Out Where the West Begins: Profiles, Visions, and Strategies of Early Western Business Leaders

Out Where the West Begins: Profiles, Visions, and Strategies of Early Western Business Leaders

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780990550204
Publisher: Cloud Camp Press
Publication date: 01/30/2015
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 258,311
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Philip F. Anschutz is owner of The Anschutz Corporation, Denver, Colorado, whose major business interests are in communications, transportation, natural and renewable resources, real estate, lodging, and entertainment. A native of Kansas, he graduated from the University of Kansas in 1961 with a degree in business. He started The Anschutz Corporation in 1965. He has served on boards and committees of various charitable, civic, industry, and financial organizations. Among Mr. Anschutz’s personal interests is the collecting of paintings of the early American West.

William J. Convery,retired as Colorado State Historian and Director of Exhibits and Interpretation for History Colorado, teaches history at the University of Colorado, Denver. 

Thomas J. Noel is Professor of History and Director of Public History, Preservation, and Colorado Studies at University of Colorado Denver. He appears regularly on Denver’s Channel 9 (NBC) as “Dr. Colorado,” writes a Sunday Denver Post column, and is the author or coauthor of more than 40 books, including Colorado: A History of the Centennial State (coauthored with Carl Abbott and Steve Leonard) and Colorado: A Liquid History and Tavern Guide to the Highest State.

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Daring and energetic, boastful, blustering, scheming — Manuel Lisa was the first, most colorful, and, arguably, most imaginative businessman in the upper Missouri River fur trade. Hiram Chittenden, the grandfather of fur trade historians, called Lisa "the most active and indefatigable trader that St. Louis ever produced." A self-made man and a fierce competitor, Lisa was the first St. Louis trader to probe the Santa Fe Trail and the first to test the commercial potential of the Rocky Mountains after Lewis and Clark's return. He played a key role in the St. Louis and the Missouri River trade between 1807 and 1820, building the first trading post in today's Montana. Virtually all subsequent traders followed his business model of establishing fixed posts deep in Indian country. The energetic trader ascended the Missouri no fewer than twelve times, spending a cumulative eight years in the wild. Lisa once boasted to William Clark, "I put into my operations great activity. I go a great distance while some are considering whether they start today or tomorrow."

Despite his frequent travels, Lisa enjoyed affectionate relations with his wives and children. In family matters, Lisa adopted the pragmatic approach common among Creole traders, taking one spouse in St. Louis and a Native American one in the field. His first wife, Polly Charles, was the widow of a frontier settler who died in an Indian raid. Following Polly's death in 1817, Lisa married Mary Hempstead Keeney, the widowed sister of a St. Louis business associate. Neither union produced surviving children. Lisa's genuine affection for both his American wives did not prevent him from marrying Mitian, an Omaha Indian woman, which strengthened his commercial ties to her tribe, in 1814. Their daughter, Rosalie, was Lisa's only offspring who survived to adulthood.

Lisa was born in 1772, in Spanish New Orleans. His father, Cristoval de Lisa, was a native of Murcia, Spain, and his Spanish mother, Maria Ignacía Rodríguez, of colonial St. Augustine, Florida, the first city planted by Europeans in what is now North America. Cristoval, a Spanish colonial bureaucrat, ranked as a sergeant in the colonial militia and likely worked as a New Orleans customs official. Little is recorded of Lisa's youth, but by the early 1790s the self-billed "merchant of New Orleans" was already familiar with the Mississippi and Ohio River trade. As the owner of a small trade boat, then proprietor of a store in Vincennes, Indiana (America's westernmost settlement at the time), Lisa learned firsthand the dangers of commerce. Whether contending with rivals willing to murder the competition to get ahead or bargaining with unpredictable Indian tribes hundreds of miles from home, Lisa relished the (literally) cutthroat nature of his business.

The take-no-prisoners nature of frontier commerce sharpened his business sense even as it dulled his scruples. Biographer Richard Oglesby noted that "Lisa always was present and active when there were any prospects of profit, and usually was far away when expenditures were to be made." Enemies — and Lisa made many — considered him an unscrupulous, litigious braggart. He drove his employees mercilessly. He complained incessantly that his competitors were conspiring to ruin him, while himself scheming to foil them. He never hesitated to file legal and ethical complaints against his competitors, yet regularly violated legal and ethical codes when it granted him an edge.

