Big Canoes

The Indians know the boats which are loaded with goods for them by the tops of the smokestacks being painted red. They call them “big canoes,” and as soon as they get into Indian country the news is carried ahead by runners, and they all know when the boat will arrive. They ever molest them, and Durfee & Peck have never met with any loss at their hands.


Mr. Durfee has sent off one boat load of goods this season, per steamer Benton, which will be back in June, loaded with furs, robes and peltries. She took up 250 tons. The Big Horn, which has gone up with Government freight, will also bring down a cargo. The Benton will also make another trip this season. The farthest that the boats go up from Leavenworth is 2,700 miles, by the river. The proceeds of the stock to be brought down by the Benton this year will be about $150,000. They have sutlers stores at Forts Sully, Rice and Stevenson, which are entirely separate from the Indian business.

Durfee & Peck handle yearly from 25,000 to 30,000 buffalo robes, which average about $8.00 apiece. The furs are, of course, much higher, and the whole business comprises an enormous trade. There is a popular idea that some of the buffalo robes which we find in market are tanned by white men. This is not so. The Indians do it all. White men have tried it, but failed.

Mr. Durfee has, during his various trips to the mountains secured a large number of pets; among them he has kept the following animals, which are at his New York residence: one bear, one antelope, one deer, one badger, a red fox and two American eagles. He had two buffalo but they died.

A separate 1871 article is also quoted here, because of the dramatic and unique language used in the description of the trade business:

The 'Daily Commercial' Newspaper, Leavenworth Kansas, Dec. 31, 1871
The ‘Daily Commercial’ Newspaper, Leavenworth Kansas, Dec. 31, 1871

 Why the Different Metals?

Why were the D&P tokens issued in copper, brass, copper-nickel and white metal? We can only guess what the reasons might have been for ordering and striking the tokens in at least four metals. My first thought was that they had only been struck in the various metals at the Scoville Manufacturing plant, as die trials, to see how the dies would look in various metals. However, Fuld states plainly that Durfee indeed ordered the 25 cent token in four metals in 1869.

Curto-49 ObverseTherefore, we must assume there was some business purpose for having the same denomination in several metals. One hypothesis is that each year, a switch in metals, might make for a crude form of bookkeeping, allowing the traders to see when the tokens issued, were actually spent. Another thought is that a different metal token, might be used at each of the trading posts or sutler operations that D&P operated, again a crude form of bookkeeping.


Durfee & Peck – Locations of Trading Posts & Sutler Stores

The known D&P stores are outlined in the following table:

Known Durfee & Peck Trading Stores

E.H. Durfee Locations

The known E. H. Durfee locations are outlined in the following table:

known E. H. Durfee locations

Other Known Dakota Territory Indian Trader & Post Trader Tokens

Some of the other known Dakota Territory traders are outlined in the following table:other known tokens of Dakota Indian and post traders


In 1966 the U.S. Congress designated the site of old Fort Union, Dakota Territory, near current day Williston, N.D., a unit of the National Park Service. Archeological excavations, and historical records of the fort, allowed for an accurate reconstruction of the fort, which was almost complete by 1995. Currently the fort is pretty much complete; the bourgeois’ house is a very authentic reconstruction of the original. Reinactors stage various recreated events for tourists dressed in 1870s military uniforms at Ft. Union.

Numismatic Specimens

Below are the three Durfee & Peck Trader tokens.

The first specimen is listed as Curto-48½ and was struck in copper.  It possessed a face value of 25-cents. The specimen illustrated below is approximately Choice AU in grade, and hails from the author’s cabinet.


The second specimen is listed as Curto-49.  Also struck in copper, it is Choice AU in grade.  It possessed a face value of 50-cents.


The final emission pictured below is listed as urto-47½. Struck in brass, the specimen had a face value of 1-Dollar. Like the two specimens before, it is also Choice AU in grade.


Jerry Adams [End Mark]

This article is an enhanced reprint of Trade Token Tales, ‘Durfee & Peck Indian Traders at Fort Union, Dakota Territory and Fort Buford, Dakota Territory,’ Jerry Adams, pg.52.

This article also appeared in the Jan. and Feb. 2004 issues of  “Talkin’ Tokens” magazine, the monthly magazine of the National Token Collectors Association.

Notes and Sources

  1. Fort Union and the Upper Missouri Fur Trade by Barton H. Barbour, 2002
  2. Token Collector’s Pages by George and Melvin Fuld, 1972
  3. Fort Buford and the Military Frontier on the Northern Plains by Utley, Rickey & Warner, 1987
  4. Peddlers and Post Traders, by David M. Delo.
  5. Forts of the Upper Missouri by Robert Athearn, 1967
  6. The Buffalo Book by David Dary, 1989
  7. Selected Articles on the Subject of American Tokens Reprinted from “The Numismatist” by TAMS, 1969
  8. American Business Tokens by Benjamin P. Wright, 1972
  9. Indian and Post Trader Tokens-Our Frontier Coinage by J. J. Curto, undated
  10. Military & Trading Posts of Montana by Miller and Cohen, 1978.
  11. The Library of Congress Digital Archives
  12. StacksBowers
  13. The Minnesota Historical Society Digital Archives
  14. The Cabinet of Jerry Adams, Numismatist
  15. The Cabinet of Aaron Packard, Numismatist
Jerry Adams
Latest posts by Jerry Adams (see all)

Pages: 1 2 3 4

1 Comment

  1. any exact dates when Fort Browning on the Milk River started to be built.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *