Traders Took Advantage of Indians

From Fort Larned, Special Agent H.T. Ketcham wrote to John Evans, Governor of Colorado Territory, on April 4, 1864. He described how traders took advantage of the Indians who did not realize the value of buffalo hides—also called buffalo robes.

Press at Bent's Old Fort used to compact hides

It was a two person job to turn the press

“The Indians have all been very successful in killing buffaloes, have had plenty of meat, and have been able to purchase with their robes, flour, sugar, coffee, dry-goods and trinkets from the white and Mexican traders; but they do not realize one-fourth their value. [The robes] are now worth eight or nine dollars by the bale at wholesale. The traders pay [the Indians] seventy-five cents in brass wire or other trinkets for a robe; two dollars in groceries and less in dry-goods. It is estimated that the six tribes here, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Caddoes, Apaches, Kiowas, and Comanches, will furnish, this season, at least fifteen thousand robes, which, at eight dollars, would amount to one hundred and twenty thousand dollars.”
          Ketcham offered a solution to this problem. “…as the government is doubtless more desirous to better the condition of the Indians than to enrich the traders,” Ketcham suggested the government take the place of traders. The government could pay the Indians full value for their robes and sell them whatever goods they needed at cost plus transportation expense. The system could be managed, according to Ketcham, by “honest capable agents employed for that purpose, at a salary to be paid by the Indians out of proceeds of their furs.”

Quoted text from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1864.

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