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Turning Points Features

Drugs, Sex, and Rock-n-Roll on the Fur Trade Frontier

Well, maybe not rock-n-roll. In this letter to French government officials, Jesuit missionary Fr. Etienne Carheil (1633-1726) explains -- at times in graphic detail -- how lust and greed corrupted nearly everyone connected with the fur trade at the western posts. Voyageurs, hunters, explorers, and merchants have been romanticized so often in the popular imagination that we benefit from seeing the fur trade's dark side. In the first few pages Carheil reveals how colonialism affected the everyday lives of young French clerks, teenage Indian girls, hardened soldiers, and tribal elders, and asks the government to end the excesses. They didn't. Instead, they recalled the Jesuits from Wisconsin and the rest of New France, and the fur trade continued unabated for another century and a half.

Posted July 13, 2005
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