Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Stop at the Pennant!!!!

So, I wasn’t happy with my previous Ft Union entry so I have revised it.  I don’t think the pictures carried it quite as well as I had hoped.  It really was an interesting place and deserved a better post.  

 Fort Union. 

As you are floating down the river, you will see a red, white, and blue pennant that almost looks like an American flag from a distance.  That is the flag of The American Fur Company.  The fort was not even set up by the US government.  It was a trading post set at the confluences of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers.  A private venture if you will… but kind of impersonating the US government.  They even struck Peace “Ornaments” that are almost exactly the same as the Peace medals given out by Lewis and Clark… hand shake symbol and all but stamped with “American Fur Company” instead of “United States of America.”  Slightly shady but ultimately probably good for everyone involved except for the animals that ended up as hides.

View from the river when you can finally see Ft Union... if you see this, you have gone to far!!! You must now face the trials of the fire swamp!

Like I said, the fort was really just a trading post.  In the springtime, a steam boat would venture up the Missouri River to Ft Union bringing all sorts of “trade goods.”  I had always been under the impression that the steam boats were going up and down all the time as they desired, but that is not correct.  Each steam boat would get about one run in a year maybe two if they were very fast about it.  The river would rise in the spring thaw and that was their chance! So the spring thaw would happen and a river boat would race up the flooded river bringing the kind of things that a bunch of people living in tents out on the great plains would need.  Blankets, tools, beads, replacement parts for coleman stoves… etc  Officially no whiskey, but also whiskey too.  

The guys running the traders would set up shop there in the fort, then the chief of negotiator for a clan would come in and negotiate the prices for everything.  As it was described, this would be a lot of discussing the weather, the family, smoking… before getting around to actual business of price setting.  It reminded me exactly of making he flight schedule with the Afghans.  Lots of tea, smoking, and discussions about family before anyone even brought up flying.  Then once it was being discussed… a lot of “Well, these hides are not as good as last year, so the price is going to be less than last year.” and “Thursday is a very busy day, I don’t think we can fly Thursday… maybe in the morning only.” kinds of discussions. 

At the end of it, the prices for that year were set.  Then that bunch would be able to show up and know exactly what they would get for each type of hide that they brought in.  This included everything from buffalo hides to mouse hides.  (The mouse hides were used to make glove linings.)

Until almost the very end, there were no white women ever brought out to Fort Union.  The traders would usually marry into the tribes they traded with sort of making the whole operation a family business.

Also I thought notable, most of the hides for trade were actually brought in by women and girls.  The men might hunt the animals… but for the most part the tanning was done by the women.  So they would be the ones that would bring the hides and take home the trade good.  To include little girls bringing in mouse hides.

Though run by the NPS, there are folks dressed up in period cloths to explain things and tell stories of the fort and area. Not in a weird uncomfortable way like you accidentally wandered into a renaissance fair, more in a reasonable good history teacher on Wednesday before thanksgiving kind of way.

Also… stop at the pennant.  That is the only trail through the 300 yards of swamp, willows, and needle grass… and literally clouds of vicious mosquitos.  If you stomp at the pennant you only have to boogy yourself through the clouds of blood thirsty mosquitos.  If you do like i did, and wait for a nicer place to beach, you will have the trials of the fire swamp to deal with on your way up to the fort.  Either way… worth it.


Anonymous said...

Just got caught up on your whole adventure. AWESOME.
Reminds me a little bit of that Independence Day run down Belt Creek, only on a massive scale and this time you have a decent boat.
Good luck with the rest! Fair winds and following currents,

Notorious said...

Well, on that previous run down Belt Creek I did it in the Air Force's legitimate brand new MWR canoe... Wasn't it Hollywood and Jr that went down on an inflatable mattress or something close to it?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I actually think it was you and Hollywood on the inflatable mattress, with Jr. and I in kayaks. I want to say your canoe trip was after the Independence Day adventure, probably with outside help (maybe Amateur-Sophist?). Either way, your current run is way more impressive.
I hope the flatlands are treating you well!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you're having a good time out there Notorious.. as long as the mosquitos don't keep up.

I decided the other day I want to try my hand at a moonshine still. You were the first person to pop in my head when I thought of someone to collaborate with for the design. Random I know, and when/where this could happen? I don't know. Just a thought.

Keep rowing
Gummy Worms

Notorious said...

I only did belt creek the one time, and I was definitely in a canoe.

YEA! Once I get my shop set up in NM I'll build a still! Let me know when you will be out there next!

Christina StClair said...

Nick, I think you may have had a paddlefish sighting! These river monsters are pretty rare, but they have been known to exist in the Missouri River basin, specifically in the sakakawea are that you are in. Definitely worth doing a quick Google search to see if that was your river critter, but I think you may have indeed seen one. If so, how cool!!! Great post as well.

Notorious said...


I think when my uncle was out with me, we did see a paddle fish! It looked like a huge shadow moving upstream through the muddy water. That was another one where we both watched it plowing its way through the current then after it passed we looked at each other and checked if we had both really seen what we thought we had just seen... I ended up talking to some divers later that said that had seen paddle fish that were at least 11 feet long.

This though, I think it was a Giant Northern Pike. I ask the locals everywhere I go about what they think it was... the consensus seems to be it was a huge pike. Most folks seem to think there are pike in there large enough to swallow a basket ball...

The sturgeon in here... well, they probably deserve their own post, but I think it is likely there are sturgeon in here that were here when Lewis and Clark went bye. There seems to be a big research study going on about how the dams are making them forget to spawn and even if they do, the larva don't have enough time to drift and do what they need to before they make it to the stagnant water of the next lake.

Shit, maybe I should just do a post of the giant fish of the Missouri river...