Lisa especially irritated authority figures. A talented opportunist who bridled against regulatory restrictions, Lisa railed against government oversight and dodged official regulations whenever it served his interests. Spanish authorities found that paying off the entrepreneur with favors did little to silence his complaints; the lieutenant governor of Spanish Louisiana eventually jailed Lisa for using abusive language. Captain Meriwether Lewis cursed his sharp business practices, claiming that Lisa and a partner gave him "more vexation and trouble than their lives are worth." Louisiana's first American governor, James Wilkinson, called Lisa the "Black Spaniard" and condemned his "despicable intrigues."

On the positive side of the ledger, Lisa poured boundless energy into his endeavors. In his comprehensive survey of the fur trade, historian Hiram Chittenden wrote, "Privation, hardship, incessant toil, were [Lisa's] constant portion." He led from the front, taking a hand at the oars, wrestling his keelboats upstream against the Missouri River current, leading his boatmen in song, and encouraging them to perform beyond their capabilities. Lisa, Chittenden wrote, "never shrank from any work that he demanded from his men." His Indian customers regarded him as brave and fair, and he possessed a talent for mollification, intuiting the exact amount of honey required to win over an opponent. Lisa's boatmen sometimes complained about their hardships, and his partners never fully trusted him. But he was respected, because no one else could ferry people and goods safely up and down the treacherous Missouri like he could. In fairness, it may be said that he entertained no fewer scruples than his rivals; Lisa simply played a better game, and he was a better leader of men.

It's hard to exaggerate how remote St. Louis really was when Lisa finally settled there in 1799. Wilderness lay on all sides, and only a handful of voyageurs had dared venture up the Missouri, Arkansas, or Platte Rivers. No one had a clear picture of the geography drained by the western tributaries of the Mississippi or exactly who lived there. St. Louis in 1799 was a Spanish possession with a largely French population. Brothers Auguste and Pierre Chouteau dominated commerce. Abetted by exclusive trade licenses from the Spanish government, the Chouteaus rested comfortably on their reputation as St. Louis's oldest and richest trading clan. This combination of mystery and monopoly was an irresistible draw for Manuel Lisa.

Lisa had hardly settled in St. Louis before he led an insurgency against the status quo. Unhappy with the Spanish mercantilist policies that gave the Chouteaus trade monopolies with local tribes, he convinced nearly three dozen St. Louis merchants to sign his petition denouncing government licensing. As a lower-class Spaniard, Lisa believed free trade would give small independent businessmen a fighting chance. "We would see industry revive," he wrote. "Speculations would quickly follow one another; and various enterprises would be formed which would tend to regenerate the country and make it flourish." Convinced that he could compete on any level playing field, Lisa pushed with all his might against the rigid social hierarchy of colonial Spain.

Lisa's tilt at mercantilism only earned him a severe rebuke from the Spanish government. Unable to pry open the marketplace, the wily trader angled to swipe the Chouteaus' vaunted trade monopoly with the Osage tribe for himself. The Chouteaus had initially won the franchise by subsidizing a military post near the Osage villages, but they were unable to meet their fiscal obligations, even requesting a government loan to help them supply the fort. Lisa switched from championing free trade to offering his own exclusive services to the Spanish government. In 1802, two years before the Chouteaus' license was set to expire, he petitioned against the Chouteau-Osage alliance and offered generous considerations in exchange for a five-year permit. Proffering his boundless love for the Spanish crown, he promised to build a flour mill for the good of the community and coyly offered a thousand-dollar "gift" to the royal treasury. His protestations of love and patriotism, lubricated with hard cash, persuaded officials to take away the Chouteaus' monopoly and award it to the upstart Lisa.

Louisiana's transfer to France in 1800, and then to the United States in 1803, radically changed the commercial rules of engagement. The Americans ended the practice of licensing and sponsored official military explorations, led by Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, and others, to chart out the potential roads, resources, and markets of the upper Missouri and Arkansas River country. Lewis and Clark's triumphant 1806 return from the Pacific Coast in particular set new speculative fires alight in Lisa's imagination.

