete set of notes for traps in this period (others are out there that Gerstell did not include in his work). For complete citation of these noted references, consult the aforementioned book by Gerstell. Also, there is no real interpretation here of this data. This is simply my notes on the book, of information that applies to the Great Lakes fur trade here in WI and elsewhere by the companies trading here. Hopefully it is a good chunk of information; made more digestible.

Notes on Richard Gerstell, The Steel Trap in North America (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books). 1985.
Starting in 1751, there are records of the HBC sending traps to N. America. Form 1751-1783, 48 traps were furnished in 16 separate lots. Relatively small amount. Sizes are large and larger. Some are mentioned as double spring.
1778-85 Maurice Blondeau trading from Montreal to Jean Baptiste Cadotte Sr. at Mackinac a total of 129 piège à castor (beaver traps). Sent in 7 different lots, smallest being of 12 traps… largest of 25 traps, all ranging from 12-18 livres. Cadotte’s mark ups ranged from 45-90% and Indian customers were paying 18-38 livres/ea.
From 1783 -5 numerous mentions of HBC men setting and mending traps (much for fox) these are listed out in Gerstell
1784 First mention of steel traps used by NWCo. John Thomas (HBC) at Moose Fort states:
“I have had frequent applications from the Uplanders [Indians] for a small kind of
portable steel trap which they get from the Canadians [NWCo].”
From Temiskaming Distict account book:
____1789 The above [and Indaina Named Nabichklioura] borrowed a Beaver Trap to be
returned in the spring.
Sept. 25, 1790 [credited to Animyan]1 Beaver Trap paid part 7 [shillings?]
Oct. 25, 1790 [credited to Omizhowa] To a Beaver Trap 26 June last 3 otters
1793 letter from John Mannel (HBC) at Kenogamisse Lake mentions traps of the type the Northwesters were furnishing the Indians. He sent out a sample trap and added “…while the Canadians have one the Indians will not take ours; they say they are too heavy and the springs continually breaking.”
1795-96 company account book indicates traps are widespread but limited in use. in 1795, 7 traders furnished a total of 25 traps, most charged out at 10s and some of those furnished out by John Sayre.
1797 Grand Portage Inventory [my note: before new shipments arrived] lists 9 Beaver Traps (damaged) at 2L 5s
1800-1 Archibald McLeod (NWCo) at Ft. Alexandria (upper Assiniboine River) reported 15 steel traps to Riviere à la Biche
1800-1 an unidentified ledger (NWCo, “Aniwishcowa Dr.”)
Sept. 11, 1800 Lent him a Beaver Trap
Jan 16, 1801 Lent him a New Beaver Trap returned
Other than the fact on refers to 2 traps, 20 other similar entries appear from Set. 1800 to May 1802 No charges are shown for lending the traps but one Indian was billed 4s for mending 2 beaver traps.
May 5, 1801 Alexander Henry the younger mentions that his men raised their traps and put them in order for the spring hunt. (Voyageurs Trapping)
1802 Peter Fidler (HBC) recorded that attackers of a NWCo post on the Saskatchewan River (south branch) took more than 50 traps.
1803-4 Michel Curot On WI Yellow River records use of steel traps. Loaned to Indians
1804 François V. Malhoit (NWCo) tok 12 traps to Montreal River on S. Shore of Lake Superior
Timiskaming inventory book shows
June 10, 1805 2 Bear Traps, 63 Beaver Traps, 9 Beaver Traps half price damaged
June 12, 1806 2 Bear Traps, 15 Beaver Traps
June –, 1807 61 Beaver Traps, 2 Bear Traps
June –, 1808 61 Beaver Traps, 2 Bear Traps
June 20, 1809 72 Beaver Traps 10/, 2 Bear Traps 25/
June 11, 1811 34 Beaver Traps 12/
_____, 1814 32 steel traps
Same book shows shipments from Ft. Tamiskaming to Matawagamingue
Sept___, 1807 30 Beaver Traps
June 22, 1808 12 Beaver Traps
August 13, 1810 1 ½ dozen steel traps
June 28, 1811 13 steel traps
____, 1813 1case 22 steel traps
This is in addition to 12 traps McKay reported to same facility in 1805. To Grand Lac outpost…
July 2, 1809 1 bundle 12 Beaver Traps
June 27, 1811 6 steel traps
July 2, 1813 3 steel traps
1805-6 Zeb Pike mentions that NWCo in the Fond du Lac trade a beaver trap for 4 beaver skins or $8
1806 Imported by Jacques Porlier at Green Bay (WI)156 Beaver traps (19L 19s) and 6 trap springs (1L 4s). headed enroute for the Fond du Lac of MN NWCo.
1807-8 James D. Doty, stationed in NW Wisconsin stated beaver trap was worth 4 beaver skins at $2 a piece.
1807 Michilimackinac Co. (Mich. Co. had a 1806 agreement with NWCo to carry on business) purchase 2 bales and 1 basket of traps from an unknown source.
1808 imported by the Michilimackinac Co. from London via Montréal:
a case:
4 beaver traps 7/6 1pound 10shillings
2 rat traps 4/2 8s 4p
10 ditto 5/0 2L 10s
a basket :
25 beaver traps 8/4 10L 8s 4p
A ditto:
25 Rat Traps 4/2 5L 4s 2p 25 Rat Traps 5/ 6L 5p
The next month another shipment included 2 more baskets totaling 50 beaver traps at 8s 4p
1808-9 Michilimackinac Co. trading season shows 12 bales of traps (approximately 140 traps) included in shipments. of these 7 bales went to the St. Peters River (MN) and the Mississippi river. 2 go to WI and on to Lake Superior (final 2 to Missouri River) other traders (21 of them) received no traps.
1810 Alexander Henry (the younger) mentions that one of his men (Voyageur) set 4 traps and caught 2 Beaver one night (early Oct.)
Jan. 1814 A. Henry noted that 3 American freemen came into Ft. George (Astoria) and although they had only 6 traps, they had caught more than 80 beaver. Men said the beaver were numerous but difficult to catch due to fluctuating water levels and Indians stealing their traps
Although past the period of focus, there are many mentions in Gerstell of AFC trading traps in WI and even trap making starting in Prairie du Chien by 1834 or so.

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