In the eighteenth century, three great river systems the Missouri, Columbia, and Colorado constituted the principal hunting grounds for the American trapper.  However, beaver was also rumored to be in large numbers on the Rio Grande, Arkansas, Humboldt, Sacramento, and San Joaquin and in hundreds of independent streams. Many of the Desert Rivers of the Southwest became major trapping fields, however the great southwest was not yet discovered, it was wild, and belonged to the Native Americans. This did not stop the “Mountain Man” who braved the Southwest to trap Beaver. 
The Beaver (rodent) was prized for their warmth, luxurious texture, and the longevity of fur as a material. The Beaver fur became the standard medium of exchange, a prime skin weighted a pound and half, bringing a price from four to six dollars a pound.  The North American beaver pelts were primarily used to make beaver hats.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, beaver hats were produced for sale in America, France and in Britain markets as well as being exported. Hats, played a large role in reflecting one’s social identity.  The shape and style of a person’s hat identified one’s profession, wealth, and social rank and position, color, shape, and material all carried specific meaning.  Hats were adorned with various colors, shapes, and expense all notations of one’s social status.
Let’s open the West. Pierre de Laclede Liguest, born in France on November 22, 1729, grew up in a prominent family in the region, holders of much land and many offices.  Pierre was well educated, and came to America in search of endless wealth to be made from the furs of the rich territory along the Mississippi. Pierre was a true visionary and businessman he was aware of how valuable the Beaver pelt was to his own wealth and that of those that trapped, dressed, and sewed those coveted beaver hats. 
Pierre arrived in New Orleans in 1755, and remained in New Orleans for nearly a decade.  What Pierre did during the decade spent in New Orleans is somewhat unknown, but he did form a fur trading business and blazed his way up the Mississippi River into the heart of what is now Illinois. Along the way Pierre notched marks on a few forest trees in what seemed to him to be the most desirable place for a new settlement. Pierre returned to New Orleans proud of his discoveries and by the next spring sent Auguste Chouteau, with a small crew who found the notched trees on the west side of the river, and began constructing the first trading post a large rustic shelter followed by smaller buildings where people could live.  The accommodations were not considered fit for human occupation, but there were few complaints about the lack of facilities.  These were trappers with one goal in mind the mighty Beaver.

By 1764 the settlement had grown in population and Pierre de Laclede Liguest its founder named it in honor of his king, Louis XV of France.  St. Louis was born. Why here, there were furs to be collected, trade with the Indians, and a trading post here was within reach of tribes in the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys. Early mountain men began to trickling in, on their way to the beaver streams of the Rockies, St. Louis would be their last memory of civilization that the lonely trapper carried with him through the western mountains. St. Louis, became known as the Gateway to the West.  Without the Beaver and Pierre de Laclede Liguest vision American history would have turned out been very differently. Beaver trapping contributed to shifting economic and political alliances between Europeans and Native Americans. The effects of the trade came to have profound social, demographical and environmental impacts on the various inhabitants of seventeenth and eighteenth century North America. 


Interpreted by: Angel Mayes
The Mountain Men, Author:  George Laycock.
This Reckless Breed of Men, Author:  Robert Glass Cleland