Lesson Plan

Bent's Fort Trade Goods Activities

Smooth Bore Trade Gun Illustration

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Math,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
30 Minutes
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience.


Learn about 19th Century Trade Items.
Make decisions to get a good trade deal.
Color in cards while talking about each item.
Answer questions about the price and value of trade goods.


Bent's Fort was a successful fur trading post from 1833-1849 run by the Bent, St.Vrain Company. Originally the fur trade centered around the beaver pelts, but the beavers became more scarce by that time. The buffalo robe trade was the main trade of the time. Female buffalo killed and prepared in winter were the higher valued robes. Although Native American tribes, such as Cheyenne, Comanche, Apache, Arapahoe and Kiowa, would go to Bent's Fort to trade at times, most trading was done at the Indian camps. Traders would bring items from the east and south to trade with the Native Americans for buffalo robes. 

Native American men would hunt the buffalo, while the women would do almost everything else. Women were in charge of tanning the buffalo robes, taking care of the children, cooking meals, sewing beads on clothing, and more. Although guns and bullets helped speed up how many buffalo a man could kill, trading for a pot or knife for his wife would be beneficial because the wife would be able to work on more buffalo robes. A knife would help in removing the meat off the hides. A pot would help the woman cook, allowing more time to work on the robes. Before metal pots, Plains Native American women cooked in buffalo stomachs that they would prepare. 


Trade goods prices would vary from time to time, and place to place. Prices at well-supplied trading posts could be less than the same goods packed to some remote locations. Year to year prices might fluctuate as commodity prices change. At one point at Bent's Fort, it was recorded that buffalo robes were traded for about the value of $1 and sold in St. Louis, Missouri for about $4 or $5, but the robes were sold by the pound. 



Print out enough cards to fit the activities you would like to try. Some activities require more buffalo robes, beaver pelts and trade silver to be printed.

If you try the multi-classroom activity, plan with the other teachers what each teacher will trade, how long will the activity last, how to run the activity safely. 


Print out trade cards for activities. These trade items would have been traded at Bent's Fort. These illustrations were made by Bent's Old Fort NHS volunteer Park Wood.

Download Printable Trade Card Illustrations

Two page document you could modify to fit your classroom needs. The first page is an example of trade goods prices and trade value in exchange for buffalo robes in the 19th century. Note: These prices would vary from time to time, and place to place. Prices at well-supplied trading posts could be less than the same goods packed to some remote locations. Year to year prices might fluctuate as commodity prices change. The second page is a worksheet involving math questions. Ex. If George wants one pound of coffee and one-half pound of sugar, how much would he have to pay? Would he be able to trade one buffalo robe for this amount?

Download Trade Goods Price Example and Worksheet

For activities using many buffalo robes trade cards, here is a quick printable version.

Download Buffalo Robe Trade Cards

Lesson Hook/Preview

Distribute trade goods illustrations to students. Students are encouraged to color in the trade items and discuss in small groups what they think is the purpose of each item. Students can separate cards into different categories, such as their favorite items or ones they would need on a trip or to survive in the wilderness.


Classroom Activity:

Divide the class in half. One half represents a Native American tribe, the other half represents traders. The Native American tribe has buffalo robe cards, the traders have different items. Students try to get what they feel is the best trade deal. 

Make this activity as detailed as your students could understand:
Have some "buffalo robes" be of higher value. Write an F for female (higher value), M for male robe (lower value).  
The teacher could represent trade in St. Louis, Missouri. The traders group starts with trade silver or coins and has to trade for items in St. Louis. Trade in St. Louis, for the purpose of this game, will have uniform prices. After the traders trade with the Native American tribe group for buffalo robes, the teacher could buy the buffalo robes for "$5" for female, "$3" for male, or give more trade silver in exchange for a higher valued robe. Set prices so that some students have a profit, and some have a net loss by the end fo the game. The students representing the Native American tribe group do not trade for money or trade silver, only items they could use to hunt, to make life easier, or to decorate themselves, and there is no set price.
You may try several rounds of trade by giving extra buffalo robes to students of the Native American tribe group that traded for ammunition and items to help them hunt, as well as items that help the women such as cooking pots. (Men hunted, women prepared the robes.)
Recommended St. Louis prices: Trade Silver- $1. Buffalo Robes Female- $5, Male-$3. Blankets- $3. 


Multi-classroom Activity:

Object of game: Get the best trade deal.
In a large room, such as a gymnasium or auditorium or school yard, teachers split up into different sections of the room. Each teacher has cards of a group of trade items. For example, one teacher has blankets, pots, buttons, hats, boots, clothing; another teacher has traps and weapons. Students have trade cards of beaver pelts and/or buffalo robes. Students can work in groups or individually. Give a backstory, such as students represent mountain men replensishing their goods after 5 months of trapping beaver. Alternatively, students could have trade silver and/or pieces of eight (spanish dollars cut into pieces) and are trading for items before their journey on the Santa Fe Trail. (See Pieces of Eight and Card Game lesson plan for information on the Spanish Dollar.) Students could trade with each other. 



Buffalo Robe - Tanned buffalo hide. Could be used as a blanket, mainly when traveling in wagons, sleighs and carriages.

Beaver Pelt - Beaver skin, used to make hats 

Percussion caps - small metal cap used as an ignition system. It was the most current ignition system for firearms at that time. See Video- The Firearms of Bent's Old Fort

Strike-a-lights - Steel strikers, used with a flint rock to get sparks to start a fire. 

Cone of Sugar - Sugar was transported as cones and would have to be grinded to become loose sugar. 

Enrichment Activities

If visiting the fort after using the trade cards for a lesson, challenge your students to find these items around the fort during their tour. (Not all items will be available for viewing.)

Additional Resources

Youtube Videos:

Bent's Old Fort Trader

The Firearms of Bent's Old Fort


Wah-To-Yah and The Taos Trail by Lewis Gerrard


Related Lessons or Education Materials

Pieces of Eight and Card Game

Self-Guided Activity Book

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Last updated: January 3, 2017