This paper investigates information and trust mechanisms employed by international traders in the early 19th century on the Great Plains frontier, using as a case study Bent, St. Vrain & Company (BSV). BSV dominated the burgeoning Santa Fe Trail trade amongst Americans, Mexicans, and the various nomadic Indian tribes inhabiting the frontier through superior application of “commercial diplomacy.” BSV went to great lengths to signal trustworthiness to their trading partners, adopting in large measure Indians’ own trading customs and employing other traditional mechanisms of trust and reciprocity.
The economic outcomes of the Adobe Empire era illustrate the catallactic nature of spontaneous international trade - i.e. the notion that economic exchange involves “turning enemy into friend.” The Indian trade in general, and the case of BSV in particular, gives credence to the doux commerce thesis: the idea that the pursuit of profits promotes peace between peoples.
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