Drawn to the life of a fur trapper at an early age, scarcely knowing what the life entailed, Pierre Duchenne sailed for the shores of the United States in a majestic clipper, its sails white as snow, its sails billowing like clouds, in the summer of 1817, when he was just eighteen. While most of his fellow travelers, nearly a hundred in all, gravitated toward the Eastern Seaboard, he hewed to a Western Star, not stopping for good until he was well west of Yellowstone. There were more practical reasons. Already trapped out, the eastern shores were well settled by farmers, the Wilderness well-shorn.
Falling in with three fellow Frenchmen in Saint Louis, he secured an Appaloosa colt, buckskin pants, two scratchy wool shirts, a thick elk skin coat, and a smooth-bore musket and a flintlock pistol, a twelve inch knife, as well as a two dozen footlock traps. There were other items the four of them hoped to trade with the Indians they met along the way for pelts and food. Across the plains the western Nebraska plains, they ran into the Arapaho, camped along the banks of the South Platte River. The Native Americans greeted them with curiosity and disdain, and friendship from the call of bondage of common existence. Lacking common language, they spoke through exaggerated and comical gestures that they both eventually understood. Spring had not yet come to the mountains. Not quite a hundred yards upstream from the Indians, they set up camp where they stayed the better part of a month, trading frying pans, dry goods, pistols and muskets that two spare horses carried with the Arapahoes, for pelts of lynx, deer, elk, bear, and the dearest to the wealthy in the East, the beaver. From them, they learned of dealing with the wiles of the wilderness, especially when it was at its most vicious. Continue reading “Pierre Duchenne”