The American fur trade began in the 1500’s when Indians on the east coast traded beaver pelts for metal tools, weapons and textiles with European cod fisherman working the rich Atlantic waters. The pelts, mostly beaver, were shipped to the hatters in England. As demand for the beaver hat increased, the area of taking furs expanded until the fur business became the main industry of the entire North American continent. Formal companies and loose partnerships were formed and sent trapping expeditions exploring virtually every river, creek and lake from coast to coast. Most of these excursions were made up of 20 to 50 men, but some were much larger. As they worked a new area, they divided into smaller and smaller groups to effectively trap all the tributaries in the area.
In the painting Adventurers of the Fur Trade, four members of an expedition make a brief rest stop before resuming their search for new trapping grounds. Most of the men who chose this endeavor did not do so in hopes of great wealth, but to satisfy their desire for freedom, independence and adventure. They were not disappointed.