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Kris Swanson

Kris Swanson

Heber City, Utah

Kris Swanson is one of the few female living historians today who strives to accurately convey the history of 19th century American Indians, with 24 years of education and experience.

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About the author

As a well-respected Living Historian, Kris Swanson spends her time working with museums, historic sites and history-based events focused on educating the public regarding American Indians and Western history. As one of the only women living historians, her interpretation from a woman's perspective is insightful and balanced. Kris holds BAs in History and Communication and an MA Communication. She has dedicated her life to learning about Plains Indians during the 19th century through many different avenues.

Kris’ goal is to represent accurately the lifestyle Plains Indians lived during the 1800s through displays, presentations and hands on learning. For more than 24 years, she has been making and using historically accurate items using authentic designs, materials and craftsmanship. During these years, she has lived in tipis, participated in many primitive Indian camps, and has experienced first-hand how it was to live back then. Kris’ products are used both in her own living history activities and demonstrations, and by clients as both working items and artwork.

Her work has been featured in films, paintings by western artists and may be purchased in art galleries. Her learning videos on YouTube have helped numerous would-be crafters with traditional methods of craftsmanship. Through her work, Kris strives to share everything she has learned through her studies and experience living on the ground. Her goal is to assist in keeping the record straight regarding the lives of the Plains Indians, minimizing the many misconceptions, inaccuracies and stereotypes that exist today.

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If Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade hits 500 pre-orders by Sunday 2 June 2019 4 A.M. UTC, then it will be pitched to 18 traditional publishers when the campaign ends. If Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade hits 250 pre-orders by Sunday 2 June 2019 4 A.M. UTC, then it will be pitched to 53 independent publishers when the campaign ends. If Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade hits 100 pre-orders by Sunday 2 June 2019 4 A.M. UTC, then it will be pitched to 42 hybrid publishers when the campaign ends. If Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade hits 50 pre-orders by Sunday 2 June 2019 4 A.M. UTC, then it will be pitched to 28 service publishers when the campaign ends. If Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade hits 500 pre-orders by Sunday 2 June 2019 4 A.M. UTC, then it will be pitched to 141 publishers when the campaign ends.
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Publishizer is a crowdfunding literary agency. If 500 pre-orders is reached, then we pitch this proposal to traditional publishers. If not reached, then it gets pitched to non-traditional publishers.

Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade

How Marie Dorion, Meadow Lamb & Owl Woman Shaped the West

The stories of several iconic American Indian women illustrate the pivotal role native women played in the Fur Trade and opening of the American West.

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History Western North America #1 in History
50,000 words
25% complete
5 publishers interested


An inspirational and insightful introduction to the Indian women who made the American fur trade successful.

The Western Frontier during the exploration and opening of the American continent continues to be one of the most romanticized and studied periods of history. Rendezvous history buffs and lovers of women’s history will appreciate this book, one of the only books written specifically about the role and influence of women in the Fur Trade. At a time when women were marginalized in Western society, Indian women became pivotal to the success of fur trade operations.

Most historians of this time period are men, and very few authors have focused on women’s roles, preferring to tell the rough and tumble tale of the Mountain Men. But often marginalized in this process, is the role of the Indians, particularly Indian women, without who there would have been no fur TRADE.

Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade is the first book to focus on the significant impact Indian women played in the success of trading forts and activities in the Western US well into the 1870s. The book gives readers a clear overview of the role of Indian women in the fur trade, beginning with the formation of Hudson Bay Company in 1670 until the decline of the buffalo robe trade on the Plains.  

It will give readers a more balanced vision of Indian women’s contributions and it will give a glimpse at the lifestyles they lived through the stories of three iconic Indian women: Marie Dorion, Mountain Lamb, and Owl Woman, their intimate details illustrating their key place in their world. Having a book written from a woman’s perspective focuses on details men would not consider significant in the same way women do, retelling the story from a new point of view. Lastly, the importance of women to the success of fur trade activities has been underplayed, and this book seeks to remedy that by illustrating the critical role women took in making the trade function.  


Overview of the fur trade in its entirety and of what Indian women’s lives were like before these two worlds collide.

Chapter 1 - Unique beginnings
A brief history of how relationships with Native women ultimately became indispensable to the economic and social fabric of Canadian Fur Trade, unlike happened anywhere else.

