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Manuel Lisa

Manuel Lisa (September 8, 1772 - August 12, 1820) was a well known fur trader and explorer who founded the Missouri Fur Company.

Born in New Orleans of Spanish parents (his father was a government official from Murcia), Lisa became involved in the fur trade while in his teens. By 1796 he had married a widow, Polly Charles Chew, and was operating a trading vessel along the Mississippi River. In 1799 he obtained a land grant and relocated to Saint Louis, Missouri. By 1800 he was the pre-eminent trader in the fur business, and was granted a monopoly by the Spanish government in 1802 for fur commerce with the Osage tribe. Lisa was also involved in the preparation for the journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803-4.

Beginning in 1807, Lisa organized annual fur-gathering expeditions. On the first such excursion he established a trading post at the mouth of the Bighorn River in present-day Montana; the following year he augmented the site with a fort, the first such outpost in the upper Missouri region, which he called Fort Raymond after his son; later it was referred to as Fort Manuel. While operations from the area were profitable for Lisa, there were frequent attacks by the nearby Blackfeet tribe.

In 1809 he helped found the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company, a joint venture with William Clark, Andrew Henry, Jean Pierre Chouteau and others. Its first fur expedition that year consisted of 350 men. The company would continue business through 1814. The 1811 expedition was famous in its day because the company's barges, heading up the Missouri, overtook a rival party sent by John Jacob Astor, which had set out three weeks earlier.

Lisa was the first U.S. settler of Nebraska, building Fort Lisa near present-day Omaha in 1812. This outpost remained the most important in the region for a decade.

In 1814, William Clark, by then governor of the Missouri Territory, appointed Lisa subagent to the tribes located above the mouth of the Kansas River. That same year Lisa married his second wife, a member of the Omaha tribe.

Lisa spent the winter of 1819-20 at Fort Lisa with his third wife, Mary Hempstead Keeney (another former widow), after which he returned to St. Louis and died. He is buried there in Bellefontaine Cemetery.


"I find that I have travelled a great distance while others are deciding whether to start their journey today or tomorrow."