Books: The First Tycoon

FURS BY ASTOR by John Upton Terrell. 490 pages. Morrow. $6.95.

Folklore assumes that in the mind of the American Indian the Great White Father meant the President of the U.S. Not necessarily so, says John Terrell. During the 1820s and 1830s, at any rate, the Great White Father was a stumpy man with beaked nose, pursed mouth and billowing chins named John Jacob Astor.

As president of the American Fur Co., Astor ruled the closest thing to a private empire ever established in America. Most of the fur-trading tribes —the Winnebagos, Cherokees, Chickasaws and...

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