By Amorin Mello

Hercules Louis Dousman cosigned several treaties, including the 1837 land cession treaties with the Chippewa and Dakota (Wikimedia Images).

Hercules Louis Dousman 
“In 1827, the American Fur Company (AFC) achieved a monopoly on the fur trade in what is now Minnesota. The Company suddenly increased its prices by 300 percent; American Indians, returning from the hunt with expectations of trading for their yearly supplies, found themselves cast into a debt cycle that would increase in the decades ahead. American Indians would receive virtually unlimited credit as long as they maintained the most precious collateral: land.
As game was overhunted and demands for furs changed, the system collapsed under a burden of debt. In 1834, AFC departments were sold to partners who included the Chouteaus, Henry Sibley, and Hercules Dousman. The business strategy of the reorganized companies changed from fur trading to treaty making. In 1837, economically stressed Dakota and Ojibwe people began selling land in what became Minnesota. Fur traders, through their political connections, were able to divert government payments for American Indian land into their own pockets. In effect, land cession treaties became a vast government bailout of fur trade corporations.”
Relations: Dakota & Ojibwe Treaties

Henry Hastings Sibley Papers 1826-1848

Henry Hastings Sibley ~ Minnesota Historical Society

Henry Hastings Sibley
~ Minnesota Historical Society

Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
History Center & Archives

“Papers of Minnesota’s first governor during his years as a fur trader, consisting primarily of correspondence among the various American Fur Company agents located in the Wisconsin Territory. Correspondence concerns internal company business; business with Hudson Bay Fur Company; company agreements with the Dakota Indians; company interest in United States government treaties with the Dakota, Ojibwa, and Winnebago Indians; attempts by the company to prevent war between the Dakota and the Sauk and Fox Indians; relations with missionaries to the Indians of the region; and company disputes with Indian agents Henry R. Schoolcraft and Lawrence Taliaferro.

Correspondents prominent in the early history of Minnesota and Wisconsin include William Aitken, Frederick Ayer, Alexis Bailly, Bernard Brisbois, Ramsay Crooks, Henry Dodge, James Doty, Hercules Dousman, Jean Faribault, Alexander Faribault, Joseph Nicollet, Henry Rice, Joseph Rolette, Henry Schoolcraft, Lawrence Taliaferro, and Lyman Warren.”


New York April 17, 1848

To Geo Ebninger Esq.
Assignee Am. Fur Co.

Dear Sir,


Pierre Chouteau, Jr.; son of French Creole fur trader, merchant, politician, and slaveholder Jean-Pierre Chouteau.

We hasten to reply to you, of this date offering to sell “The American Fur Co Establishments at Lapointe” all the Northern Outfit Posts: – “The whole for twenty five hundred dollars ($2500)” provided we will take the goods remaining on hand there after this spring’s trade at New York cash for sound Merchantable goods everything else as its fair actual value & say that we regret you waited until the moment our senior was leaving for the west before making the above proposition & also some days after the departure of Mr. Rice. It is probable, if your letter had been received during his stay here, that we would have accepted it or made other propositions which would have been agreeable. We thought if you were desirous of selling the Establishments & goods that you would have apprised us earlier of your intentions & given us time to consult or reflect upon it. And we expect, and hope that you will give us time to communicate your proposition to the persons interested with us in Upper Mississippi & particularly with Mr. Rice who alone has visited the posts & has a correct idea of their value.

Believing that the delay we ask will not or cannot be prejudicial to your interests we will wait your answer.

Very respectfully
yr obd svt

P Chouteau Junr

New York 28th June, 1848

Mister P Chouteau Jr & Co

New York


Agreeably to what I had the pleasure to address you on the 14th April last, copy of which letter is annex I will sell you the late American Fur Company’s Establishment at La Pointe & as the terms and conditions as before named, delivery to be made to you or your agent on a date to be hereafter agreed upon between the First day of September and Fifteenth day of October next and ending Payments for the same to be made in New York to me in October or November next.

Please let me have your written reply to this proposition.

I am gentlemen bestly
Your Obedt Servt

George Ebninger

Assignee to P Chouteau Jr, St Louis

New York 30th June, 1848

To George Ebninger Esq.
Assignee Am Fur Co.

Dear Sir,

1843 View of La Pointe ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

View of La Pointe, circa 1843.
“American Fur Company with both Mission churches. Sketch purportedly by a Native American youth. Probably an overpainted photographic copy enlargement. Paper on a canvas stretcher.”
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

In reply to yours of 28th inst (with copy annexed of similar letters under date 14th April last) we have to say that under advises lately received from our Saint Louis house we accept in general terms your proposition for the sale of the American Fur Co’s trading Establishment at Lapointe and interior for the sum offered, of Twenty Five Hundred dollars. It may be well enough to observe how ever that we consider the sale as dating only from the time of delivery to our authorized agents. Until then received we shall consider the posts as the property of Late American Fur Co and to be as their risk and any destruction of property between now and the time you may fix for delivery to be their loss and not ours.

