Chadron Fur Trade Museum Fun

The Museum of Fur Trade, in Chadron, Nebraska, pays tribute to a business that was practiced throughout North America and predated even the pilgrims. James Bordeaux’s trading post, at 6321 Hwy 20, is the site of the museum. The post was founded in 1837 on the orders of Frederick Laboue, an American Fur Company trader and would change hands multiple times in the next four decades. During the gold rush of 1849 the trading post was purchased by the army. Francis Boucher, son-in-law of the head chief of the Brule Souix, Spotted Tail, occupied the post in 1872 after Bordeaux moved to Ft. Randall. In the time following the Civil War trade was often reduced to smuggling arms to Indians resisting the government. Guns and Cartridges Boucher’s post were used in the defeats of Generals Custer and Cook. By 1885 the post on Bordeaux Creek was abandoned and had fallen into ruins. The post was rebuilt on the original foundation in 1956 and is included in the National Register of Historic Places. Presently the non-profit museum’s exhibits are viewed by over 40,000 visitors each year.

Collections at the Museum of Fur Trade include the Northwest Gun, textiles, beads, and trading silver. There are over 6,000 primary objects at the museum from the five centuries of trading with the native people. The trade goods section contains the things Indians used to make things. Traders sold Indians everything from guns to war paint and the museum illustrates this. The Museum of Fur Trade features guns made exclusively for sale to Indians, including the oldest known intact trade gun which was made in the Netherlands before 1650.

The Northwest Gun became a common possession of the Indians by 1620, after they recognized the advantages over spears and the bow and arrow. A standard Indian trading gun had emerged by 1750, which was light weight, had a large iron guard and featured a brass serpent shaped side plate. These guns received their name because of their use in the area around the Great Lakes, known as the Northwest at the time. Over 200 of these guns are on exhibit in the museum.

Native Americans were often known for their bright and colorful textiles. These textiles were some of the most important items traded by the Indians. The collection of textiles at The Museum of Fur Trade is the most comprehensive in the world.

American Indians made beads out of shell, bone, stone and metal. However, the glass beads sewn to Indian clothes came from Europe. Murano, near Venice, Italy was the center of the bead trade until the 20th century, shipping beads all over the world. Many pieces of beaded Indian handy work can be seen on display here.

Silver, made for trade with Indians, became extremely popular in a very short time. With scarcely a mention in the fur trader’s records before 1750 silver became a vital part of any warrior’s outfit. Sale of this silver continued for a century.

The Heirloom Indian Garden is another fixture at the Chadron museum. As a tribute to Indian agriculture’s important role in supplying trading posts, the museum maintains an exhibit of authentic growing Indian crops. Most of these seeds were originally obtained from the Indians over 125 years ago. Mandan tobacco, Assiniboin flint corn, and blue kernelled little corn can be seen here.

The Museum of Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska provides a strong dose of American heritage. Adults, 18 and older, must pay $5 for admission. For visitors under 18 years old admission is free. Opening hours are from 8 am to 5 pm every day from May 1st through the month of October.