William Laidlaw – Most Able Trapper

Fort Pieree, South Dakota

Fort Pierre, South Dakota

William Laidlaw was a fur trader said to have been one of the best next to Kenneth McKenzie.

Born in Scotland in about 1798, Laidlaw was trained in the British Fur companies’ service before immigrating to America. First arriving in Canada, he went to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1822, where he joined the Columbia Fur Company. He was soon assigned the post of Fort Tecumseh, which later became Fort Pierre Chouteau in present-day South Dakota, the largest and most important post next to Fort Union, North Dakota.

When the firm merged with the American Fur Company in 1827, he stayed on and, in about 1834, became a partner in the Upper Missouri Outfit. Sometimes in charge of Fort Union, he was said to have been a severe taskmaster, and his tyrannical temper often made him unpopular. A great lover of hunting, he spent much time in the buffalo chase. Like Kenneth McKenzie, he was a good letter writer and was considered one of the ablest fur trappers in the business. Somewhere along the line, he married a Sioux woman named MaryAnn, and the two would have five daughters. Remaining always faithful to her, they retired to Liberty, Missouri, where he built a house. He kept an open to his friends as long as his money lasted, but when he died on October 9, 1852, he was a poor man.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated June 2023.

Also See:

American Fur Company

Fur Trading on the Frontier

Trading Posts of the Mountain Men

Trappers, Traders & Pathfinders