Chapter 2- The opening of the West
With Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery came the opening of the Western United States for fur companies to exploit. From this first trip across the continent, led by Sacagawea, Indian women were on the cutting edge of history.

Chapter 3- Marie Dorion
Three years after Lewis and Clark, Marie Dorion, an Iowa Indian, accompanied the second expedition across the continent. She has been called the “female revanant” for her heroics.

Chapter 4- Mountain Lamb
Married to William Sublette, Mountain Lamb was renowned for her beauty and resourcefulness. Sublette traveled East for medical care, and when he returned two years later, he found his Mountain Lamb married to the devoted Joe Meek.

Chapter 5- Owl Woman
When Owl Woman became the wife of William Bent, she played an important role in operation of Bent’s Fort. And the trade alliances created were strong enough to split a tribe and change relations with Indians forever.

Chapter 6- The Continued Importance of Women
Native women greased the wheels of trade as interpreters, providers, guides, and wives. Indeed, without the social contract of marriage, trust and trade relations would never have been fruitful.



This book will satiate the appetites of the hundreds of thousands of armchair and living history buffs that celebrate and study the fur trade in North America. According to the National Park Service Historic Interpretation Service, living history continues to be a popular leisure activity, with 250,000 active historic re-enactors in the US. About two-thirds of them do fur trade era rendezvous, and they attend thousands of rendezvous and Indian camps, celebrating bygone eras. These historians devour books regarding any topic related to the fur trade and this book will also attract academic historians, as a smaller market niche. Additionally, followers of women’s history will appreciate the way this book refocuses our attention on the role of American Indian women during the fur trade and opening of the West.

Many books about the American fur trade exist, but few books have been written about women's roles and how significantly they impacted overall fur trade operations. As a result, there is wide speculation and misinformation regarding the limited role of females. Women have written several books about women in the fur trade in Canada, which do not cover the experiences of women in the Western US.

Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade is the first book to give an easy to read yet detailed overview of this subject, and it provides the reader with a cohesive narrative to explain the many snippets of information they may have encountered in other books or historic journals. Personal stories of real women make the explanations come alive.

Now is a great time to write this book because there is a void in the historical narrative of the time period. Now is also a great time because there continues to be wide interest in the topic, as illustrated by the large number of people who frequent living history events, the hundreds of history-related Facebook discussion groups up to 55,000 members each, and the subscription numbers on magazines related to this subject. Hundreds of local and regional organizations continue to exist and host activities. The Ft. Bridger Rendezvous is the second largest event held in the state of Wyoming, with 10,000 visitors over a four day event, and this is the 44th year. To some extent, this is an aging population with today’s baby-boomer population being the age group most likely to be interested in fur trade history. They still read voraciously and collect hard copies of books. They may be slowing down a bit but still have a passion for the subject. And they have great disposable income at this stage of life.

Individuals looking for a compilation of existing historic information into one cohesive narrative will celebrate the marriage of research with big picture context. It will give readers a better insight into how women created the glue that held it all together, written from a woman’s perspective. In the past, men have written about what they observed women doing, but had no insight into their thoughts or motivations as mothers and women. Any reader wishing to gain new knowledge about the critical role filled by women in this crucial turning point in American history, will appreciate this book.


Known as The Sharp Knife Woman, Kris Swanson is a Living Historian who spends her days interacting with the public at museums, historic sites and cultural events, teaching them about Plains Indian history and lifestyle. She does public presentations and displays, sets and costumes for films, and works with Western artists. Her reputation as an artist has been earned over many years making and using authentic and fully functional objects. She has spent 24 years living in her tipi in the mountains, at hundreds of private and public living history events, and she has developed a wide following.

Although in the past she has done upwards of 30 events a year, in 2019 she is limiting herself to 12 to 15 events so that she can focus on other activities, such as writing, costumes for an upcoming film and her burgeoning YouTube channel.

In 2019, she is scheduled to appear at:
·      Sublette County Wyoming Historic Society
·      Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale Wyoming
·      Ft. Buenaventura State Historic Site in Ogden Utah
·      Tesoro Cultural Center in Morrison Colorado
·      Ft. Laramie National Historic Site
·      Colorado Indian Art Market
·      Ft. Bridger State Historic Site in Wyoming (over Labor Day weekend more than   10,000 visitors come through)
·      Elk Fest, Estes Park Colorado
·      Shell River Indian Camp, Tetons Wyoming

On her YouTube videos, Kris teaches how to do traditional activities, from setting up a tipi to beginning beadwork to how Plains Indians lived. Although still in its infancy, once a hard launch is done, it will attract many viewers as she is promoting it on Facebook and will ask her friends and followers to like and share her channel.

