Saturday, 29 October 2016

2012 Provisioning the HBC: Market Economies in the British Buffalo Commons in the Early Nineteenth Century

Restricted access
DOI: 179-203 First published online: 1 May 2012


The case of the “Canadian” buffalo, which ranged north of the Missouri River, raises questions about the way a market economy can tragically ruin a common resource. After 1821 the monopolizing Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), based in London, drove down prices offered to Indian provisions hunters in British territory. In these northern areas of the Great Plains, where bison was commonly hunted not for robes and skins but for food to support the British fur trade, the provisions trade became an important factor in the herds' destruction. By the 1830s, plains pemmican was valued at least four times lower than it had been three decades before. The company concurrently suppressed prices on dried meats and fats. These lowered prices in turn help explain someof the strategies and increased bison slaughter of Indian hunters. Their needs for European goods, especially firearms, generally increased in the nineteenth century, but their abilities to benefit from the market were undermined in monopolized conditions. In effect, the HBC played Indian hunters against each other by purchasing from them selectively and establishing a district quota system. Ultimately, the HBC enjoyed cheap access to plains-trade pemmican that led to purchasing more of it to expand the company's commercial reach and, in a larger context, amplify colonial expansion itself.