Rocky Mountain Fur Company
The Rocky Mountain Fur Company, sometimes called Ashley's Hundred, was organized in St. Louis, Missouri in 1823 by General William H. Ashley and Major Andrew Henry. They posted advertisements in St. Louis newspapers seeking "One Hundred enterprising young men . . . to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years." Among those hired were Jedediah Smith, the four Sublette brothers, including William and Milton, Jim Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick and David Edward Jackson, who in 1826, bought the Company and for the next seven years it continued to prosper. Other mountain men who worked for the Company were Jim Bridger, Joseph Meek, Robert Newell, George W. Ebbert, and Kit Carson.
Major Henry's plan was formed in response to a July 1822 law prohibiting the sale of alcohol to Indians. Prior to this point, the fur trade had relied on Indians to do the actual trapping and hunting that produced the furs; they were then brought to trading posts where, with increasing frequency, the Indians were given liquor both as an actual medium of exchange, and in order to render them pliant and easily cheated. The pattern was so firmly established that it was difficult to conduct business without a substantial supply of alcohol. Henry's plan made Indian trappers and trading posts unnecessary—he trained young American men to trap, and had them meet him at rendezvous, which were temporary, and could be located wherever it was convenient.
The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was a rival to Hudson's Bay Company and John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. They frequently held their rendezvous near a Hudson's Bay Company post to draw off some of their Indian trade, and their trappers went into the Snake, Umpqua and Rogue River valleys, all of which were considered the domain of the Hudson's Bay Company.
The fur trade declined in the 1830s due to major declines in the beaver population and the fact that beaver hats were going out of style, replaced by hats made of silk. A Hudson's Bay Company policy of underselling the American fur companies in the Rocky Mountains during the late 1830s succeeded in destroying the American system and led to the failure of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.