Students settle into lesson

FAIRMONT – Trapping and trading were the topics of the day for sixth-graders at Fairmont Elementary on Friday.

Bob Millette’s social studies classes staged mock trading posts, complete with handmade items and miniature storefronts.

The economic lesson highlighted the ways Native Americans and European settlers determined the worth of their items, found ways to barter for more value and made their best deals.

Students brought bows made of sticks and strings – no arrows allowed – cornbread, jewelry and dream catchers.

They were encouraged to look at all the available posts before settling on their purchases.

Millette said there was no end goal the students were working toward; it was simply a lesson in the process of trading goods.

After learning how to trade, students had a lesson in one of the items most valued at the time – fur – and how to obtain it.

Paul Grussing, a local trapper, showed students how animals are caught, discussed preparation of the fur, and described what is done with it once it is ready, both in the past and in modern times.

He showed students examples of pelts he has trapped around Martin County, along with a coat, mittens and hat produced with them.

Grussing has been trapping animals since he was 8. He began with gophers that plagued the farm, before moving on to larger and more dangerous animals.

“It was how I earned my spending money,” he said.

Grussing said that when he was young, an aspiring trapper learned at the feet of an experienced one, or by trial and error. Techniques were closely guarded secrets. That isn’t the case anymore, as the Internet makes obtaining the information relatively easy.

Grussing said trapping is much more common than many people assume – nearly 8,000 trappers are registered with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Modern trappers typically sell their pelts to companies that make products out of them, or ship them to auction.