View Full List of National Register: Wyoming Listings

View Full List of National Register: Wyoming Listings

Trading Posts in Wyoming: 1832 - 1868



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Euroamerican fur trading activity began in Wyoming as early as the 18th century. However, these activities were ephemeral; taking place in Native American villages, temporary camps, or summer Rendezvous sites and often leaving little in the way of an archaeological signature. This changed in 1832 with the construction of Fort Bonneville in what would become western Wyoming. Fort Bonneville was not only believed to be the first trading post constructed in Wyoming, but likely the first building erected with the intention of being a permanent Euroamerican settlement. After 1832, Native American and Euroamerican fur trading activities in the region were increasingly conducted at trading posts. The trading post would remain the focus of these exchanges until the 1860s. As early as 1840, the posts began to serve a new purpose: to supply west-bound emigrants. For the next two decades trading posts were the primary providers of goods and services to Native Americans and Euroamerican emigrants in the West.

The decline to the trading post era was a result of a number of historical developments beginning as early as the 1850s.The Plains Wars between the United States military and the Sioux and their allies decreased emigrant traffic and increased native hostilities, disrupting the trading activities of the posts and leading to decreased profits from the 1850s through the 1860s. The result of the wars saw many of the tribes being relocated by 1868. The removal of the tribes effectively ended the free trading relationship between the posts and the tribes that had existed for decades and further reducing the profitability of the posts. The railroad had also reached Wyoming by 1868. This provided the last blow to the posts. The railroad offered safer, faster, and more reliable transportation from the East to the West, reducing trail use and trading post profitability. It also provided for relatively reliable access to eastern goods. For these reasons by 1868 the trading post was obsolete. Their primary trading partners were gone, the routes they serviced had diminished in importance, and activity in Wyoming had begun to change dramatically. Gone were the days of settlement and exploration. The railroad brought permanent American settlements, springing up along each stop of the train. It would be in these locations that commerce would now be conducted.

Trading activity in the West has a rich and complex history. Economic exchanges served to foster the development of social, cultural, and political relationships between and among tribal groups and Euroamericans. These relationships were developed and maintained through a range of activities including the exchange of goods between individuals, seasonal trade fairs or gatherings, temporary establishments along the emigrant trails such as tent camps or dealers selling wares out of wagon backs, and permanent trading posts. While all of these activities can be considered historically significant, this text will only deal with permanent Euroamerican trading structures. These structures, collectively called trading posts in this document, differ from other locations of trading activity. The trading posts were in many ways integral to the first large scale movement of Euroamericans into the region, the development of the infrastructure necessary for the settlement of the region, and were central in the negotiation and conflict for the West between the tribes and the United States. There were at least 29 trading posts in Wyoming whose occupation dates between 1832 and 1868. This document will provide the historical background, current state of research, and the number and types of archaeological investigations for each of these posts. The historical significance of Wyoming’s trading posts will also be discussed, along with an evaluation of relevant National Register criteria.



Date Added to Register:
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Smithsonian Number: 


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