From On the Upper Missouri Rudolph Friederich Kurz
At this place (fort union) the cost of necessaries is very high, out of proportion to the increase one might expect on account of the distance things have to be transported.
Coffee 100 cents a pound
Brown sugar 100 cents a pound
Meal 25 cents a pound
Seven ship biscuits 100 cents
Soap 100 cents a pound
Calico 100 cents a yard
One shirt washed 25 cents
The value of a dollar is insignificant: what one receives for it is of no consequence. Even in the States, 20 cents is not worth reckoning. In the western States there is no smaller coin than a 5 cent piece.
Indian values range as follows:
Two knives = a pair of leggings
Two knives and leggings = blanket
Two knives, leggings, blanket = rifle
Two knives, leggings, blanket, rifle = horse
Two knives, leggings, blanket, rifle, horse = tent made of skins
Two knives, leggings, blanket, rifle, horse, tent = woman
One buffalo robe = 60 loads of powder and shot
6-10 robes = a gun
rate of pay
November 22 1851
In every district there is an agent, employed at a fixed salary ($2000) and paid in addition certain profits on sales. He has charge of several posts. He orders supplies from the company but is not usually obliged to pay for them in pelts. He is at liberty to dispose of the hides and skins that he takes in exchange in the market where he finds the best prices.
Agents are required to pay a yearly interest on capital advanced, together with the cost of insurance for goods delivered at the factory price, plus the cost of transportation. He knows, therefore, what the approximate cost of his commodities will be and has only t reckon sums necessary to pay the salaries and keep of his employees, and largesse to Indians, in order to maintain his trading post with success.
Mr. Culbertson is agent for the Upper Missouri Outfit and has supervision of three posts: Fort Union, Fort Benton, and Fort Alexander. Mr. H. Picotte is agent for the Lower Missouri Outfit, which includes supervision of Fort Pierre, Fort Lookout, Fort Vermilion, Fort Clarke, and Fort Berthold. Mr. Papin is agent on the Platte, having charge of Fort Hall and Fort Laramie.
A bourgeois or head clerk is stationed at each post. E receives a fixed salary of $1,000, and a stated percentage on sales. He buys goods, just as agents do, at the cost price. The bourgeois keeps his own accounts. He orders what he needs from his agent and delivers to him all that is received in exchange for goods sold. Whether he makes profits or suffers losses depends on how well he knows how to calculate to advantage, and to regulate his own expenses.
Agents and bourgeois form, so to speak, a company of their own, insofar as they all agree to buy goods from the stockholders at a stipulated price, which includes interest and transportation charges. If skins and furs bring high prices, the agents make a surplus which they divide among themselves and the bourgeois, according to the peltry contributed by each. The stockholders assume responsibility for all damages to commodities in transit. Agents are only required to answer for goods received a the destination to which they are consigned. All shipments are secured from loss by insurance. The premium is quite high for goods sent up the Missouri, because there are such a great number of snags.
The less a bourgeois has to pay for the upkeep of his fort, in salaries for employees, and for skins and furs, the greater will be his profit and that of his agents, who are also bourgeois of a fort. On average, clerks and engages are paid the wage they receive in the Untied States, but they are required to buy everything from the trading post where they are employed, and at the price demanded there. Fortunately, they have neither the necessities nor the occasions for spending money that one has in the States, otherwise they would save nothing.
The traders, clerks, interpreters, hunters, workmen, and their helps employed at th forts, who are content t buy on credit from the company, seldom lay by anything for a rainy day. They marry. Indeed, for the purpose of chaining to the fort, so to speak, those who are capable, those who are indispensable, the bourgeois endeavor to bind them down for the next year by advancing sums to them on credit.
For supplies intended for their own use, the bourgeois pay the same price that they would be required to pay to the stockholders for the same article, but they demand much more from their employees and the Indians. For a medium buffalo robe they charge an employee $4; for one extra good (prime), $8; for a robe enriched with ornamentation, $15, even a higher price than is charged in the United States. For instance, for the usual robe, Indians receive in exchange 2 gallons of shelled corn, from 3 to 4 pounds of sugar, or 2 pounds of coffee. The total expense of preparing a buffalo robe for sale, reckoned as one sum, would not exceed $1 gross. In St. Louis, these robes are sold at wholesale for at least $2. the agents and bourgeois can easily realize 100 percent profit, if they know the trade. It is not true in every case, however, that a bourgeois is an expert trader. Those managers are chosen from among clerks who have been trained in this part of the country. Many of them who become efficient clerks under good and careful management are not in every respect competent to conduct a business to the best advantage.
A craftsman or workman receives $250 a year; a workman’s assistant is never paid more than $120. a hunter receives $400, together with the hides and horns of the animals he kills. An interpreter without other employment---which is seldom--- gets $500. Clerks and traders who have mastered the court language---the speech of those Indians for whose special advantage the trading posts are established---may demand from $800 to $1000 without interest.
All employees are furnished board and lodging free of charge. That means engages are provided with nothing but meat, a place t sleep, and one raw buffalo hide. Hunters and workmen eat at the second table: meat, biscuit, and black coffee with sugar. Clerks are served with the bourgeois at the first table, which is, a well-furnished table for this part of the country. We have meat (well selected), bread, and frequently soup and pie on Sundays. Everyone must furnish his bedclothes; however, one may borrow two buffalo robes from the storehouse.
If an employee has a mind to save, he can almost put aside his entire income, under certain conditions. In that case, he must have a supply of clothing on hand and must be content with the fare at th fort, indulge in no dainties or feasting, and never allow himself to come within 10 feet of the Indian women.
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