Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center
beaver is in every bend
— William Clark
Before the European colonization of North America, the use of animals for food and clothing seemed to have been in balance with the wildlife population. Once native people could trade pelts for cloth, blankets, iron goods and guns, the harvest of fur-bearing animals increased rapidly and soon wiped out local populations.
Beaver was the most important animal in the fur trade. The beaver's soft under-hairs were shaved from pelts and felted for hats and other uses. Many beaver populations were wiped out by the mid-1800s, but in the past 75 years beavers have repopulated most of their former habitats.
The beaver dam in front of you (what dam? ed.) has been maintained for many years. Beavers mate for life and live in colonies of one or two family groups, which usually include adult pairs, kits, and yearlings. The deep water behind the dam provides a storage area for winter food.
(The Yellowstone River)...like all other branches of the Missouri which penetrate the Rocky Mountains all that portion of it lying within those mountains abound in fine beaver and Otter...
— William Clark, Tuesday August 3 1806
Today Mr. McKenzie gave me some information about the fur trade of the American Fur Company. Along the Missouri itself, the game and
fur-bearing animals have decreased to an extraordinary degree in a few years, and in ten years the business will no longer be significant along this river.
List of various species of animals to the value of their skins, as well as the number of hides obtained in the course of one year.
Beaver: about 25,000 hides
(100-pound packs, usually containing 60 pelts; large beaver hide weighs 2 pounds)
Bison: about 40,000-50,000 hides
(about 10 hides in a pack of buffalo robes; taken solely from cows for trade, bulls provide leather to (sic) heavy and thick)
Muskrat: about from 1,000 to 100,000
(muskrat populations were quickly trapped out, reducing number in trade)
Deer: from 20,000-30,000
— Prince Maximilian, 30 June 1833