Kit Carson and the Mountain Men

Was Kit Carson truly the king of the trappers?

A large rodent determined the destiny of Kit Carson, the Mountain Men and much of the American West. The North American beaver, the second-largest rodent in the world, along with its Eurasian cousin, was prized for its luxurious fur. Beaver pelts, useful in manufacturing malleable felts for hats, were prized throughout Europe, with the industry centralized in Russia from the 15th century onward.

The fine quality of beaver hats, and their expense, led to their identification with wealth. During the English Civil War, the broad-brimmed beaver hat became symbolic of the royalist cavalier faction, while in the Catholic Church, it became the headgear of cardinals. By the late 16th century, however, European beavers had been trapped to near-extinction.

The colonization of the New World opened up a fresh and cheaper supply of beaver pelts. The French and the British fought a series of wars in order to monopolize this new fur trade market. The triumphant British attempted to keep their American colonies hemmed in to the east of the Appalachian Mountains to better control this valuable trade, which contributed to the outbreak of revolution in 1775.

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