People of the Waters - Travel and Trade

Before cars and trains and planes, what was the best way to travel? Native people used the rivers and streams like highways, carrying goods and people across the country. Many of the trade routes were indirect. One group would trade with their neighbors, who would trade with their neighbors, and so on. Today, we find artifacts and materials hundreds of miles from their source. Once Europeans arrived, they began trading with Native people, bringing goods from an ocean away.

How did shells from the Gulf Coast end up in Wisconsin hundreds of years ago? Native people traded extensively with one another long before Europeans arrived - as early as 4,000 years ago.

Groups traded for necessary resources like food and furs, or for exotic goods like copper, and shells. Orthoquartzite from Jackson County, Wisconsin, has been found as far away as Canada, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Ohio.

Native people also exchanged knowledge. Techniques for farming and pottery spread hundreds of miles. Trading helped ensure friendly relations between different groups.

European explorers came to this country in search of gold and riches. What they found was a different sort of wealth: beaver pelts. The fur was waterproof and quickly became popular in hats and other fine goods. Europeans traded metal tools, guns, blankets, and glass beads for the fur.

French traders tried to use Native trappers as allies. When Jean Nicolet arrived here in 1634, he met with Ho-Chunk people. The British saw the fur trade as a way to grow its empire. Eventually, overhunting reduced beaver populations. By the time Wisconsin became a state in 1848, the fur trade was essentially over.

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People of the Waters - Travel and Trade