Our History

Northwest Nebraska

The Community of Chadron and all of Northwest Nebraska welcomes you to the unforgettably unique celebration of Fur Trade Days. Chadron, located in the northwest corner of Nebraska, was named for the French fur trader Louis Baptiste Chartran. This event offers a weekend filled with history, rendezvous, entertainment, down-home hospitality, great food, and lots of fun! There is something for everyone and a chance to see neighbors and make new friends.

A historic celebration of buckskinners, traders, and native americans.

Early Fur Trade Days

By Charles E. Hanson. Jr. and Veronica Sue Walters


We hope that this brief story of the fur trade in western Nebraska will add another dimension to the early history of Nebraska. Teachers and museum people alike have frequently expressed a desire for factual material about the period between the first white contact and the ultimate agricultural development in this area. The fur trade history of eastern Nebraska has heretofore been much better documented in literature and more completely monumented on the ground.

Financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities has now made it possible to complete the research work initiated some years ago by the Museum of the Fur Trade and to summarize the results for the widest possible utilization by the people of this area.

The research program was concerned with fur trade activities in the entire “Panhandle” of Nebraska. However the final results indicated that the major trading operations, the trading posts themselves and the established routes of travel were, from certain geographical considerations, confined almost entirely to the northwestern corner of the state. The title of this story was therefore selected to be as descriptive as possible. It will be noted that the White River was the most important stream to the fur traders in this area and that most of the activity was concentrated within a ten-mile radius from the present city of Chadron.

A substantial part of the basic research was accomplished with the facilities of the Museum of the Fur Trade Library and the Chadron State College Library. For major assistance in our search of archival material we wish to thank Frances Stadler, Isabelle Dotzman and Nancy Smith of the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis; Paul D. Riley, Research Associate, Nebraska State Historical Society; William H. Barton, Research Historian, Wyoming State Archives and Historical Department; Richard H. Maeder, Superintendent, Fort Laramie National Historic Site; Mrs. Engle ofthe Colorado State Historical Society Library; James Corsaro, Senior Librarian, New York State Librar-J at Albany; and David Crosson, Research Historian, Western History Research Center, University of Wyoming.

We also wish to express our appreciation to Vance Nelson, Curator of the Fort Robinson Museum, Nebraska State Historical Society; Merrill J. Mattes, formerly of the National Park Service staff in Denver, Colorado; and all the others who gave generously of their time and knowledge to make this study as definitive as possible.

This is by no means the final word-we believe that many opportunities exist for expanding this story in the years to come. The research summarized in this work was made possible through the assistance of a research grant to the Museum of the Fur Trade by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The findings and conclusions presented herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Endowment.-Charles E. Hanson, Jr., and Veronica Sue Walters, Chadron, Nebraska, February 1, 1976.


This brief study is concerned with the development of the organized fur trade in northwestern Nebraska. That area was part ofthe Fort Pierre-Fort Laramie sphere of activity, in many ways separate and distinct from the fur trade of eastern Nebraska which centered upon the Missouri River.

In further illustration of this definite separation of activities in the two ends of the state, the operations of the American Fur Company and its successor organizations were handled by the Oto and Sioux Outfits in eastern Nebraska, and by the Upper Missouri Outfit in western Nebraska.

Even back in the days of the earliest Spanish influence, the trade goods which found their way to western and southern Nebraska came from Santa Fe, while the Spanish traders to the Oto and the Omaha in eastern Nebraska came up the-river from St. Louis.

Any possibility that French traders actually visited the northwestern area is extremely remote. The La Verendrye party did reach the vicinity of Pierre, South Dakota, in the 1740’s and probably saw the Black Hills. French traders around the Great Lakes were supplying guns and various trade goods to the eastern Sioux by 1700. There is some speculation that French traders did at some time travel long distance!> up the Platte while trading with the Pawnee.

Early Spanish trade in the area is supported by more concrete evidence. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark found Spanish knives, bits, axes, and textiles in the Dakotas and Montana. Many authorities believe that Spanish goods were carried up to the Missouri by inter-tribal barter, but David Lavender has proposed the thesis that New Mexican traders themselves also visited at least as far as South Dakota and it is a reasonable theory. In 1806 Pike estimated that Santa Fe traders came to the Pawnee about every third year. In 1811 a brigade of Manuel Lisa’s trappers learned that New Mexicans traded every year with the Arapaho on the South Platte. In any event, the Indians of western Nebraska certainly knew about Spanish bits, bridles, axes, knives, lances, and blankets by 1800. However, such Spanish trade as did exist was not well-organized and provided a very limited amount of merchandise for the Indians.

By 1800 some important changes had taken place in the Indian population of the area between the Missouri and North Platte rivers. The Oglala Sioux had crossed the Missouri and reached the Black Hills by about 1775 in a great migration westward from the Minnesota country. The Brule Sioux came last, moving up the White River to its headwaters by 1810. In these migrations the southern Tetons displaced the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Crow, who had in turn pushed earlier tribes to the south …

To read the full story click here or download the PDF of The Early Fur Trade in Northwest Nebraska.