Historical Markers
Beaver County Historical Marker
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Beaver County

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
County Courthouse, at park on Third Street

Dedication Date:
July 5, 1982

Behind the Marker

For tens of thousands of years, beaver had lived in Penn's woods. Damming streams and creating wetlands, they shaped the North American landscape, creating rich meadows and endless marshes. When the Delaware were driven from their ancestral lands east of the Alleghenies into the mountains of western Pennsylvania, some settled down on the banks of a stream they named Amockwi-hanne, or "Beaver stream." Beaver also attracted the French trappers, or coureur de bois, to the Amockwi-hanne, who laid out a town, which they named after the animal they hoped would make them rich. When it was time for American settlers to incorporate a new county, it was only natural that they call it Beaver, too.
Colored illustration of the American beaver by John James Audubon, first published in 1854.
John James Audubon, "American Beaver,"1854.

Beaver have a soft, thick coat of fur that humans craved for its warmth and texture. Europeans' desire for beaver pelts was so great that they hunted them to near extinction in western Europe before Columbus reached the Americas.
Image of a beaver pelt.
Beaver Pelt

The discovery of millions of beaver in the woods of North America unleashed an explosion of exploitation and war, since the Old World demand was insatiable, and the profits to be made from the fur trade were enormous. Waves of destruction fanned out from the St. Lawrence, lower Hudson, and lower Delaware rivers, where in June 1644, markerSwedes on the ship Fame headed home with 2,142 beaver pelts in their hold. By way of the markerGreat Minquas path from Great Island on the Susquehanna to Fort Manayunk on the Schuylkill, the Susquehannock Indians brought their furs to Swedish, Dutch, and English traders who supplanted them. Indeed, Europeans' early struggles for the land that would eventually become Pennsylvania centered over who would control the beaver trade with the Susquehannocks.  
Map, by county, of the distribution and population status of beaver in Pennsylvania, 2008.
Pennsylvania beaver distribution and population status, Pennsylvania Game Commission, ...

Soon, beaver were gone from the coastal forests, and the Indian trappers who supplied the Europeans moved inland, invading the hunting grounds of their neighbors to the west. In the 1660s, the Iroquois invaded the rich Susquehanna Valley and during the Beaver Wars that followed, drove the Susquehannocks from their homes. Competition for beaver inflamed the age-old hostilities between the British and the French. Their wars for control of the furs of North America would bring soldiers, forts and settlements to the rivers and meadows of Penn's Woods. Soon, both the Native Americans and the beaver were vanquished.

Fearless trappers followed the Indian trails deep into the interior and set up their trading posts at key crossroads of the river such as Beaver Falls and Great Island. To protect these posts, soldiers arrived and built forts. Under the protection of their guns, the trading posts developed into crude settlements. They were followed by farmers, lumbermen and other forces of civilization, all traveling the ancient paths by which beaver were brought to market.

In the 1800s, fur trappers picked Penn's woods clean of deer, fox, otter, mink, panther, muskrat, and beaver, which were last spotted in the state in 1884. In 1903 the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law prohibiting the capture or killing of beavers. Restoration of beaver to Pennsylvania began in 1917, when the State Game Commission released a pair from Wisconsin into East Cowley Run in Cameron County. Two years later, the Commission purchased beaver from New York and Canada to release into the state game preserves. Slowly, the beaver re-established themselves. In the year 2000, close to 30,000 beaver were again living in the state's woodland waterways.
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