Charles Larpenteur – French Fur Trader

Charles Larpenteur

Charles Larpenteur

Charles Larpenteur was a French fur trader who traveled the American West working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and the American Fur Company.

Larpenteur was born in Fontainebleau, France, in 1807. When he was 12 years old, he immigrated with his family to the United States, settling in Baltimore, Maryland.

At the age of 21, he traveled west to St. Louis, Missouri, where, in 1833, he went to work for William Sublette and Robert Campbell of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and accompanied them on an expedition of the Rocky Mountains. They arrived at the Green River Rendezvous in Wyoming in July. The men then built Fort William (later Fort Laramie) at the mouth of the Yellowstone River to compete with the American Fur Company’s Fort Union in North Dakota.

Sublette sold out to the American Fur Company that winter, and Larpenteur then went to work for them. Lapenteur then mostly worked at Fort Union. He also built Fort Alexander, a trading post for the Crow on the Yellowstone River.

At some point during these years, he married an Assiniboine woman, who died in 1837. He married another Assiniboine woman named Makes Cloud, with whom he had five children.

Old Fort Benton, Montana by John Ford Clymer, 1967.

Old Fort Benton, Montana by John Ford Clymer, 1967.

He left the company in the spring of 1848 and became a free trader to the Salish tribe near Fort BentonMontana.

In about 1850, he settled down on a farm near Little Sioux, Iowa, that he called Fontainebleu after his birthplace. However, he would continue to venture back out in the fur trading business for several years.

In 1853, his second wife was killed by hostile Omaha Indians while picking berries on their Iowa farm in 1853. Later, he married an American widow named Rebecca Bingham, with whom he had one child.

In 1860, he became a partner in the independent fur-trading venture called Larpenteur, Smith & Company. The company reorganized as Larpenteur, Lemon & Company in 1861 due to dissension among the original partners. The next year, he also became a fur trader with La Barge, Harkness & Company. During these years, he also worked for the government as an interpreter and was involved in signing a number of treaties with several Indian tribes.  In 1864 Larpenteur was back at Fort Union, acting as the manager. However, the fort was soon sold to the North West Company, and Larpenteur resigned. He continued to travel the west for a few more years until 1871 when he returned to his Iowa farm for good.

He died on November 15, 1872, in Little Sioux, Iowa. Regrettably, all of his children predeceased him. Over the years, he kept numerous journals and memoirs that documented his years in the fur trade business.

©Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated May 2021.

Also See:

Exploration of America

Explorers & Frontiersmen

Fur Trading on the Frontier

Trappers, Traders & Pathfinders

Sources:

Aldrich, Charles; The Annals of Iowa 5, 1901
Larpenteur, Charles; Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur; Francis P. Harper, 1898
Wikipedia