Research compiled by: James S., Makenzy N., Ari M.
At trading posts on the Missouri River, French and American traders exchanged beads for things that could help them settle and goods to send back to their commanders in St. Louis. When the hunters gathered enough furs, especially from beavers, they gave them to their wives so that they could prepare the pelt. Using the brains of the animal to treat the pelt made the pelts smoother and longer lasting. After smothering the pelts with brains, the wives would get a stack of fifty pelts and canoe them upriver to take them to the nearest trading post.
The Native Americans wanted beads and metal goods while the Americans and French wanted animal pelts for clothing and hats. The most traded item was beaver fur and beads for Native American moccasins and decorations. Some people decided to trade alcohol to the Native Americans even though they knew that the Native Americans didn’t handle alcohol very well. Some fur traders got married to Native American women. Intermarraige helped these early settlers become friends and form partnerships with various tribes. Sometimes to become friends, American and French fur traders would trade tobacco and smoke "peace pipes" with local chiefs to form partnerships and get better deals while trading.
At Cabanne’s post, near present day Dodge Park, Omaha Indians traded for essential items. Metal goods, beads, weapons, and alcohol were traded in return for beaver and buffalo fur. Because so many native people had become addicted to alcohol, Cabanne restricted its sale starting in the 1830s. Joshua Pilcher, an alcohol smuggler and land owner, tried to smuggle a shipment of alcohol to be sold to Native Americans. Cabanne stopped him by shooting his cannon across the bow of his boat and taking the whole shipment. Because of his interference, Cabanne was fired by John Jacob Astor and the trading post was closed in 1840.
Cabanne’s Post was important because it helped both whites and Omaha native people to trade and get needed items. It is a symbol of friendship because they helped each other be successful. Built without a protective pallisade, the trappers who lived and worked at Cabanne’s Post felt safe interacting with the native people.
Though most native and white interactions were peaceful at this time, in 1824 a misunderstanding between the Arikara and some whites near Souix City led to the deaths of several fur trappers. In response Fort Atkinson soldiers traveled upriver three hundred miles and fought the Arikara under the command of Colonel Henry Leavenworth. The Lakota (Sioux) joined with the American forces and won the battle. Fort Atkinson soldiers never engaged in combat with Native Americans after that.
The above photo shows the Council Bluffs and the chimneys of Ft. Atkinson as Karl Bodmer saw them in 1833. Courtesy of Ft. Atkinson State Historical Park
Big Elk brought whites and the Omaha people together through his peace treaties with the American government. Through his speeches he became a symbol of peace for his people. Big Elk died in what is today Bellevue near his grandson, Logan Fontanelle's settlment. He received a Christian burial. Today his grave site memorializes his accomplishments and reminds us that he was a figure who brought whites and Native Americans together.
(Karl Bodmer paintings courtesy of Joslyn Art Museum. Special thanks
to Dennis Milhelich, Gavin Flint, Fort Atkinson State Historical Park,
Nebraska History Museum)
Thanks to Karl Bodmer
I thought we were going to interview Native Americans, but in my group we interviewed a historian and we went on tons of field trips. I learned that most Native Americans made peace with the whites by trading and through peace treaties. My favorite experience was going to Lincoln and running up the steps of the capitol building.