Miller says there are three classes of trappers – the hired, the free and the trapper “on his own hook”. Does any one know the difference between the later?
A friend responds: ‘Miller is probably describing engagee trappers (hired), free trappers who have gotten ahead in the game enough to own their own outfits and be out of debt to the companies and therefore able to sell to whomever gave the best deal., Maybe the “trapper on his own hook” is Miller’s description of skin trappers. Skin trappers were those who had proven ability, but the company advanced them their outfit and in return expected them to only trade with the company, perhaps at a fixed price. Those are the usual categories you read about. The thing that confuses me is that “own their own hook” would almost describe a free trapper, at least the way I use that expression.’
Here is my reply: I did some research this weekend and found the phrase in The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. It defines the phrase “on one’s own hook” as being responsible or having one’s own money at risk. “The first term, first recorded in 1801, transfers the financial sense of account (or hook) to own’s own interest or risk.”
This jibes with your definition of a free trapper and your surmise. Which intimates that what we think of as a “free trapper” may need some revision. If a trapper “on his own hook” is taking all of the financial risk, could it be that a “free trapper” got a bank roll or grub stake(in whole or in part) from one of the fur companies? I would think that if a trapper got an advance from a fur company, he wouldn’t necessarily be bound to that company for his whole season’s take, just the portion to cover his debt. If you were astute in your financial dealings, your grubstake could get smaller and smaller each year until you were “on your own hook.”
What do you think? Does any one have knowledge of a “free trapper” getting a “stake” from a fur company?