England and Spain Send Traders

North West Company Organizes Small Traders
Dickson Hopes for Large Profit

Montreal, Lower Canada, 1787

The merchants of Montreal have succeeded in forming the North West Company of fur traders. This company will compete for furs with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The North West Company is made up of Scottish merchants in Montreal and French-Canadian and mixed-blood agents in the forest and plains. The agents, or “pedlars,” will build new trading posts and trade directly with the Indian people.

The main competition of the new company is the older Hudson’s Bay Company. The area draining into the Hudson Bay including the Red River is the protected trading area for Hudson’s Bay Company. The Indians bring their furs to the company post at York Factory. The King of England has granted a monopoly to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The North West Company does not have a royal charter to do business.

The North West Company agent assigned to the Minnesota River territory is Robert Dickson. This year he has hauled trade goods by canoe for dealing with the Dakota people of the prairies. He is presently at Lake Traverse, the headwaters of the Red River, which runs north to Hudson Bay. There he plans to trade his goods for furs. The Lake Traverse area is a common camp ground of the Yanktonai, and he will not be far from the Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota who hunt the region. Dickson believes that the trade will be profitable for his company.

Jusseaume Flies British Flag over Mandan Villages
Mandan Villages, 1794

The British have completed building the first fur-trading fort among the Mandan. A trader from the North West Company, Rene Jusseaume, is responsible for opening trade relations with the Missouri River tribe. Jusseaume has issued orders that the British flag is to be raised up the flagpole over the trading post each and every Sunday as a symbol of the British Empire.

In October, Jusseaume hired six men and packed five horses with merchandise at Fort La Souris, headquarters of the North West Company (the rival Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters at Brandon House). He arrived here in eleven days after a 250-mile journey.

The little fort, named Jusseaume’s Post, stands proudly at the junction of the Missouri River and the Knife River. Trade is conducted with both the Mandan and the nearby Hidatsa tribe.

Jusseaume hopes to return next spring with furs from the Missouri country after trading with the village tribes.

The British are serious about opening up new areas for trading. Ever since New France was turned over to the British in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian Wars, the British have expanded their trading networks on a grand scale. Although La Verendrye visited the Mandan in 1738, he carried on little trade with them and never established a trading post near the Missouri River.

Rene Jusseaume

Jusseaume was one of four French-Canadians who married women of the village tribes and served as guides to those who would travel through the area. Jusseaume is not as well known as Toussaint Charbonneau.

On their return from the Pacific, Lewis and Clark convinced the leading Mandan chief Big White (Sheheke) to travel to St. Louis and on to Washington to meet President Jefferson only after Jusseaume, his wife and two children were allowed to come along as official interpreters.

Evans Reached Knife River Villages, Raises Spanish Flag
Knife River, September 23, 1796

All British trade operations with the Mandan have been stopped. John Evans arrived from St. Louis today and seized the British fort. The Spanish flag now flies over the fort.

A Welshman, Evans had come to America to find descendants of a legendary Prince Madoc who supposedly discovered the continent in A.D. 1170. Evans had learned about the Mandan at St. Louis and thought that the tribe might be the lost descendants of the Welsh hero Madoc because reports said that the Mandan were of much lighter skin than other native peoples.

Evans, a representative of the Missouri Company fur traders, has given the British a strong message:  Leave Spanish territory. The site is a part of Spanish Louisiana, ceded to Spain by France in 1763 after the French lost the French and Indian War with Great Britain.

The Spaniards in St. Louis are trying to build a strong trade empire with the Indian tribes along the Missouri River. Although the distance between St. Louis and the Mandan villages is great, the Missouri Company believes that it can extend its reach even further up the river.

It is believed that the Missouri River reaches all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish governor of Louisiana has offered two thousand dollars to the first Spanish subject to reach the Pacific by way of the Missouri River.

Evans has carefully mapped his route, which will help those who follow in his path. The British at Fort La Souris, just north of the border with Louisiana, are expected to fight the Spaniards for control of the Mandan trade.
Note:  Because Evans had few trade goods, and because he tried to stop the British trade, the native people forced him back down the river the following year. The Spanish did not come back to the area that is now North Dakota.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change