Year
1808

Lewis and Clark help form Missouri Fur Company

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, two of the few white men who had actually seen the mysterious territory of the Far West, help form a new company to exploit the region’s abundant fur-bearing animals.

In September 1806, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis completed their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean, arriving back in St. Louis after more than two years in the western wilderness. Except for the difficult crossing of the Rocky Mountains, the expedition team had traveled by river. On the journey, they were overwhelmed by the abundance for beaver, otter, and other fur-bearing creatures they saw. The territory was ripe for fur trapping, they reported to President Thomas Jefferson.

Both Lewis and Clark recognized that sizeable fortunes could be made in fur trapping, and they were not averse to using their exclusive knowledge to gain a share of the profits. Two years after their return, Lewis and Clark helped organize the St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company. Among their partners were the experienced fur traders and businessmen Manuel Lisa, Pierre Choteau, and Auguste Choteau.

Lewis, whom Jefferson had already appointed to the governorship of Louisiana Territory, was presumably a silent partner, and for good reason. The new company planned to mix public and private interests in potentially unethical ways. During their earlier voyage west, Lewis and Clark had convinced an Upper-Missouri River Mandan Indian named Big White to go east and meet President Jefferson. Lewis had promised Big White that the American government would later return him to his people. Now the St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company proposed to use public money to mount a private expedition to take Big White home in the spring of 1809. Once Big White was home safely, however, the expedition would continue on to begin fur trading on the Yellowstone River, where it would enjoy a monopoly guaranteed by Governor Lewis.

In May 1809, the hybrid public-private expedition headed up the Missouri River. The men safely returned Big White to his home and inaugurated a fairly successful fur trading operation. Whatever questions there might have been about Governor Lewis’ conflicting interests in the company soon became moot: He either killed himself or was murdered on October 11, 1809, while traveling on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee. Clark continued to be involved with the company for several years, and no one ever raised questions about the ethics of his participation. Standards of behavior were often lax on the frontier, and it was not unusual for private and governmental interests to become confused. For all but the most critical observer, Clark’s actions would have been acceptable. The St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company the two men helped create endured until 1825 and was instrumental in furthering the exploration and settlement of the Far West.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Amazon opens for business

On this day in 1995, Amazon officially opens for business as an online bookseller. Within a month, the fledgling retailer had shipped books to all 50 U.S. states and to 45 countries. Founder Jeff Bezos’s motto was “get big fast,” and Seattle-based Amazon eventually morphed into ...read more

JFK Jr. killed in plane crash

On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr.; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy; and her sister, Lauren Bessette, die when the single-engine plane that Kennedy was piloting crashes into the Atlantic Ocean near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., was born on ...read more

Apollo 11 departs Earth

At 9:32 a.m. EDT, Apollo 11, the first U.S. lunar landing mission, is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a historic journey to the surface of the moon. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19.The next day, at 1:46 p.m., ...read more

World’s first parking meter installed

The world’s first parking meter, known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, is installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on this day in 1935.The parking meter was the brainchild of a man named Carl C. Magee, who moved to ...read more

Atom bomb successfully tested

On this day in 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the Manhattan Project comes to an explosive end as the first atom bomb is successfully tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico.Plans for the creation of a uranium bomb by the Allies were established as early as 1939, when Italian emigre physicist ...read more

McNamara visits South Vietnam

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara conducts a fact-finding mission in South Vietnam, and Henry Cabot Lodge arrives in Saigon to resume his post as ambassador. Lodge had previously held the ambassadorship, but resigned in 1964 to seek the Republican presidential nomination, ...read more

Durocher leaves Dodgers to manage Giants

OnJuly 16,1948, Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Leo Durocher announces that he will be joining the New York Giants, the Dodgers’ archrival. The move was the swiftest and most stunning managerial change in baseball history.Leo “The Lip” Durocher was a brilliant shortstop and mediocre ...read more

Catcher in the Rye is published

J.D. Salinger’s only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, is published by Little, Brown on this day in 1951. The book, about a confused teenager disillusioned by the adult world, is an instant hit and will be taught in high schools for half a ...read more

Funnyman Will Ferrell born

On this day in 1967,the actor and comedian Will Ferrell is born in Irvine, California. After rising to fame on TV’s Saturday Night Live, Ferrell starred in a string of big-screen comedies, including Old School and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.Ferrell graduated from ...read more

Earthquake wreaks havoc in the Philippines

More than 1,000 people are killed when a 7.7-magnitude earthquake strikes Luzon Island in the Philippines on this day in 1990. The massive tremor wreaked havoc across a sizeable portion of Luzon, the country’s largest island, with Baguio City suffering the most devastating ...read more

Draft riots continue to rock New York City

The draft riots enter their fourth day in New York City in response to the Enrollment Act, which was enacted on March 3, 1863. Although avoiding military service became much more difficult, wealthier citizens could still pay a commutation fee of $300 to stay at home. Irritation ...read more