The terms of payments proposed by you are entirely acceptable. But we think it might be better to make it more definite and accordingly suggest that our agents who received the property draw upon us as forty days & nights for the amount.  Hoping that these slights exchanged may meet your sanctions and that you will name an early day for the delivery of posts & we remain very truly,

Your Obedt Servt

P. Chouteau Jr & Co

New York 5th July 1848

P Chouteau Jr Esq
Saint Louis

Dear Sir

Astorian Ramsay Crooks

Ramsey Crooks (also spelled Ramsay) was born in Scotland in 1787. He immigrated to Canada in 1803 where he worked as a fur trader and explorer around the Great Lakes. He began working for the American Fur Company, which was started by John Jacob Astor, America’s first multi-millionaire, and made an expedition to the Oregon coast from 1809-1813 for the company. By doing so he also became a partner in the Pacific Fur Company. In 1834 he became acting president of the American Fur Company following Astor’s retirement to New York. A great lakes sailing vessel the Ramsey Crooks was constructed in 1836 by the American Fur Co. A nearly identical sister ship was built in the same year and was called the Astor. Both ships were sold by the dissolving fur company in 1850. Ramsay Crooks passed away in 1859, but had made a name for himself in the fur trade not only in Milwaukee and the Great Lakes, but all the way to the Pacific Ocean.” ~ Milwaukee County Historical Society

On the 28th June I sold to your house the Establishments of the late American Fur Company at Lapointe agreeably to the letter I had written to you on the 14th April. Cash delivery to be made at some period to be agreed upon hereafter between the first day of September and fifteenth day of October next. I hope that it may be in my power to get to Lapointe and attend to the delivery to your agents but if not we must select some other to act for me, Mr. Crooks and myself are not on good terms in [cou-bethee?] ease as he has been opposed to the sale being made by from the bush. I have lately heard that Mr. Crooks has written the Establishment & at Lapointe (Mr. [Ludgem?] of Detroit told me so while in the city lately) and he must have written to him shortly after the offer was made to you here, and it remains to be seen what authority he can have to dish use of the property which has been assigned to me and over which I have acted as assignee for nearly the last six years. Mr. Crooks acts of leaving here shortly for the Northern Posts. Before then I shall know what he proposes to do to annul the sale I have (under the authority vested in me as assignee) made to you, and which has been made agreeably to his only Suggestions on the 14th day of April last, and the only objection he can make to the Sale is that you did not as once accepts of his but required only a reasonable time to reply to which I was willing to grant and would again give under such circumstances you being there on the eve of leaving here, but it was clear enough that Mr. Crooks never wished that you should have the Northern Outfit Establishment, but that his friend Borrup should. I shall however do all that I can to oppose his injust views on that score.

I am In Most Truly
Your Obedt Servt

George Ebninger

Senator Henry Mower Rice ~ United States Senate Historical Office

Aspring politician and future Senator Henry Mower Rice represented the Chippewas at the 1847 Treaty of Fond du Lac, and appears frequently here on Chequamegon History.
~ United States Senate Historical Office

St. Louis July 14, 1848

Mr.s Sibley & Rice
St. Peters

Dr. Sirs

We had this pleasure of the 7th inst by [Shamus Highland Many?] enclosing Invoice & Bill of Landing of C.O. English goods which we hope you will have received in good order and due time – The same day and as the time the boat was pushing off we addressed you a few lines in haste, advising you of the purchase made by our House in New York, of the posts at Lapointe. We have just received several documents in relation to that purchase of which you will find copies herewithin.

You will perceive from their contents how Mr. Crooks has acted in the matter, and that it has become urgent for us to take such steps as will answer the possession of the said posts. How we will be able to succeed, Doctr. Borrup being now in possession & having apparently purchased from Mr. Crooks, is a matter of doubt and can only be ascertained at Lapointe. We have purchased Bona Fide from Mr. G. Ebninger, the only person authorized to make sale, as the assigner of the late American F. Co. Mr. Borrup we are afraid, will (as you can see by Mr. Sanford’s letter) refuses to give possession, and in that case, in a country where there is no way of enforcing law, we may not be able to obtain possession before next year. Now, would it be desirable or advantageous to make the purchase and not get possession before that time? We think not.


Oil painting of Doctor Charles William Wulff Borup from the Minnesota Historical Society:
“Borup and Oakes were headmen for the [American Fur Company]. All voyageurs, ‘runners,’ as they were called, were employed by said company. They would leave La Pointe about the beginning of September, stay away all fall and winter among the Indians in their respective districts, collect furs, and return about the beginning of June. They would take along blankets, clothes, guns, etc., to trade with the Indians for their furs. They took along very little provisions, as they depended mostly on hunting, fishing, wild reice, and trade with the Indians for their support. There were several depots for depositing goods and collecting furs, for instance at Fond du Lac (Minnesota,) Sandy Lake, Courtes Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau Mouth of Yellow River, etc.”
~ Proceedings of the [Wisconsin Historical] Society at its Sixty-fourth Annual Meeting, 1917, pages 177-9

Our object in this purchase has been more with our view to force Dr. Borrup to come to such arrangements as would prevent him from opposing us on the Mississippi and its dependencies, and more particularly with the Winnebagoes, far the best trade of all_ If then, it becomes impossible to obtain the Establishments at Lapointe unless by due course of law (which would prolong it till next year) We are of the opinion that it would be better for our interests to make such compromise with Dr. Borrup as would exclude him entirely from the west side of the dividing rift.

