Trade

Map of Texas, 1840Trade was a vital part of Sam Houston's Indian policy. Houston believed that, like whites, Indians enjoyed buying, selling, and trading for the necessities and comforts of life. Once they became accustomed to a commercial way of life, the Indians would find it advantageous to give up their warring, wandering ways. The most important trading houses were operated by the Torrey family, which operated posts in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Fredericksburg, as well as branches on the Bosque and Brazos rivers.

The Indian trade was regulated by treaty and government rules. In the official government trading houses, the Indians traded deerskins for trade goods. The traders also acted as middlemen to recover captives, runaway slaves, and stolen horses from the Indians. Under government rules, the trading posts were forbidden to sell firearms, war supplies, or liquor.

Houston was thwarted in his efforts to crack down on unauthorized trade, in which unscrupulous traders furnished weapons to the Indians in exchange for stolen horses and cattle. The Texas Congress, always more interested in military matters, refused to authorize any money for enforcement of government trading rules.

Western to Sloat, 1845

"The Sooner They Begin to Be Obedient, the Better"

The firm of Torrey and Brothers played a critical role in the Indian policy of Sam Houston. The branch at the falls of the Brazos (Tehuacana Creek) was granted official status by the Republic of Texas in 1843 and had a near monopoly on the Indian trade.

 


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 2, #177. Letter from Thomas G. Western to Benjamin Sloat, April 2, 1845.

"Great Complaints Were Made of High Prices"

From 1844 to 1853 the Indians brought in at least 75,000 deerskins to the Torrey trading post. These skins were then transported to Houston by freighters. Leonard Williams, the agent to whom this letter was written, was both a government employee and a freighter. Indian Superintendent Thomas G. Western seems at pains here to emphasize that official duties came before business opportunities. Williams provides a dramatic illustration of the education needed to survive on the frontier; he used an X to sign documents, but spoke seven or eight Indian dialects.


Indian Papers, Volume 2, #193. Letter from Thomas G. Western to L. Williams, April 29, 1845.

Thomas G. Western to L. Williams, 1845
Thomas G. Western to Torrey brothers, 1845

Thomas G. Western to Torrey and Brothers, 1845

Illegal trading was a constant bane of the trading post system. In this letter, Indian superintendent Thomas G. Western assures the Torreys that illegal trading will be promptly squelched. The Indian agent referred to in this letter, Robert S. Neighbors, became one of the most important white men on the Texas frontier. Neighbors traveled far beyond the line of white settlement to visit the Indians in their home territory.

 


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 2, #220. Letter from Thomas G. Western to Torrey and Brothers, May 30, 1845.

Trading House Invoice for Goods, 1845

The invoice for Trading House Number One on the Trinity River reveals the types of goods for which the Indians wished to trade, including blankets, cloth, needles, beads, knives, soap, shoes, coffee, sugar, and gunpowder and lead.


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 2, #243. Trading House No. 1 Invoice of Goods Introduced by Mathias Travis through Isaac C. Spence, July 10, 1845.

Trading House invoice, 1845

Spence to Western, 1845

Description of New Trading House, 1845

This letter describes a new trading house being built near the west fork of the Trinity River. In another trading house description, German settler Ferdinand von Roemer described the Torrey trading house on the Brazos as six or seven log houses standing in a post oak grove on a high, pebble-covered hill overlooking Tehuacana Creek. The largest house held pelts, another contained trade goods, and the rest served as living quarters.


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 2, #314. Letter from I.C. Spence to Thomas G. Western, September 9, 1845.


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