Museum lecture explores state's fur trade past
(Reprinted from above link)
PARKERSBURG — The fur trade is what first opened the land that would become West Virginia to European business interests, a history presenter told a group gathered Sunday at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History in Parkersburg.
Doug Wood, a Living History Interpreter from the West Virginia Humanities Council’s History Alive program, gave a first-person portrayal of Gabriel Arthur in the first presentation of the museum’s Winter Lecture Series in February.
Arthur was a frontiersman and is believed to be the first white man to see the Kanawha Valley in 1674 while exploring the western lands, guided by a band of Yuchi Indians.
“This period of our history is so little known and I am interested in helping people understand it,” Wood said. “The West Virginia Humanities Council gave me the opportunity to do that which I am grateful for.
“It gives me the opportunity to go all over the state.”
Wood, as Arthur, recounted traversing the region and making contact with many of the area natives, making contacts for his employer Abraham Wood of Fort Henry and establishing trading partners among the local populations of Native Americans who helped supply him with much desired beaver furs.
“This laid the groundwork for the rest of history,” Wood said.
Wars among the native populations left large sections of the region untouched which allowed the animal populations to flourish leading to the skin trade of the 1600s.
“It was the traders coming into the area to trade with the Indians that first opened this region up to European settlement,” Wood said. “While the American Indians lost ground the Europeans gained ground.
“That is the history of this country.”
As Arthur, Wood detailed interacting with local Yuchi and Monyton Indians, using a horse as a way to gain the locals’ interest as well as the locals’ interest in the metalwares he carried with him as a incentive to start trading with him.
According to Wood, it is believed Arthur was an indentured servant and illiterate, but he was still a smart man being able to pick up on the natives’ languages and communicating with them through signs and gestures and using other local languages some of the natives knew.
“If you want to communicate with someone, you will find a way,” Wood said.
It is also believed that Arthur was probably in his mid-to-late teens when he ventured into this region as many adult responsibilities were put on people at a younger age.
“You can be smart and illiterate at the same time,” he said. “This man was illiterate, but he still traveled over a thousand miles, was able to talk in several different Indian tongues as well as English.
“He helped his master establish a successful skin trading business. The fur trade was the first economic enterprise between Europeans and the American Indians, long before timber and wood, tobacco, salt manufacturers and all of those.”
It is believed Abraham Wood had enough faith in Arthur’s abilities to trust him with traveling into the wilderness, establishing trading partners and forming business interests.
“Most people have no idea what was going on in West Virginia during this time period in the Ohio Valley and the Kanawha Valley,” Wood said. “It is really important to expose people to this time period. Most have never heard of Gabriel Arthur. Revealing him to the public is very important to me and one of the reasons I do it.”
Wood commended the Winter Lecture Series at the Blennerhassett Museum as a way of getting people learning about different aspects of history.
“The series will help expose people to several different eras of history as well as the people who lived and made differences in those time periods they are representing,” he said. “I think connecting with history is a good way to plan your life for the future. If you know where you come from maybe you can plan ahead going forward.”
The next entry in the Winter Lecture Series will be held at the museum at 2 p.m. Feb. 9 and will feature Lauren Cole, a naturalist at Chief Logan State Park, presenting a program about the reintroduction of elk in West Virginia and other tidbits related to West Virginia wildlife. At one time elk were common across North America providing an important source of food, shelter and clothing for Native American Indians and early European settlers.