Life is looking up at the Museum of the Fur Trade.
Place at a Glance
||Open May-October from 8-5 daily; off-season by appointment
|What to Know
||Request a scavenger hunt (picture or word versions) to engage kids
||Children age 18 and under are free; adults are $5;
||Educational tours are a possibility; small groups are probably ideal
||Limited tactile opportunities, although there are plenty of places to explore;Fragile objects are on display – no running or touching most display objects
||Ideally for ages 8 and up, although certain parts would appeal to all
Before our trip to the Museum of the Fur Trade near Chadron, Nebraska, I could have told you the basics about the fur trade. Trappers, Indians, supplies, beads. After our outing, I can tell you that there is SO much that I do not know. I had no idea just how far reaching the fur trade was. About how many cultures and kingdoms this type of commerce has impacted. In fact, I am feeling rather cautious about typing factual information for fear of being way off base. So, I will share bits and pieces of what we saw and what I began to learn and hopefully do so with accuracy. Anything more and you will need to visit for yourself. (Which I highly recommend!)
A well done representation of a fur trader in a seeded frame (evidently these type of frames were popular long ago!)
My initial impressions: fur traders were rough, tough, strong and hardy man. They were not scared of adventure. Or hardship. Or weather. Okay – maybe they had moments of fear. But they still went on anyway, not knowing what to expect. Travel and Escape has posted the Canadian Film Board’s classic movie on the “Voyageurs” that is playing at the museum. (My boys sat there and watched it through almost two full times before we left the museum!) Trappers would trade for tools, and traders would trade furs for goods. A beneficial cycle for everyone. Mostly. Unless greed or dishonesty was involved (which had to occur sometimes!)
The only place I have seen where having a bear skin on the wall looked perfectly natural.
One thing I did learn: much of the trading involved guns. The museum strives to have the most complete “trader” guns collection possible. So, they annually attend the larger gun shows to continue to keep up their stock.
Although I will never be a hunter, I have to say I was impressed with their display!
Many of the traded guns had the snake insignia on the back, per the Native American’s request. That was the symbol they wanted to see.
This is the documented gun of Red Cloud, one of several guns “collected” that were actually used by others and where the story behind the gun is known.
Why is this museum so well done? They have had the same curator/director for 17 years. Gail DeBuse Potter is meticulous about detail and is so incredibly knowledgeable about the fur trade and antiquities. (In fact, I missed getting to see parts of the museum as in-depth as I would have enjoyed because I was talking to her for so long. Fascinating woman!) She is recording details that have never been documented and compiled before and is overseeing the project of compiling several volumes of fur trade history.
One example of a wall display. Hard to take great pictures due to the low lighting that is necessary to preserve the objects.
The other main factor that makes this museum unique: collections were acquired deliberately, as opposed to an “object donation” only basis. Since the museum is writing down the history, they are compiling items and memorabilia that best reflect the events that occurred in the past. Due to monetary donations and other acquisitions, the museum has been able to stay very purposeful.
A sample of the Native American collection.
Director Potter does feel that the focus of the museum is more for adults. Yet because of the immensity and variety of collections, as well as the outdoor displays, my children loved the museum. She did give my boys a picture scavenger hunt to complete which helped them to really hunt through the displays, and then there was even small prizes at the end.
The boys each got a commemorative Lewis & Clark nickel for completing the hunt. (And a small coloring book too!) I am not sure what she hands out to larger groups.
So, while the focus is not children, they will still have a great time. My youngest two missed out on this event, but even at 4 and 6, I think they would have enjoyed seeing all of the displays. I know that my oldest two thought that this was one of the best museums ever!