To date, Kris has 3082 Facebook friends and 984 are following her business page on Facebook. She is a member of 39 Facebook groups related to this topic of history, on which she can advertise her book. She has about 200 LinkedIn connections.

Kris’ website has gotten 15,634 hits since 2012, when it was launched.

Additionally, she places advertisements in major trade publications, including:

·      The Tomahawk and Long Rifle, the Quarterly Newsletter of the American Mountain Man Association, premiere Mountain Man organization with several thousand members, mostly in the US.

·      Whispering Winds: American Indians Past and Present, one of the most widely read magazines for Indian Hobbyists, Powwow Dancers, and Indian historians reaches 16,000 readers in all 50 states, 86% is mailed subscription, remaining 14% is by retail over-the-counter sales with a 60% sell through. 3% of the readership is in Canada and other foreign countries, West Germany and England having the greatest European circulation.

Truth be told, some of Kris’ biggest assets are her experience in advertising and promotion. She holds bachelor and master degrees in communication, and has been a public relations and marketing professional most of her life. She owned the largest advertising agency in Wyoming, was Director of Public Relations of a major healthcare organization for 10 years, and has experience in social media, graphic design, radio and video, and can bring these skills together in a comprehensive and cohesive marketing plan. The hard part of a book for Kris is deciding to write it, not promoting it.


  • Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur Trade Society, by Sylvia Van Kirk. University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.

Many Tender Ties is a well-written, must-read for those interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest and the role women played in the fur trade. Insightful and well-researched, we can now hear the stories through many voices that had previously gone unrecorded. We always hear of the men in the trapping trade, but the indigenous women who were with the men and their Métis children formed the "Tender Ties" that made life bearable during those long, difficult treks. This is one book that tells the tales and keeps the stories true. This book is meaty, originally written as a doctoral dissertation, and as such, is difficult to navigate for the average reader. Kris Swanson’s Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade focuses on how this trend of alliances with men continued on the American frontier in the absence of white women, uniquely shaping the region of the American West.

  • Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes (Native Americans of the Northeast), by Susan Sleeper-Smith. University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. 

Indian Women and French Men depicts the encounter of Old World and New as an extended process of indigenous adaptation and change rather than one of conflict and inevitable demise. By serving as brokers between those two worlds, Indian women who married French men helped connect the Great Lakes to a larger, expanding transatlantic economy while securing the survival of their own native culture. As such, Sleeper-Smith points out, their experiences illuminate those of other traditional cultures forced to adapt to market-motivated Europeans. In contrast, Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade focuses on how similar alliances with men on the American frontier uniquely shaped the region of the American West.

  • Red Heroines of the Northwest, Byron Defenbach, 1929, Caxton Printers, Ltd.

This early account of Marie Dorion, while dated, it extremely interesting. Kris Swanson’s Portraits of Women in the American Fur Trade focuses on the latest information regarding Marie Dorion and how women like her impacted the West.

  • Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country,  Jennifer Brown, 1996, University of Oklahoma Press.

The knowledge and support of northern Native peoples were critical to the newcomer's survival and success. With acquaintance and alliance came intermarriage, and the unions of European traders and Native women generated thousands of descendants. Jennifer Brown's Strangers in Blood is the first work to look systematically at parents and their children. Brown focuses on Hudson's Bay Company officers and North West Company wintering partners and clerks-those whose relationships are best known from post journals, correspondence, accounts, and wills. The durability of such families varied greatly. Settlers, missionaries, European women, and sometimes the courts challenged fur trade marriages. Some officers' Scottish and Canadian relatives dismissed Native wives and "Indian" progeny as illegitimate. Traders who took these ties seriously were obliged to defend them, to leave wills recognizing their wives and children, and to secure their legal and social status-to prove that they were kin, not "strangers in blood."
Brown illustrates that the lives and identities of these children were shaped by factors far more complex than "blood." Sons and daughters diverged along paths affected by gender. Some descendants became Métis and espoused Métis nationhood under Louis Riel. Others rejected or were never offered that course-they passed into white or Indian communities or, in some instances, identified themselves (without prejudice) as "half breeds." The fur trade did not coalesce into a single society. Rather, like Rupert's Land, it splintered, and the historical consequences have been with us ever since.

