During another online chat about the clothing of the Rocky Mountain trapper, my friend Scott made a great comment about the world market of the American West:
Scott: “My only point about settlement clothing, and it’s just my two cents: Be careful not to discount that trappers, traders and Indians in the Rocky Mountain West, by the mid 1820s were connected to a World-wide network of supply. Sitting on the Green River at Horse Creek during rendezvous you could sip Chinese tea, wrapped in an English blanket, wearing Shoshone moccasins decorated with local quills and Italian beads. Your capote could have been made in Montreal, your shirt in Missouri, your rifle in Pennsylvania, your knife in Sheffield, your powder horn originally from a South American cow, your flint from England, your cap from Scotland, your tobacco from Virginia, your whiskey from the Appalachians, your rum from the Caribbean. From 1832 on there were whole steamboats full of settlement supplies including clothing were coming up the Missouri; Freight wagons full to Santa Fe, and caravans of the stuff coming out to the rendezvous earlier than that.
Description of Old Bill Williams (Master Trapper) p.95 Edward Warren: “…the third was tall even as he sat, his long legs crossed under him were covered with shining leather pantaloons, once fringed and of natural length; the fringes now few, attenuated, and far between, shorn of their growth by the wants of the times; the knife had been busy clipping their proportions, and polishing its greasy sides on what remained, until they were lustrous with the fat of many seasons; the shirt partook in character, treatment and texture; an old black beaver covered the head, and through a hole in the crown, obtruded a mass of bright red hair seasoned with white…”
Description of Old Bill Williams (Master Trapper) p.144 Edward Warren: “Aye, do so, lad,” came from the mouth of old Bill Williams, from behind a cloud of smoke, now shaved and looking as uncomfortable as possible in a new capote, trowsers, and hat, in which, with the help of his fame as a trapper he had been immediately rigged on arriving in camp.”
It was probably an annual cycle for even the most experienced trappers during the rendezvous years – If you’d had a decent year, you’d leave the rendezvous in store-bought, maybe looking like a greenhorn at a distance – and arrive at the next year’s rendezvous in greasy buckskin and maybe a few shredded remains of rendezvous store-bought – like the beat-up, black beaver hat with the holey crown in the first Bill Williams quote.”
Back to Gabe:
It is amazing when you think about where all of these items came from. I was reading “The Blanket: an Illustrated History of the Hudson’s Bay Blanket” the other night and came across a mention of Logwood dyes being used for points and stripes. Logwood was harvested on the Yucatan peninsula and shipped to England, used on the blankets and shipped back to North America. I/We don’t say this as license to include items from the wrong eras or areas. But as you study the trade manifests, it will help open your eyes to the wonderful variety of goods that came from all over the world. It truly was a world market.