Manuel Lisa

September 8, 1772 - August 12, 1820

Lisa, Manuel, fur trader (Sept. 8, 1772-Aug. 12, 1820). Born at New Orleans, he became the first great developer of the western fur trade in its finished form. As an itinerant trader he had plied the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, in 1796 establishing a frontier post at Vincennes. Against strong opposition from entrenched St. Louis interests, Lisa entered the Osage trade in 1802; a shift in the status of the Louisiana Territory assisted him in broadening his enterprises. He was a supplier of Lewis and Clark, projected an idea for trade with Santa Fe and although little developed from it, he retained from a number of years the desire to expand in that direction. His principal attention however was directed to the Missouri River and the fur country about its uppoer reaches. Upon the return of Lewis and Clark, Lisa formed a partnership with Pierre Menard and William Morrison to develop trade in that direction. With a keelboat expedition he set off up the river in 1807, the first of his 13 trips up the Missouri. He surmounted opposition from Arickaras, Mandans and Assiniboins and reached the confluence of the Yellowstone and Big Horn rivers, establishing there Fort Raymond, later for Manuel. Lisa had abeen jjoined by John Colter, of Lewis and Clark experience, Lisa's imagination and experimentation had devised and formualted the directions the fur trade would follow in decades to come. Established St. Louis trading personalities became aware of Lisa's potential and now joined him in creation of the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company. In 1809, the first year of the new company's operations, necessary upriver posts were established and certain successes scored, bu on the whole results were not what had been wished largely because of Blackfoot opposition and similar factors. In 1810, lessened enthusiasm of his partners and feared competition from Wilson Price Hunt of Astor's Fledgling operation forced Lisa, with minimum resources, into a frenzied race up the Missouri, vying with his rival, as he imagined, for the upper country trade his men presumably were mastering. The two parties came to an amicable parting of ways. Lisa's agents brought back to St. Louis furs to assure a profitable season, if not so much as had been hoped. Financial difficulties were partially overcome, the company reorganized, and Lisa in 1812 ascended the river once more. War now seemed likely between Britain and the U.S., and Indian hostilities mounted, but Lisa persisted, though it was a bad season financially; earnings did not cover expenses and early in 1814 the Missouri Fur Company was dissolved. Lisa promptly forming a new organization. William Clark appointed him sub Indian agent for tribes above the Kansas River as best fitted to keep important bands at peace, and he again went up-stream, wintering with the Omahas where he found a wife. The next season Lisa continued his important politcial moves which effectively kept the western tribes out of the War of 1812. by 1816 he could return his full attention to trade. In 1817 he brought to St. Louis $35,000 in furs, a very good season. Lisa entered a new company and went north late in 1818. His wife had died and he married Mary Hempstead Keeney; the new company was dissolved after only a year, and in 1819 Lisa organized a fresh Missouri Fur Company. He went upriver one mor time, but returned in the spring, suffering from the ailment which proved fatal. He was buried at what is now Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis. Lisa had not only devised the form and method of operations that would guide the fur trade in future years, but his men had conducted important explorations and he had been instrumental in preventing the western fromtier from becoming disastrously involved in the War of 1812. His contributions to the development of the west had been monumental.