  • New Peoples: Being & Becoming Métis in North America (Manitoba Studies in Native History, Book 1), Jennifer S.J. Brown, Jaqueline Peterson, Robert K. Thomas, Marcel Giraud, 2011, Minnesota Historical Society Press. 

This is the first major work to explore in a North American context the dimensions and meanings of a process fundamental to the European invasion and colonisation of the western hemisphere: the intermingling of European and Native American peoples. This book is not about racial mixture, however, but rather about ethnogenesis — about how new peoples, new ethnicities, and new nationalities come into being.

  • French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest, Jean Barnes, UBC Press, 1995 reprint edition. 

Jean Barnes rewrites the history of the Pacific Northwest from the perspective of French Canadians involved in the fur economy, the indigenous women whose presence in their lives encouraged them to stay, and their descendants. For half a century, French Canadians were the region's largest group of newcomers, facilitating early overland crossings, driving the fur economy, initiating non-wholly-indigenous agricultural settlement, and easing relations with indigenous peoples. Barman traces this founding generation and its descendants into present day, illustrating how these French Canadians roots shaped the culture of the Pacific Northwest.

  • Songs Upon the Rivers: The Buried History of the French-Speaking Canadiens and Métis from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi across to the Pacific , Robert Foxcurran, Michel Bouchard, Sebastien Malette 2016, Baraka Books. 

Before the Davie Crockets, the Daniel Boones and Jim Bridgers, the French had pushed far west and north establishing trade and kin networks across the continent. They founded settlements that would become great cities such as Detroit, Saint Louis, and New Orleans, but their history has been largely buried or relegated to local lore or confined to Quebec. In this seminal work, Foxcurran, Bouchard, and Malette scrutinize primary sources and uncover the alliances between early French settlers and voyagers and the indigenous nations.

  • Children of the Fur Trade: Forgotten Metis of the Pacific Northwest, John C. Jackson, 2007, University of Oregon Press. 

During the first half of the 19th century, a unique subculture built around hunting and mobility existed quietly in the Pacific Northwest. Descendants of European or Canadian fathers and Native American mothers, these mixed-blood settlers—called Metis— were pivotal to the development of the Oregon Country, but have been generally neglected in its written history. 
John C. Jackson's Children of the Fur Trade recovers a vital part of Northwest history and gives readers a vivid and memorable portrait of Metis life at the western edge of North America. This informal account shows the Metis as explorers and mapmakers, as fur trappers and traders, and as boatmen and travelers in a vanishing landscape. Because of their mixed race, they were forced into the margin between cultures in collision. Often disparaged as half-breeds, they became links between the dispossessed native peoples and the new order of pioneer settlement. Meet the independently minded Jacco Finlay, the beautiful Helene McDonald, fearsome Tom McKay and the bear-fighting Iroquois Ignace Hatchiorauquasha, whose Metisse wife, Madame Gray, charmed lonely fur traders. Here is the rawhide knot of the mountain men who brought their Indian wives to suffer the censure of missionaries while building a community where their mixed-blood children were no longer welcome. A riveting glimpse into a unique heritage, illustrated with historic maps, drawings, and photographs, this book will interest and inform both the scholar and the general reader.

  • Madame Dorion: Her Journey to the Oregon Country, Lenora Rain-Lee Good, 2014, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; First edition. 

This is a fictional story of Marie Dorion's journey to the Oregon Country. She was an incredibly strong and brave woman who not only witnessed history and the opening of the Oregon Country to trappers and immigrants, she played an active and vital role in the making of that history. Unlike her contemporary, Sacajawea who returned with Lewis and Clark, Marie and her boys remained, even when offered the opportunity to return to Saint Louis with a group of returning Astorians. She and her family became early settlers in the Oregon Country. This journal, "Madame Dorion – Her Journey to the Oregon Country", is fiction. It is Lenora’s interpretation of what happened, based on the history and journals of the men who made the journey and lived to write about it.

  • A Name of Her Own (Tender Ties Historical Series #1), Every Fixed Star (Tender Ties Historical Series #2), Hold Tight the Thread (Tender Ties Historical Series #3), Jane Kirkpatrick, 2002-4, WaterBrook.

The Tender Ties Historical Series brings readers the dramatic, fictionalized account of Marie Dorion: the real-life woman who was the first mother to cross the Rocky Mountains and remain in the Northwest.

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