Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Heritage Sites

Welcome to Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Heritage Sites, an online resource dedicated to exploring our history and culture.

Forty Mile: Traders

Forty Mile traders Tom O’Brien, Jack McQuesten and Alf Mayo, 1891.

Forty Mile traders Tom O’Brien, Jack McQuesten and Alf Mayo, 1891.

Bancroft Library, Davidson Coll., 1946.6, #17.
Former whiskey trader John J. Healy built Fort Cudahy in 1893. This post was the headquarters of the North American Trading & Transportation Company. The company had its own steamboats and was the first major rival to the Alaska Commercial Company.

Former whiskey trader John J. Healy built Fort Cudahy in 1893. This post was the headquarters of the North American Trading & Transportation Company. The company had its own steamboats and was the first major rival to the Alaska Commercial Company.

Library and Archives Canada, S.T. Wood Coll., #C-6263

Long before white traders visited the Upper Yukon River basin in the mid 19th century, the Hän were part of an extensive trade network with their neighbours to the north, south and west. They traded birchbark, red ochre, hides and salmon for native copper, obsidian and dentalium shells. When the first non-native traders visited Hän territory, they met people who had never seen a white person but were familiar with kettles, beads, tea and tobacco. Jack McQuesten of the Alaska Commercial Company set up a post at Fort Reliance in 1874. The Hän adjusted their way of life, trapping additional fur for trade and spending part of each year near the post.

About eight years later, prospectors began moving into the Yukon River basin seeking gold. McQuesten and his partners, Al Mayo and Arthur Harper, began stocking mining supplies and their posts made it possible for the miners to overwinter in the north. Soon after the rush to the new diggings, a bustling community of miners, merchants, and entrepreneurs grew up at the mouth of the river. First Nations people, attracted by the goods and services of the new settlement, helped build the new trading post and supplied meat to the miners. Women sold hide and fur clothing to the newcomers and in some cases married prospectors.

Three influential frontiersmen and prospectors encouraged early non-native development and settlement of the upper Yukon River basin including the site that eventually became the Forty Mile community. Jack McQuesten, Al Mayo and Arthur Harper owed much to their First Nations wives, Koyukon women from the lower Yukon River. These women were true partners, at home in both cultures, who acted as links between First Nations people and the newcomers.

To learn more about the early traders of Forty Mile, check out the story Early Traders (PDF) from the Forty Mile, Fort Constantine and Fort Cudahy Historic Site Interpreters Manual.