Experienced and well connected, Lisa next organized daring new ventures into the unknown. In 1807 he drew fire from the new American governor, James Wilkinson, for launching an illicit trading expedition to Santa Fe. (Perhaps forewarned of Wilkinson's wrath, Lisa called the venture off.) At the same time, he began outfitting a voyage up the Missouri River to the Rockies. Hiring some fifty or sixty men, including several experienced Lewis and Clark men, as guides, the St. Louis merchant and his partners loaded two keelboats with trade goods and equipment. He imagined building a string of permanent trading forts secure enough to defend his employees and their wares from Indian raids in the heart of Indian country. Except perhaps for John Jacob Astor, no American had imagined trading on such a continental scale, and none — not even Astor — had yet risked so much or gone so far.

Setting out in April 1807, Lisa personally led the expedition past the Arikara and Mandan villages of North Dakota and into the Crow and Blackfeet homelands. His very presence threatened to upset the delicate economic balance between the Indian traders of lower Missouri villages and their upstream customers. Marshalling all his skill at bluster and diplomacy, Lisa forged lasting trade alliances. He alternately distributed presents to willing headmen and threatened force to intimidate tribes who challenged his passage. Under his supervision, the company built Fort Raymond, named after Lisa's newborn son, at the confluence of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers in present-day Montana.

Lisa's success made it easier to secure capital for a second expedition. With the enterprising Spaniard at their head, St. Louis's leading merchants organized the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company, attracting local power brokers such as Benjamin Wilkinson (brother of the first American governor of Louisiana), Reuben Lewis (brother of the then-current governor, Meriwether Lewis), William Clark, and the Ste. Genevieve lead mining magnate Andrew Henry. After careful consideration, even Lisa's old enemy Pierre Chouteau signed on.

Backed by St. Louis's most powerful families, Lisa ascended the river again in 1809. This time the company included thirteen keelboats and more than 300 men, including French voyageurs, Delaware and Shawnee hunters, and American riflemen and traders. The Missouri Fur Company built new posts and returned the Mandan chief Shehaka, long blocked by his Indian enemies downriver, to his North Dakota home.

Thomas James, an American soldier of fortune who captained one of the keelboats, recorded his surprise and resentment at meeting a Spaniard with such drive and enterprise. In his account, "Liza [sic] and some of his colleagues lorded over the poor fellows most arrogantly, and made them work as if their lives depended on their getting forward with the greatest possible speed." Unused to Lisa's driving pace — matched by that of the expedition's fierce French voyageurs — many of the Americans employees remained surly throughout the journey.

The Missouri Fur Company established new forts in today's Wyoming, near the headwaters of the Missouri in Montana, and across the Continental Divide. Their trip was unprofitable. A costly fire consumed one post, destroying thousands in furs and supplies. Lisa's trapping parties faced constant resistance from the Blackfeet, who opposed virtually all American incursions into their territory. Blackfeet warriors hunted Missouri Fur Company trappers wherever they could find them, often mutilating the dead and selling their horses, equipment, and pelts to the Hudson's Bay Company. On one occasion, they captured and stripped Missouri Fur Company employee John Colter, ordering the naked mountain man to race for his life. The desperate Colter outran the Blackfeet; his subsequent eleven-day al fresco hike to Lisa's trading post entered the legends of the mountain men. By 1810 Lisa realized that unlocking the immense wealth of the Rockies required more capital and supplies than St. Louis traders could marshal. Lisa beat the bushes for new suppliers, traveling to Detroit, Montreal, and Philadelphia. Unsuccessful, he gloomily conceded that the company would be unable to provide its posts with trade goods and equipment for the 1810–1811 season.

At this vulnerable moment, John Jacob Astor struck. The New Yorker sent agents to St. Louis to prepare for a leap across the Continental Divide to the Columbia. The deep-pocketed Astorians drove up wages and prices for goods, and they got a head start over Lisa's hastily-organized rival expedition. Lisa used every trick he knew to hinder the Astorians, attempting at one point to serve an arrest warrant on the Astorians' interpreter. Failing that, the wily trader exploited his knowledge of the Missouri's geography, using shortcuts and sniffing out calm eddies to snatch a few hours here, a few miles there, to make up for his opponents' lead.

Certain that Lisa intended to forge ahead in order to turn the upriver Indians against them, the Astorians drove on, ignoring Lisa's implorations for them to wait. For his part, Lisa drove his oarsmen on, sometimes keeping them at work deep into the night. He asked no less of himself, taking turns at the oars, guiding his boat by the stars, feeding his engagés Herculean meals to keep their strength up, and leading them in song to maintain their spirits. After sixty days of chase, the two groups combined.

