The Arkansas Post Story
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Chapter 13:

At first, little tangible change occurred with the American occupation of Louisiana. Arkansas began its economic life with the fur trade and passed only gradually through this phase. The United States assumed the role of trading with Indians west of the Mississippi, and for this purpose, a government trading house or factory was established at Arkansas Post.

In 1805, John B. Treat, newly appointed government factor, traveled to Arkansas Post. Treat found a small community of about 120 habitants of French and Spanish extraction. The village included approximately 20 houses neatly arranged along 2 streets. Fort Madison, situated on a nearby hill, contained a small garrison commanded by Lieutenant Many. A few American farmers had settled their families in the vicinity of the post and cultivated the rich Arkansas bottomlands. The older habitants followed their traditional pursuits—hunting and trading with the Indians. [1]

Treat hoped to have the factory operating within the year. As a temporary measure, the merchandise Treat brought with him was stored in the garrison. After searching for a suitable factory building, Treat eventually purchased a two-story log house in the vicinity of the fort. The lower floor of the building was dark and cool, ideal conditions for a "skin room." In the spring of 1806, the factor began construction of additional buildings including a house to accommodate visiting Indians. In the fall of the year, the factory doors opened for business.

Almost from the beginning, the government factory was doomed. At first, Treat's inexperience as a trader hampered factory operations. He had no formal business training or knowledge of handling skins. Many of Treat's bundles of furs were poorly packed and arrived in New Orleans rotten and infested with worms. Black market trading remained a problem and captured much of the factors' business. In 1806, Treat complained that "we have been deprived of considerable quantity of furs, carried from the White River by illicit traders." [2]

Treat faced even stiffer competition from licensed traders at Arkansas Post. These original French and Spanish merchants had conducted business with the Indians for years and strongly resented any competition from the United States government. Treat commented that "every Inhabitant, who could be considered a Trader has and still continued every exertion to oppose us—a meeting has been held for the purpose of devising means the most efficaceous to prevent our success." [3]

making fur bundle with wedge press
Figure 23. Making a bundle of furs with a wedge press. Improperly packaged, skins soon became infested with worms rendering them useful only to the glue maker. Original housed at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis.

The House of Bright and Morgan, a local trading firm, proved to be Treat's most serious competitor. This company managed to secure a trade monopoly with the Osage from the Secretary of War. The increased volume of trade for the House of Bright and Morgan allowed them to slash prices at Arkansas Post and undersell all other competitors. Treat complained bitterly. From a total of 975 packs of deer skins shipped from Arkansas Post in 1806, 267 belonged to Bright and Morgan while only 61 were owned by the government factory. Between 1806-1808, the Quapaw traded only 10 packs of skins at the factory. Treat's returns reflected a steady decline. In 1810, no longer able to justify expenses, the factory at Arkansas Post closed its doors for good. [4]

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Last Updated: 13-Feb-2006