THE FIRST IN THE WILDERNESS by David Lavender

THE FIRST IN THE WILDERNESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This is a bumper for books on the early American fur trade. Cuthand, The Mountain Man (see p. 776) tells the tale through a biography of a rugged individualist who led beaver-trapping expeditions in the Rockies. Mari Sandoz's epochal The eaver Men (see p. 784) is a more sweeping account and relates the death of the individualist and rise of the great companies and monopolies. Now First in the Wilderness presents much of the same material and is even more inclusive and considerably more original in its approach to the subjects. Lavender's inspiration is to show the changeover of the fur trade as an essentially wilderness occupation for daring men bartering with Indians (who did the real work) into an occupation for pioneers who set up trading posts and stores once the wilderness had been laid open. The inspiration lies in using the man who was second-in-command (and sort of field representative) to the greatest exploiter of them all, John Jacob Astor, whose American Fur Company became the giant list scooping up millions of pelts. The man, Ramsay Crooks, could gouge when he had to, but his and Astor's technique was quite similar to today's conservative investment methods and was seldom adventuresome with capital. Through Ramsay Crooks, and without whitewashing, Lavender corrects several black misconceptions about Astor's ruthlessness.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1964
Publisher: Doubleday