Trading the fast pace of life for furs

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Eleanor Lybeck was born and raised in Prairie du Chien. She now lives in Decorah, Iowa, but brought her five grandchildren—from St. Louis and New York—back to her hometown for the fur trade-themed Fridays at the Fort. She took a moment, here, to help Ainsley sew her suede medicine bag. Pictured (above), down the line, are granddaughters Avery, Addison and Taryn. Below, her youngest, Derrick, learns how to stitch around the outside of his bag, with some help from instructor Abbey Harkrader, of Clayton County Conservation. They all got to take their bags home. (Photos by Correne Martin)

Pictured are examples of the many animal pelts that were traded centuries ago. In trading, one beaver pelt was equal to 1.5 pounds of gunpowder, 2 pounds of sugar, 1 pound of lead, 30 musket balls, 1 brass kettle, 10 finger rings, 4 knives, 1 silver fur trade cross, 25 sewing needles, 3/4 pound of colored glass beads, 1/2 pound white beads, 8 moose hooves, 10 pounds of feathers, 1 pound of castoreum, 2 deer skins, 2 otter pelts, 2 wolverine pelts and 1 fisher pelt.

A history of the fur trade and the French, British and American eras of the 250-year time span was retold as part of the free, educational Fridays at the Fort program Aug. 9, at Prairie du Chien’s Ft. Crawford Museum. 

Around 20 children and adults heard a summary of this pivotal part of the region’s past. They learned about the Native American, French and British traders and the goods they exchanged, which included pelts from fur bearing animals that roamed the area at the time. Fridays at the Fort participants felt the softness of various animal pelts, from the small weasel on up to a black bear. 

Then, Abbey Harkrader, of Clayton County Conservation, led the group in sewing suede medicine bags from deer hide, leather and hemp thread. She shared that the Native Americans were known for using every single part of the animals they killed to make their goods and food.

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