The Beaver

The North American fur trade was a vastly powerful engine that drove European immigration, economic growth and the geographical expansion of white presence and control for more than two hundred years. From its beginnings on the Atlantic coast, the trade spread north and west, stretching eventually to the Pacific and the fringes of the Arctic. Many animals were trapped for their fur, for a variety of uses, but it was the demand for beaver fur for making hats which proved the most enduring and lucrative aspect of the enterprise.

In the early modern period, the fur of the European beaver (castor fiber) was the main raw material of the hatting industry. Beaver fur is ideally suited to making hats: it is strong, resistant to tearing and unravelling, unlike woven material; durable, holding its shape well; and naturally water resistant. Beavers were hunted throughout northern Europe and eastern Siberia, with felting – the conversion of raw pelts into material suitable for hatting – concentrated in Russia. But by the seventeenth century the beaver population was in rapid decline, depleted by hundreds of years of unsustainable exploitation. The price of fur hats escalated in tandem with the increased scarcity of felt  to make them.

Fortunately for hat-makers and hat-wearers, this decline coincided with a rapidly increasing European presence in North America, home of a very similar species of beaver, castor canadensis. The possibilities for reversing the shortage of beaver fur, and by so doing making money, were seized upon from the beginning of settlement. Following their arrival in 1620, the religious separatists who founded the New England colonies paid off the debts incurred by their passage mainly by exporting beaver pelts. These pelts were acquired from American Indians, who were often as eager as the English to participate in the trade. In 1639 Roger Ludlow wrote from Connecticut to the Massachusetts magistrate William Pynchon on behalf of a group of Indians upriver who wanted him to relax the restrictions  placed on the fur trade, in which Pynchon himself also participated.

This information is a part of the online exhibition “American Indian Histories and Cultures,” a collaborative collection by Adam Matthew and the Newberry. The exhibit can be viewed at: http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Home/index


Eric Jay Dolin, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The epic history of the fur trade in America (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010

Oh! I have been selected to represent NY for an important National Referendum. Just let me open this official looking envelope…

How cute. PETA sent me a survey about cruelty to cats and dogs. Lets see what it says. 

Was I aware of the trade in cat and dog fur before reading this letter? Yes I was. In that it is highly illegal (NYS Agriculture and Markets Law, Article 26 Section 379People do illegal things. Most of the illegal domestic fur trade comes in the form of imports from foreign countries such as China. As with all fur, look at sources before you buy.

Did I know animals who are killed for their fur are often domestic animals stolen from their families? Overseas I will admit to not being fully informed as to crime patterns. US, I know that dogs are stolen and resold rather regularly. And that people give away pets on Craigslist fairly regularly. Seller beware and don’t leave pets unattended. Again, the bulk of the illegal cat and dog fur trade is from overseas.

Was I aware cat and dog fur is being sold under different labeling in the US and Europe? Not specifically cat and dog, but again, look before you buy and be informed. Simple as that. If it is a cheap and sketchy source, it is probably sketchy fur.

Were you aware that fur traders use methods such as drowning animals and bludgeoning them and skinning them alive to save money and avoid damaging the fur? Ok. Here is where you and I really have words, PETA. How the hell does bludgeoning or skinning alive NOT damage the fur? And how is drowning easier than dispatching at the trap site with a single shot? Here you are really just trying to get people riled up and I am calling bullshit. Loudly. Skinning is a pain in the ass when the trapper is not causing the animal constant pain, pain causing involuntary motion. Cruelty aside, it is not in a trappers interest to skin alive as it will damage the fur and therefore their livelihood. Seriously. Get that into your heads. Same as bludgeoning. A bullet or knife is easier and leaves marks on the pelt that are easily repaired. For the love of all that is holy can we get beyond the improbable skinning alive argument. It is raising my ire, but not in the direction you want. Trust me. Side note on bludgeoning- all parts of the animal can be made use of, including skeletal remains. 

Did you know cats and dogs can continue to breathe and blink for up to five minutes after being skinned alive? I am sorry you skinned something alive to get this data. The trappers are not. See above for information on irrationality of the skinning alive thought process.

Did you know kittens and puppies are often killed for their fur? I will admit it is soft. But again, most of the illegal fur trade is from outside the country. So…I fear you are again using things that are tailor made to get people fussy, in this case puppies and kittens, to win them to your cause. 

