One question that frequently pops up amongst fur trade era re-enactors is "what kinds of beads were available at that time, and how common were they?" (See "Seed Beads in the Northwest", Northwest JournalVolume IV, pp.2-9) As a consequence of trying to answer this question, we are always on the lookout for good examples of well documented trade beads.
One such bead caught our eye as we were pouring over the artifacts from the North West Company's Rocky Mountain House site on the North Saskatchewan River. The artifacts are on display at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, located just south of the town of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. This fur trade post was first built in 1799. In 1821 when the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company, trading activites were moved about 100 meters upstream to the Bay's Acton House.
The bead is a large (aprox. 3/4") clear glass bead with a flower design.It is one of the larger beads on display at the site, and similar to modern beads.
Bead at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, AlbertaSome time later, we visited the Fort George-Buckingham House Provincial Historic Site, located on the North Saskatchewan River 13 kilometers southeast of the town of Elk Point, Alberta. Fort George was a North West Company post which stood only about 50 meters from the rival Hudson's Bay Company's Buckingham House. (The two forts are so close together that they actually shared a well.) Both forts operated from 1792 until 1801.
The interpretive center at the site displays many artifacts recovered from the site. In the bead display, we were excited to discover the very same bead design as that at Rocky Mountain House.
Bead at Fort George-Buckingham House Provincial Historic Site, Alberta.
This bead type must have been quite common or popular for it to turn up at two sites over 300 kilometers apart.
The plot, however, was about to thicken. As we were filing some snapshots of artifacts we took at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg, we were amazed to spot the very same bead type in a display of artifacts from the site of Fort des Epinette (Pine Fort), a North West Company post near the city of Brandon, Manitoba which operated from 1793 - 1798.
Bead at Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, Winnepeg
Brandon, Manitoba is over one thousand kilometers from both Rocky Mountain House and Fort George, so this bead may have been distributed in very large quantites indeed. It is unusual to be able to nail down an artifact as well as this. We have not seen this bead type listed in popular books on the subject. For re-enactment or representation purposes, there are similar modern bead designs which would clearly be good analogs.
Keep your eyes peeled as you peruse your local artifacts--you never know what you might find out! If you have seen this bead in another location, please let us know!
Copyright 1994-2002 Northwest Journal ISSN 1206-4203. May I copy this article for my class?