David Thompson: Vol II ~ What to do with a Crazy Horse : Articles & Resources
by Donna Ward, Northwoods Press
“No, Mister Thompson! Not that crazy one!” the voyageur cried, as he eyed the fidgety and untamed horse.
David Thompson gazed up at the shining mountains before him, their snow-capped peaks a fortress, formidable but familiar. He looked back at the two loaded canoes resting in the shallows of the Saskatchewan River, just yards from the churning stream that rushed down to the trading posts of the east. His men were sweating as they heaved out the ninety pound packs of trade supplies, forty bundles in all. They had to get these goods over the mountains to Kootenae House, and the Indians only had so many horses to offer.
“Give ‘em a couple of guns, and an assortment of goods.” Thompson responded. "And we want all the horses these Indians will sell, including that brute. He’ll come to good use, if not as a pack horse, as a meal if we need it.”
Thompson eyed his wife, Charlotte, and they both recalled the time their young son had been astride a horse that had lost its footing along a mountain precipice. Many a harrowing experience they had shared in their travels about the Rocky Mountains, but this had been the most frightening. The Almighty intervened, and their son had been saved, but later on the trader shot that horse and they had continued with only the memory of near disaster. Could this wild mount cause the same kind of grief, or worse?
A shout aroused Thompson's senses, as a weary voyageur slipped under the weight of a heavy keg and fell into the water. Cursing and spluttering he pulled himself up and dragged the barrel to shore.
"Ah" wished Thompson, "If only the cask had split open and dumped its noxious contents into the water." He had argued with the Partners about bringing this hated alcohol to trade with the Indians. Two kegs they had forced upon him! He had too often seen the sad sight of drunkenness and its many evils amongst the Indians, and had determined never to take alcohol into the mountains. What was he to do?
By morning, the canoes had been safely stowed away on logs, firmly covered with pine bows to protect them from the weight of heavy winter snow. The horses were being loaded.
“Finan” David shouted, as an idea dawned. The voyageur turned to look Thompson's way. “Bring round that vicious pony. I have a task for him.”
It took three men and a lot of trouble, but they finally had his load lashed down, a keg of alcohol hanging on either side. By noon, the kegs were empty and in pieces as the horse rubbed his load against the rocks to get rid of it. Ha! Ha! Thompson was honest with his superiors, but also true to his conscience! He wrote to the partners of the calamity of their kegs of alcohol, and that the same disaster would come to any more which they forced upon him in the future.
In the six years that David Thompson was in charge of the fur trade to the west of the mountains, no further attempt was made to send liquor as a trade good!
“I find that I have travelled a great distance while others are deciding whether to start their journey today or tomorrow."
Manuel Lisa, trader and explorer who worked the Missouri country.
As the North American David Thompson Bicentennials (2007-2010) initiative takes off, this is a good time for you and your family to discover the spirit of the North American fur trade. Test your fur trader vocabulary.
If you were a Nor’wester,
- Milk normally refers toa) maple sap; b) cow's milk; c) mother's milk; d) rum
- An orignal is a(n) a)misspelling of original; b) wapiti; c) red deer; d) moose
Find the answers at and more: Northwest Journal
I want to learn about the fur trade. Where do I begin? Here
Fur Trade Trivia:
- A dried beaver pelt was folded and pressed into a ninety pound pack carried by the voyageurs. On average it took sixty pelts to make a pack.
- From its beginning in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company traded guns to the Indians on a large scale. By 1742, beaver pelts were valued at: ten pelts for a pistol; twenty pelts for a trade gun.
- Where did the expression “Mad as a hatter” come from (related name: The Hatter in Alice in Wonderland)? Beaver fur was prized for making fashionable felt hats. Mercury was used to make fibers stick together, especially when rabbit fur was substituted for expensive beaver fur. The hatters could not avoid inhaling the mercury fumes which damaged their nervous system causing shaking, distorted vision and confused speech. Mad hatter syndrome is still a description used of the symptoms of mercury poisoning.
- The Convention of 1818 established the 49th parallel, from the Great Lakes to the Continental Divide, as the border between Canada and the United States, resulting in expulsion of the Canadian traders below the 49th. David Thompson was appalled, but helped to survey the boundary.
©2006 Donna Ward