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David Thompson and the Fur Trade in NW Montana

| May 2, 2008 12:00 AM

May 5, 2008 marks the 200th anniversary of the arrival of David Thompson of the Northwest Fur Company and his men to what would later be the site of Libby, Montana.

Thompson is acclaimed as one of the greatest land geographers who ever lived. Between 1784-1850, Thompson traveled over 55,000 miles and mapped the principal geographic features over an area of 1.5 million square miles from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Coast.

He filled in a large area of what had been unknown before on the maps of North America.

Unfortunately Thompson died in obscurity and poverty and his great maps were copied by Aaron Arrowsmith of London, England who did not give credit for Thompson’s work.

During the 1880’s the great accomplishments of this map were rediscovered by Canadian Geologist Joseph R. Tyrrell who began the process of documenting Thompson’s accomplishments in the exploration and mapping of the northwest part of the North American continent.

Thompson left Kootenae House, present day Windermere, B.C., by canoe on an exploring and trading journey with four men, and trade goods in twelve 90 pound bales called pieces.

He made his way down the Kootenai River describing and mapping the country in his journal as he traveled. David Thompson operated through this area between 1808 and 1812.

Thompson left the Pacific Northwest in 1812 for the east side of the Rocky Mountains never to return. He began work on his great map in the Province of Quebec using the astronomical observations and the geographical data from his journals, finishing the map in 1814.

The Heritage Museum is pleased to open an exhibit dedicated to David Thompson and the fur trade in Northwestern Montana.

This exhibit was made possible by a grant from the Lincoln County Commissioners and private donations.

One display will be dedicated to David Thompson and will focus on his mapping of this area while the other display will be of the history of the fur trade and trading operations of the Northwest Fur Company who operated in the area from 1808 to 1821, and the Hudson Bay Company operations in 1810-1811 and 1821-1860.

In about 1860 the Hudson Bay Company moved their operations north across the International Boundary into British Territory.

One American Company, the Pacific Fur Company, briefly operated a trading operation on the middle Kootenai River area in competition with the Northwest Fur Company during the winter of 1812-1813.

The opening and dedication of the David Thompson and Fur Trade exhibits will take place at the Heritage Museum, 1367 U.S. Highway 2, Libby, Montana, at 7 p.m., May 5.

The opening ceremony will be followed by a presentation on David Thompson and the fur trade in northwestern Montana.

Refreshments will be served at the Heritage Museum Cook House.