We are writing this day to our home in New York and to Mr. G. Ebninger that he must proceed immediately to Lapointe so as to be here from the 1st to the 15th September, and claim himself & in person the delivery of the posts. Any agent would not probably succeed, or objections would no doubt be made by Doctr. Borrup which said agent could not face or answer. You will therefore do the necessity of either of you going to Lapointe and meet them with Mr. Ebninger on the time appointed above.

Very truly yours,

P. Chouteau Jr & Co

It was only on the 10th inst that we were handed your forms of 25 june enclosing packing ‘℅’ of the U.S. postal M.R. #01037 for ℅ St Louis ℅ Chippewa outfit. Capt. Ludwick ought to be more particular with papers confided to his care.

Bernard Walter Brisbois was an agent for the American Fur Company.

Duplicates of this letter and documents enclosed, sent to the care of Mr. Brisbois of Prairie du Chien, by mail

You will notice by copy of telegraphic dispatch of the 10th that the Chippewa annuity will be paid at Lake Superior as heretofore.


The New York Times

September 29, 1851

“Indian Moneys”

There is no greater abuse in the governmental policy of the United States, than the past and present system of Indian payments; and the Indians would be benefited if the money thus appropriated were cast into the Lakes, rather than made the cause of such much distress and swindling as it is.

The author of this article is not identified.

In the August of 1848 we were present at a payment at La Pointe, and we have no hesitation in saying that every dollar paid to the Indians there was a disadvantage rather than a benefit to them.

The payment was fixed for August, and Indians from West of the Mississippi were called together at La Pointe to receive it.  They gathered at the appointed time, and the payment was not made for three weeks after the time specified.

The money collected at the Saut Ste. Marie Land Office, the most convenient point, had been transported, as per Government order, to Chicago, and the Paymaster received drafts on that point where he was compelled to go for the specie, and the payment was thus delayed.

la pointe beaver money

La Pointe Beaver Money of the American Fur Company’s Northern Outfit from “The Beaver in Early Wisconsin” by A. W. Schorger, Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts, & Letters, Volume 54, page 159.

Meantime, the Indians gathered at La Pointe were without the necessaries of life, and the agents of the North American Fur Company, and a few old traders who were posted in the business, supplied them with provisions at exorbitant rates, and forced them to buy with every ounce of pork or flour which they needed, an equal amount of dry-goods and gewgaws, which had no value for them.  These sales were made on credit, to be settled at the pay-table.  At the payment, some $30,000 in cash, and a stipulated quantity of blankets, guns, powder, tin pails, calicoes, ribbons, &c., were distributed; and this American Fur Company, and the favored traders, raked from the Paymaster’s table as it was counted out to the bands, over $12,000 for provisions furnished to, and trash forced upon the Indians, while they were delayed after being summoned to the payment.

Some $14,000 more was spent among forty traders and the remaining $4,000 the Indians carried home; about one dollar each.

Their blankets, about the only valuable thing they received in the way of dry goods, were on the night after payment, mostly transferred to a mercenary set of speculators, at a cost of a pint of whiskey each, and came down to the Saut as private property on the same propeller that took them up as government gratuity.

Such was the result of a payment for which thousands of Indians traversed many miles of forest, wasted six weeks’ time, and lost the crop of wild rice upon which they depended for their winter’s subsistence.

If a white man with a white soul, writes the history of the Indians of the West, the American government will gain little credit from his record of Indian payments.

For more context about these American Fur Company partners and their affairs following the 1848 La Pointe annuity payments, please read pages 133-136 of Last Days of the Upper Mississippi Fur Trade by Rhonda R. Gilman, Minnesota History, Winter 1970.

But the swindle of 1848 was not gross enough to suit certain grasping parties.  La Pointe was too easy of access.  So many traders sought a market for their goods there, that the old monopolists could not obtain a thousand per cent on the goods they sold; and even in 1848, it was whispered that they were using all their influence to have the future payments made at some point so far West that competition would not force them to be content with moderate profits.

For more context about the Lake Superior Chippewa following the 1848 La Pointe annuity payments, please read our The Sandy Lake Tragedy and Ojibwe Removal series here on Chequamegon History.

To effect this it was necessary to remove the Chippewas further West, and by some influence, not, perhaps, distinctly marked, but yet more than suspected, this order of removal was secured.

It was uncalled for, useless, and abominable; and we are glad, for the sake of humanity and justice, that the Administration have resolved that for the present the edict shall not be enforced.  We trust it may never be.