Title: Birchbark Brigade: A Fur Trade History
Author and Illustrator: Cris Peterson
Publisher: Calkins Creek
Concepts: natural resources, trade, barter, production
Review: European explorers in North America during the 1500s may not have discovered the much-desired Northwest Passage to China that would facilitate trade for silk and spices, but they did discover abundant sources of an equally valuable commodity: beaver pelts. Europeans came to prize beaver pelts as an important input into their hat-making industry, especially as fancy hats dominated men’s and women’s fashions and served as a major status symbol.
Native Americans had harvested and used beaver pelts for centuries to meet their own needs, and the arrival of the Europeans brought new opportunities to trade the pelts for metal knives, axe heads, and other manufactured tools. The beaver trade--which spread across North America thanks to an intricate set of wilderness trading posts and waterways navigated by traders in small brigades of birchbark canoes--flourished for close to three hundred years.
This interesting and well-researched book constitutes a useful resource for understanding the origins and spread of the fur trade between Native Americans and Europeans. It also chronicles the difficulties and injustices that Native Americans experienced with the arrival of the European explorers, thus making the fur trade a source of economic opportunity as well as sickness and violence. Young history buffs will value this book not only for the text, but also for the various selections of maps, portraits, sketches, and photos that contribute to the extensive documentation.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children