Old Job, New World

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2007

Last revision: Dec. 6, 2010

The pages of most American history texts hold stories of trade between American Indians and European settlers. Trinkets and furs were the common currency of a rapidly evolving culture. In time, the use of coins and bills replaced this system, but fur trading retained a small population of trappers and buyers through centuries of modernization, continuing to fill urban need with a rural product.

Early trappers handled every aspect of fur trading, from capturing the wild animal to selling the finished pelt. The path of a pelt has grown more complex with each generation of traders. Furs are now likely to pass through the hands of a trapper, fur house, buyer and broker before reaching consumers.

State and Family Traditions

Fur trading in Missouri can be traced back to the earliest settlers. Donald Veirs of Unionville follows his ancestry back to French fur traders that settled near the Brunswick area in 1754. Veirs is an 11th generation fur trader with more than 45 years of experience.

The weathered wooden sign above his fur house in Unionville is simple. A hand-painted raccoon on the left and a fox on the right guard the phone number stenciled across the center of a board once painted white. The low-slung building attracts little attention, even on a corner in residential Unionville. Driving up to the building in a red Ford flatbed, Veirs straightens his cap, which advertises a local veterinary clinic, before unlocking the front door.

Fur trading is the family business. “We traded trinkets with Native Americans for furs,” said Veirs’ sister, Charlotte Cox. “Every generation has bought furs.” Veirs’ son Mark is a buyer in Fairfield, Iowa, and sells to the house in Unionville. Another son, Danny, bought furs in Missouri for eight years before moving to Nashville, Tenn. Veirs’ father bought furs for 76 years in Fayette.

As a child, Veirs scraped raccoon hides for spending money. He earned 10 cents for each cleaned hide in 1940. Joining the family business might be a difficult decision for some people, but Veirs did not hesitate. “My ancestors bought furs, back to the French fur traders,” he said. “My dad started out buying furs on horseback when he was 12.”

At 16, Veirs established his first trade route, driving from the family home in Fayette to Versailles. “I had a 1952 Plymouth with the backseat out,” he said. “I’d go around to people’s houses.” After years of selling to the family

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