Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fur Trade on the Frontier

published on: 2/28/2003

Contributing Teacher(s): Anne Sewell

Subject Area: Social Studies/Geography

Grade Range: Lower Elementary (K-3), Upper Elementary (4-5)

Materials Needed: Maps, overhead projector and markers, small pieces of fur or fake fur, trading goods, signs for trading post, books, story frame, video on barter from the "School House Rock" collection. (See lesson for details.)


  • The students will identify the main fur trading routes on a map.
  • The students will develop an historical background on the fur trade through the use of pictures and stories.
  • The students will trade goods at a mock trading post.
  • Process Standards:

    • Goal 1.9 identify, analyze and compare the institutions, traditions and art forms of past and present societies

    Content Standards:

    • Social Studies 4. Economic concepts (including productivity and the market system) and principles (including the ...
    • Social Studies 5. The major elements of geographical study and analysis (such as location, place, movement,...
    • Social Studies 7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

      Time Allowance: Varies

      Description: Students will experience a mock trading post, write a story frame, and develop understanding of how the trade routes evolved.

      Classroom Component:
      From the mid-1700's to the mid-1800's the fur trade flourished along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in the areas that are now the states of Missouri and Illinois. This Lesson will present students with the opportunity to be involved in the operation of a mock trading post and write about their experience. The students will also develop an understanding of how the trade routes evolved through the use of simple maps, stories and pictures.

      Materials Needed:

      • Large map of eastern U.S. and Canada from St. Lawrence Seaway to New Orleans
      • Overhead projector and markers
      • Transparency map of stated area and handouts for the students (Balesi, Charles. Time of the French in the Heart of North America, 1673-1818. Alliance Francaise. 1992. pg with map of The Illinois Country and New France.)
      • Small pieces of fur or fake fur
      • Trading goods (cloth, kettles, thread, blankets, beads, jewelry, etc.)
      • Signs for trading post (poster board and markers)
      • Books: The North American Beaver Trade, Cobblestone Publishing, Inc., Peterborough, 1982. and Hall, Donald. Ox cart Man, Viking Press, 1979.
      • Story frame
      • Video on barter from the "School House Rock" collection
      Teaching the Lesson:

      Opening the Lesson
      Begin with a brainstorming activity and have the students respond to the following questions:
        1) How do we get the things we need?

        2) How did the people of long ago get the things they needed, before there were supermarkets and other stores?

        3) Have you ever traded something of your own? What was it and what did you get in return?

      Developing the Lesson
      1. Read and discuss the book The Oxcart Man.

      2. Show and discuss the video on bartering from the "School House Rock" collection.

      3. On a large map, locate major cities from the St. Lawrence, Great Lakes, Mississippi and Missouri river areas. Ask: Why do you think these cities are located where they are? (whole group activity)

      4. Using overhead and individual student maps, chart rivers and major cities along the fur trade route.

      Concluding the Lesson
      Set up a mock trading post with goods for the students to 'buy'. Give each student some small pieces of fur and let them shop at the trading post. Have the prices of items marked on a chart (ex: 1 kettle for 1 beaver pelt). Let students take turns acting as buyer or seller. Have students fill in a story frame about their experience at the trading post (see handouts). It may be necessary to do an example story frame with the whole class before letting them do it individually.

      Assessing Student Learning:
      The students will be assessed on the following behaviors and outcomes:
      1. On task behavior and participation during brainstorming activities and discussions.

      2. Accuracy and neatness of maps.

      3. Participation in trading post activity and completion of story frame.

      Extending the Lesson:
      • Have a play to show all the different people that would be involved in the operation of a trading post (company owners, shippers, voyageurs, Native Americans, mountain men and their wives, traders, clerks, farmers and their families, beavers and other animals that were hunted for their furs).

      • Field trip to the local farmers market or other historical sites of the period.

      • Read about and draw animals that were hunted for their furs or for trading.

      • Solve story problems about fur trading (ex: How many furs does it take to buy a kettle? see attachment).


      In the 18th century in Missouri, pelts of animals were the principal circulating medium. At first, beaver skins had an actual rate of exchange, but after the beaver trade declinde as the supply diminished in the lower Missouri basin, deerskins were the universally accepted currency. However, the lieutenant governor decreed that peltry currency must be of good quality.

      Listed below is the rate of exchange for beaver pelts.

      1 gun = 16 beaver pelts
      1 kettle = 1 beaver pelt
      1 tomahawk = 3 beaver pelts
      1 blanket = 6 beaver pelts

      Listed below is an equivalency chart for beaver pelts.

      2 cub beaver pelts = 1 beaver pelt
      1 otter pelt = 2 beaver pelts
      3 fox pelts = 1 beaver pelt
      1 bear pelt = 1 beaver pelt
      2 wild cat pelts = 1 beaver pelt
      7 doe hides = 1 beaver pelt
      6 muskrat pelts = 1 beaver pelt
      1 black fox pelt = 2 beaver pelts


      My name is ___________________________________.   I went to the trading post

      _________________________ .  I traded ___________________  furs and in
                 when                                                         number

      return I got ________________  and ________________. The next time I go
                                 thing                                  thing

      to the fur trading post I want to get ____________________  and

      _________________.  It is fun to trade goods at the fur trading post!

      For additional information contact :
      Anne Sewell
      Mary Harmon Weeks Elem.
      Kansas City 33
      (816) 418-2550

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