trading with the blackfeet
montana territory, 1860
2008, oil, 46"h x 76"w
The fur trade exploded in the United States with the epic opening of the Western lands by the two intrepid captains of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Beaver skin was like gold at the time and a lively yet hazardous trading business ensued. It grew even deeper into the Indian lands along river routes where strategically placed forts plied the trade to peoples eager to better their hard lives through new weapons tools, and finery. For the fur companies, who employed traders bold enough to venture west, the trade for beaver and fine furs proved immensely lucrative until beaver was no longer the primary prey. Beaver was replaced in the 1840s by the buffalo robe trade that flourished beyond to the bounds of rivers and mountains, into the entire Western landscape. This trade thrived until the eventual demise of the buffalo herds in the late 1870s. The era of the great buffalo herds remains a mythic period in western history.
The narrative of this painting speaks about an Indian trader on friendly terms with a band chief of the Blackfoot tribe. This trader is married to the chief's sister so he and his band are well known to this merchant. Other members of the trader's entourage have Indian wives, so there is a familiar atmosphere of friendship and mutual trust in this scene. Trading events usually took place at heavily guarded forts or trading posts, but because of these relationships the atmosphere here is more intimate. As the September sun warms the morning, trading begins upon this bright, river bottom stage near the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It will be a fine and profitable day for all.