The range and scope of the Museum of the Fur Trade’s collection are simply dazzling. Boasting over 6,000 primary pieces that have been gathered one piece at a time, the museum is home to the most comprehensive collection of historical artifacts covering the fur trade period in the world. Quality replications of some of the items on exhibit, such as Native American jewelry and antique fabrics, are available at the museum gift shop.
Photography of exhibits is allowed, so be sure to pack a camera for your visit.
Textiles were the largest and single most important class of goods traded to American Indians, and the Museum of the Fur Trade collection is the most extensive in existence. Included in the compilation is the oldest point blanket, which was made in 1775. Popular trade items during the fur trade period, point blankets were made out of wool and had one or more lines, called “points” and used for sizing, woven into one edge.
A special part of the museum’s collection is our compilation of firearms that were made exclusively for sale to American Indians. Over 800 North West guns that were manufactured between 1640 and 1911 in England, Belgium and the United States are on display. It is the largest and most complete collection of these rare firearms in existence.
Among the incredible fur trade artifacts in the museum collection are unopened cans of gun powder dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, lead shots and balls that were used to hunt beavers and other animals, and specialized weapons provided to warriors, such as dag blades, bell axes, pipe tomahawks and buffalo knives.
European manufacturers provided a seemingly endless variety of colorful paints, pigments and dyes that enabled American Indian people to develop an amazing array of crafts. Some may regard the pieces as entirely native, yet the silver jewelry of the southwest, the Navajo rugs, the Eskimo stone sculptures and the Plains Indian beaded moccasins all owe their existence to goods introduced through the fur trade.
Despite the fact that American Indians sold thousands of tons of meat to the fur traders to feed their hundreds of employees and voyageurs, most tribes developed sophisticated tastes for imported foods such as rice, bread and dried fruits. Many of the cans and other containers that held the soup, tea and tobacco that were consumed by the tribes are still intact and available to view at the Museum of the Fur Trade.
American Indian people exchanged their excess furs for knives, kettles, axes and all sorts of useful tools to perform a variety of functions, including blacksmithing. Traders also provided fire steels and burning glasses to the Indian population so that fires could be more readily started.