James Kipp was born in 1788 near Montreal Canada. Little is known of his early years. By the time he was twenty, he had entered the fur trade in the Red River region, probably working for the North West Company, and by 1818 he was working in the Upper Missouri River region. On March 21st, 1821, the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company. As a result of the merger, large numbers of experienced traders were thrown out of work. A number of these men came together to form a new fur trading company, organized as Tilton and Company, but more generally known as the Columbia Fur Company. Kenneth McKenzie was the leading figure in the new company but other experienced members included James Kipp, Joseph Renville, William Laidlaw, and Honoré Picotte.
In 1823 Kipp went to the Mandan villages on the Missouri River where he commenced construction of a fort. Kipp and six other men were stationed at the fort after completion. The situation at the fort became extremely dangerous in late August-September of 1823 when large numbers of angry Arikara Indians moved into the vicinity after being displaced from their own villages following the Leavenworth campaign. The following year conditions improved when the Arikara Indians moved back down river. Tilton took charge of the Mandan fort in November of 1826 and Kipp moved on up the river to the mouth of the White Earth River where he built another post.
In June of 1827 the Columbia Fur Company merged with the American Fur Company where it was renamed the Upper Missouri Outfit. Kipp continued on with the Upper Missouri Outfit and in 1828 the company tasked him with constructing Fort Floyd, later known as Fort Union. Kipp remained at Fort Union till 1831 when he built Fort Clark near the Mandan villages. In the winter of 1831-1832 he constructed Fort Piegan near the confluence of the Marias and Missouri Rivers.
Kipp served as factor at a number of posts for relatively brief periods of time. He was also responsibly for bringing furs and skins down river by barge and mackinaw boat to St. Louis.
According to Rudolph Kurz Kipp had both a white family located at Independence, Missouri and a Mandan woman and family. Kurz spent several months in 1851 at Fort Berthold while Kipp was bourgeois and provides numerous descriptions of Kipp and his interactions with him.
Kipp remained active in the Indian trade until he retired to his Missouri farm in 1865. After retirement he continued to make periodic visits to see his friends at Fort Benton.
James Kipp died July 2, 1880 at the age of 92.
For more information regarding James Kipp see:
The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. II, edited by LeRoy R Hafen, published 1965 by the Arthur H Clark Company.
Kurz, Rudolph Freiderich. The Journal of Rudolph Friederich Kurz: translated by Myrtis Jarrell; published by the University of Nebraska Press 1970. Descriptions of the man by Kurz during July and August of 1851.
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