Part 3 of 5

One would think that given a marketplace position of 30,000 before the plague of 1831 that the HBC would have spent a bit more attention on what is called demographics, today. Especially when it came to the “spending power” of women. After all Fort Vancouver was really established long before Seattle’s Nordstrom, or the cross the Columbia outlet stores at Troutdale, Oregon. If the “Oragun Country” had become Canadian most likely there would have been a “Bay” as the retail anchor store at the local mall.

      There is enough historical evidence to suggest, from the pragmatic business point of view that Dr. John Mcloughlin, having come to HBC through the hostile takeover merger with the American Fur Company, was only assigned the post of Factor of the Columbia Region by George Simpson for one reason. McLoughlin was church married to a —gasp!— an Indian girl. A squaw — a derogative term! Further, the fact that she was half Cree, half French-Canadian, in the eyes of the elegant English (McLoughlin was also a looked down upon for being Scottish born) was something worse — a Métis. But this made her very useful when it came to the potential of making outrageous profits on beaver fur.

      The recorded gossip of the time about Marguerite McLoughlin doesn't mention her feminine influence, when it came to marketing to the ones who did the hard work preparing beaver pelts, and other things societal. But, records of trade goods sent by ship from London obviously had some thought about the latest in a ladies wrap, as the blankets still being sold by a Pendelton Woolen Mills outlet store in nearby Washougal to Pacific Northwest Native Americans (who did not come from India).

      When historians talk of the fur trade the primary product was the soft nap of a beaver pelt which was used to fabricate a felt needed to manufacture a gentleman's “top” hat. Badger hides provided bristles for brushes, but little fur from this trade was used for garments, such as coats. Swapping blankets and beads for beaver pelts, especially from the 1840’s on, actually was a sunset industry. Fashions had changed.

      By the time American settlers arrived in “Oragun,” Fort Vancouver’s major source of income was manufacturing (items from the forge, bakery, lumber mill and the first hospital in the region); marketing of foodstuffs grown on company farms or taken in on debt payment; and the sale of ‘necessities’ imported from England.

      Without cash during the early years the price of a blanket was measured in “points,” the number of beaver pelts it took to make the purchase. However, during the immigrant years wheat became the local currency. When Americans began arriving at the end of the Oregon Trail, they were for the most part destitute. Although it was against company policy, Dr. McLoughlin extended credit, including medical services, perhaps as suggested because part of his income was derived from profit sharing. However the “outsiders” were charged the highest of four tariffs, or 100 percent over London cost; “Commissioned Gentlemen” paid 25 percent.

      When an “Oragunian’s” account was paid by delivering wheat, the surplus amount was credited with a receipt. These documents were passed by the general public as currency, and as such became the first banking system in the territory. What finally brought the monopoly to an economic end was business competition from across the Colombia River. The Hudson’s Bay Store was well noted for simple items, as a dark blue, or red, “strong
cloth,” much favored by the Indians. But, if you wanted fancy cloth the choice was limited to an “Argyle, McDuff, Rob Roy, or Royal Stuart tartan.” Salt pork was plentiful but the Company did not make bacon —which was then a staple in the American diet.

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