Fur Trade Gardens in the West

During the 19th century, many trading forts in the American west found gardens to be a necessary source of fresh food. The selection of crops at each fort depended entirely on what crops were suitable for each specific climate. Crops ranged from sweet corn to watermelon and summer squash to Hidatsa beans.

In the 1960s, Bay Arnold insisted that The Fort Restaurant needed a fur trade garden, just as forts of the old west once had. She discovered the Museum of the Fur Trade, where they maintain a botanical exhibit of authentic Indian crops. Many of the seeds they currently grow were originally obtained by Oscar H. Will, a pioneer horticulturalist, directly from the American Indians. Bay grew arikara watermelon, Mandan tobacco, flint and blue corn, Hidatsa beans and much more on the grounds of The Fort. Holly Arnold Kinney has fond memories of The Fort’s fur trade garden growing up and remembers loving the small, sweet watermelons they grew, which were the perfect size for a young girl to eat.

Jim Hanson, Director of the Museum of the Fur Trade, recently published Provisions of the Fur Trade, which focuses on fur trade gardens, cookware and more as part of the six-volume Encyclopedia of Trade Goods. 

(Photos: Furtrade.org)

At The Fort today, we proudly grow squash, chiles, herbs and seasonal vegetables that our chefs use throughout the growing season.

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