Most fur trade era “Forts” in the far west were privately established commercial centers and had little or nothing to do with military activities. Forts were usually (although certainly not always-see Fort McKenzie) treated by the Indians as neutral zones, where tribal enemies might encamp in the vicinity of each other without major outbreaks of hostilities. Fort personnel encouraged all aspects of neutrality, after all a fur was a fur, no matter who brought it in. Also to be seen as biased towards one tribe or another risked losing the business of the favored tribes enemies. And finally, war was bad for business; men engaged in battle were not productively engaged in harvesting furs.
Most forts in the West went through a process of structural evolution. The earliest structures constructed at a location generally consisted of a palisade of cottonwood, or other local trees, surrounding several log dwellings, storehouse and trade room. If the fort was successful, as time passed and the wooden structures deteriorated, the structures would gradually be replaced with adobe. Some forts were originally constructed of adobe, owing to the lack of adequate quantities of local timber.
Living could be good, at least for some of the higher status individuals at the more important forts and posts. Some forts had ice houses, and ice would be available for making cold drinks and cooling meat well into the summer months.
Below is a brief summary of a few forts and posts with links to more detailed descriptions.
Four forts were located along a fifteen mile reach of the South Platte River, all operating concurrently from the late 1830’s to early 1840’s. These forts were Fort Vasquez, Fort Jackson, Fort Lancaster, and Fort George.
Bent’s Fort: A commercial trading center built in 1833 near what is now La Junta, in southeastern Colorado. At the time it was built it was located approximately 200 yards north of the border with Mexico.
El Pueblo: A sort of a cooperative trading post on the Arkansas River about 60 miles upriver from Bent’s Fort.
Fort Davey Crockett (Fort Misery)
Fort Hall: Originally constructed by Nathaniel Wyeth, the fort was later sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company where it was used with devastating efficiency against American fur trading outfits in the Northern Rocky Mountains.
Fort Laramie (See Fort William)
Fort Lancaster (aka Fort Lupton)
Fort McKenzie: Principle American Fur Co. post for the Blackfoot Indians on the Upper Missouri River from 1832 through early 1844.
Fort Piegan: A post established for the Blackfoot Trade by the American Fur Company on the Upper Missouri River in 1831.
Fort George (aka Fort St. Vrain, Fort Lookout)
Fort Union: This was the principle trading post of the American Fur Company on the Upper Missouri River.
Fort William (Fort Laramie): A trading post constructed by William Sublette and Robert Campbell, it would eventually become a military installation on the Oregon Trail.
Fort Platte: Post established by Lancaster Lupton to compete directly with Fort William on the North Platte River.