The Mississippi River – An Important Fur Trade Waterway
The Mississippi River was only one of many waterways important to the fur trade. The general direction of the fur trade was east to west and back again rather than north to south as the Mississippi flows. However, some furs did make their way down the Mississippi to Louisiana. Mostly these were “black market” furs sent down the Mississippi to avoid sharing the profits with the licensed traders in Montreal. Unlicensed traders with an eye to keeping a bit more for themselves relied upon the Mississippi as a “back door” for trading.
In the later years of the fur trade, the American Fur Company had a major depot at St Anthony Falls, which is now Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minnesota. The city of St. Louis became the center for the Rocky Mountain fur trade.
The headwaters of the Mississippi River are found in north central Minnesota. The river begins at a small lake and winds its way slowly through forested areas before entering more open marshy land. It passes through several large lakes before making its way past White Oak Point where our fur trading post was first located. By the time it reaches the area near the fur post, it has already traveled almost 150 miles although the headwaters are only about 60 miles away “as the crow flies”.
At its headwaters, the Mississippi is so small you can easily toss a pebble across or wade across with the water only reaching your knees. It is still a rather wild and small river when it passes White Oak Point. White Oak Point was a landmark from the early days since it was the highest point of land on this section of the river. Its location and elevation probably made it a good choice for a post even in 1798.