Perhaps Lisa realized that Astorians could fulfill his desperate need for horses and supplies. Better to work together on good terms to ensure peaceful travel through potentially hostile territory. The leader of the Astorians concluded otherwise. Lisa only wanted to catch up, he believed, in order to forge ahead and rile up unfriendly Indians.

The combined economic might of the St. Louis bourgeoisie was not enough to compete with Astor. Although the Missouri partners considered an alliance with the New York magnate, they instead kept him at arm's length. But then, neither had they much use for Lisa. When the Missouri Fur Company reorganized in January 1812, Manuel was removed from the board of directors. Investment capital dried up in the face of rumors of approaching war with the British, which meant British-influenced Indians would be hostile. The directors disbanded the Missouri Fur Company in January 1814.

Lisa was the only active trader on the upper Missouri during the War of 1812, defying his former partners by continuing to operate under the Missouri Fur Company banner. But wartime hostility of the upper Missouri tribes, encouraged by British agents, caused him to close his advance posts. From his remaining base at Fort Lisa, near Council Bluffs, Iowa, Lisa served as a United States Indian agent, successfully encouraging local tribes to launch war parties against the British and their Indian allies. Lisa spent much of the later 1810s rebuilding his lost empire, eventually reopening trade as far as the Mandan villages, near today's Stanton, North Dakota. By 1816 the trader again advertised in St. Louis newspapers for investors seeking to profit from trade ventures beyond the Platte River. Conditions had improved enough by 1818 that Lisa was actively planning new posts beyond the Missouri headwaters.

A sudden illness struck Lisa on his way back from a Missouri trading expedition in the spring of 1820. His prodigious energy flagged rapidly. On August 12, 1820, Lisa perished "without distressing struggles." Lisa's passing left a void in the fur trade that remained unfilled until the emergence of the Rocky Mountain and American Fur Companies in 1822. Yet even in death, Lisa's impact was profound. The St. Louis trader was among the first Americans to exploit the vast beaver country at the foot of the Rockies, successfully building an extensive trade network without the deep reserves of an Astor. He had risen from practically nothing, shouldering aside St. Louis's trading elites to become one of the Gateway City's leading citizens. As an Indian agent, he fought to protect Native American land rights, and he earned the respect of his Indian clients. Lisa trained a cadre of traders who carried on his legacy for another generation. And perhaps most importantly, his ventures aided the young United States. Lisa's outposts strengthened American claims to lands contested by Spain and Great Britain, and he supplied goods and information to government explorers such as Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike as they charted the boundaries of America's new western territories.


Excerpted from "Out Where the West Begins Volume 1"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Cloud Camp Press LLC, Denver, CO.
Excerpted by permission of Cloud Camp Press, LLC.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 11

Foreword 13

Early Trade and Commerce

Manuel Lisa 22

William Henry Ashley 32

John Jacob Astor 40

Charles and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain 49

Agriculture and Livestock

Brigham Young 60

Cyrus H. McCormick 67

Charles Goodnight 74

John Wesley Iliff 85

Charles Boettcher 92

Henry Miller 101

Frederick Weyerhaeuser 108

Railroads and Transportation

Henry Wells and William Fargo 118

John Evans 125

Benjamin Holladay 132

The Big Four: Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Jr., Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker 141

Thomas C Durant 153

Cyrus K. Holliday 160

Theodore D. Judah 167

George Mortimer Pullman 175

William Jackson Palmer 186

James J. Hill 195

Fred Harvey 202

Henry E. Huntington 211

Mineral Extraction

Meyer Guggenheim 220

Nathaniel P. Hill 229

John D. Rockefeller, Sr. 238

Edward L. Doheny 246

George Hearst 255

Spencer Penrose 264


Samuel Colt 276

Levi Strauss 282

Gustavus Franklin Swift 287

Andrew Carnegie 293

Charles A. Pillsbury 301

Adolph Coors 307

Henry Ford 316

Finance and Banking

Jay Cooke 326

Walter Scott Cheesman 336

A. P. Giannini 345

J. P. Morgan 353

Entertainment and Communication

Harrison Gray Otis 362

Carl Laemmle 369

Buffalo Bill Cody 377

Index 384

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