Lesson Plan

Fort Union Society

Life at Fort Union: Engages anticipating the arrival of a steamboat

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Eighth Grade
Subject:
History
Group Size:
Up to 24
Setting:
classroom
National/State Standards:
Fourth Grade: 4.1.4, 4.2.3, 4.2.6, 4.2.7, 4.2.11, 4.3.1, 4.3.2, 4.3.3, 4.6.2, Eighth Grade: 8.1.1, 8.1.1, 8.2.11, 8.6.2

Overview

Diverse employees at Fort Union Trading Post contributed to 39 years of successful business. Tasks, clothing of employees, and salaries distinguished a person’s rank on the social hierarchy at Fort Union. This lesson provides a unique look into Fort Union's inhabitants and social hierarchy.

Objective(s)

Students will:

Define each rank of the social hierarchy of Fort Union. (Bourgeois, Clerk, Engages)
Locate where each person worked and lived within the Fort. 

Background

Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post on the Upper Missouri River. Denig wrote in his journal that Fort Union was the “vastest of the forts the American Fur Company has on the Missouri.” Fort Union was a bastion of peaceful coexistence, the post annually traded over 25,000 buffalo robes to St. Louis. The trade could not function unless a certain number of people lived at or near the trading posts. Western North American trading posts served strictly economic objectives and generally had nothing to do with military affairs. No genuine “siege” ever took place at Fort Union.
 
At Fort Union, Blackfeet, Cree, Assiniboine, Crow, and the Three Affiliated Tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara exchanged buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods from around the world. According to a clerk who worked at Fort Union, Rudolph Kurz, there were twenty species in the pressroom, hides ranging in size from mouse to grizzly bear. 

Only two other 19th century posts within the United States were of comparable significance: 
Bent’s Old Fort on the Arkansas River (1834-49) 
HBC’s Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River (1825-49) 

Fort Union outlived both.

 Management   Bourgeois  $1,000: mangaged the fort and partner in the company
 Management   Clerks  $800-$1,000: knew tribal lanuages, could read and write, and kept inventories and accounts. A top hat and suit of clothes were included in their yearly salary
 Skilled Labor   Traders, Interpreters, Hunters  $350-$600: well versed in tribal languages and customs; most were French-Canadian or Metis
 Skilled Labor   Craftsmen  $250: skilled workers: tinsmiths, blacksmiths, tailors, coopers, carpenters, rock masons, and boat builders
 Manual Labor   Engages  $140: unskilled workers; they did all the heavy lifting and hauling. 
 Skilled Labor   Women  Paid in trade goods. Created trade relations between traders and their tribes, spoke various languages and served as interpreters. They were essential to the fur trade.

Materials

Barbour, B. B. (2001). Fort Union and the Upper Missouri Fur Trade. University of Oklahoma Press.

Eckberg, S. B. (1994). Artist, Clerk, Chronicler: Rudolf F. Kurz and His Fort Union Sojourn. North Dakota History, 41-52. 

Kirk, S. V. (1980). Many Tender Ties. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press .

Kurz, R. F. (Norman). On the Upper Missouri: The Journal of Rudolph Friederich Kurz, 1851-1852. 2005: University of Oklahoma Press.

Swagerty, W. R. (1993). A View from the Bottom Up: The Work Force of the American Fur Company on the Upper Missouri in the 1830s. Montana The Magazine of Western History, 18-33.  

Procedure

Park Connections

Daily life at Fort Union Trading Post reflected the social and economic relationship between and within American Indian and European cultures associated with the 19th century fur-trading empire.

Additional Resources

Barbour, B. B. (2001). Fort Union and the Upper Missouri Fur Trade. University of Oklahoma Press.

Eckberg, S. B. (1994). Artist, Clerk, Chronicler: Rudolf F. Kurz and His Fort Union Sojourn. North Dakota History, 41-52.

Kirk, S. V. (1980). Many Tender Ties. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press .

Kurz, R. F. (Norman). On the Upper Missouri: The Journal of Rudolph Friederich Kurz, 1851-1852. 2005: University of Oklahoma Press.

Swagerty, W. R. (1993). A View from the Bottom Up: The Work Force of the American Fur Company on the Upper Missouri in the 1830s. Montana The Magazine of Western History, 18-33.