Do you think it is ever morally justifiable to kill animals so that their fur can be used for clothing, furnishing, and trinkets? You mailed to the wrong house. Yes. I believe in the use of the whole animal. I eat meat, I utilize leather, I wear jewelry made of bone and I have ritual wear respectfully made of pelts. Trappers have been doing their jobs since we sorted out how to catch and kill our food. It is highly regulated and the money that comes in from all of those hunting and trapping permits goes right back into conservation. If we did not hunt and trap there were be issues of overpopulation, disease, and a lot more ‘pest’ animals in your back yard. We are living where the animals used to. There has to be a balance to that struck.

Go away, PETA. You bother me. And shame on you for using cats and dogs to rile people up about fur in general- your last question being whether or not I would be willing to send you money to save the lives of animals, such as cats and dogs, who are killed for their fur. I am a writer. I see what you did there.

If you are worried about the sources of your meat, your leather, your fur, it takes an internet search to find out where it came from. Research and learn. Find people you can respect and trust and work with them. If you don’t do the animal product gig, that is fantastic. Rock on, just respect that it is not my gig. And that entities like PETA who spout nonsense and are not straightforward in their intent and spread misinformation will consistently raise my hackles. It is not you, it is not a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. It is the misinformation that pisses me the hell off.


  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Population: Around 30 individuals
  • Scientific Name: Panthera pardus orientalis

The Amur leopard is important ecologically, economically and culturally. Conservation of its habitat benefits other species, including Amur tigers and prey species like deer. With the right conservation efforts, we can bring them back and ensure long-term conservation of the region.


The Amur leopard is poached largely for its beautiful, spotted fur. In 1999, an undercover investigation team recovered a female and a male Amur leopard skin, which were being sold for $500 and $1,000 respectively in the village of Barabash, not far from the Kedrovaya Pad reserve in Russia. Agriculture and villages surround the forests where the leopards live. As a result the forests are relatively accessible, making poaching a problem—not only for the leopards themselves, but also for important prey species, such as roe deer, sika deer and hare, which are hunted by the villagers both for food and cash.

For the Amur leopard to survive for the long term, it needs to repopulate its former range. But for that to happen, prey populations need to recover first.



Many animals are still alive and struggling desperately when workers skin them. When the fur is finally peeled off over the animals’ heads, their naked, bodies are thrown onto a pile of those who have gone before them. Some are still alive, breathing in gasps and blinking slowly for several up to fifteen minutes. 

Because a fur garment’s origin can’t be traced, anyone who wears any fur at all shares the blame for the horrific conditions on Chinese fur farms and other similar farms operating around the world. The only way to prevent such cruelty is by never wearing any fur. Please, I am begging you to not buy fur. 

Real Life Fox and Hound from Norway

A fox and a dog meet in the woods and become best friends. This is a real life story of one of Disney’s classics, The Fox and the Hound.

When Norwegian photographer Torgeir Berge took his German shepherd Tinni for a walk, they encountered an abandoned baby fox. Since then, the fox and the dog play together everyday, while Berge takes pictures of their friendship and is inspired to publish a book about it.

Tinni giving Sniffer a kiss.

Happy to see each other.

BIG HUG from Sniffer!


…and napping…

…and taking a stroll together.

Getting ready for a picture.

Enjoying each others’ company.

He also hopes the story will raise awareness for animal rights and the conditions that some animals are forced to live in as a result of the fur trade.

Here’s a beautiful piece from Iowa’s Fur Trade era.  This trade silver piece is a hair pipe, used to hold a lock of hair.  It’s from the Hudson’s Bay Company.  It is from the John Haltmeyer collection.  Haltmeyer, from the Dubuque area, was one of several early 20th century collectors whose collections we now have in our repository at the University of Iowa.  His collection includes trade silver pieces from Hudson’s Bay, Northwest, and other companies.


We need your help! Our organization of compassionate fashionistas currently has three fur free campaigns. Help put an end to the barbaric fur trade by signing and sharing these three FUR FREE petitions. It only takes a minute, and each signature makes a difference!

INTERMIX: Please Go Fur Free

DOLLS KILL: Please Stop Selling Foxtails

KITSON: Please Stop Selling Fur

Thank you!

~Fur Free Los Angeles