Nathaniel Jarvis Wyatt was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on January 29, 1802. He first began working as an ice harvester, during which time, he invented a number of tools that increased productivity. He married Elizabeth Jarvis Stone on January 29, 1824. A few years later, another Massachusetts man began to tout the benefits of Oregon country and Wyeth was convinced that he could become wealthy in the Oregon fur industry. In 1831, Hall Kelley sought to undertake an expedition to the west with Nathaniel Wyeth, assembling a party of several hundred men.
However, when numerous delays forced the abandonment of the plan, Wyeth went west without Kelley. He and several other men boarded a ship in March of 1832, bound for Brownsville, Texas. From there, they made their way to Missouri and proceeded along what would later become known as the Oregon Trail. In the summer, they made their way to the mountain man rendezvous, where Wyeth got caught up in the Battle of Pierre’s Hole, Idaho. The party arrived at Fort Vancouver, Washington in October.
After spending several months there, he returned to the east and in 1834, outfitted a second expedition with plans for establishing fur-trading posts, a salmon fishery, a colony, and other developments. On their journey west, he and others Fort Hall, Idaho in July 1834, and later built Fort William in present-day Washington. Trapping and trading for the next two years, he finally had to admit that the stiff competition of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which dominated the northwest, was too much for him to be profitable. Discouraged, he returned to the East in 1836.
Although his expeditions westward failed, his business dealings in Massachusetts did very well. Though he never returned to the west, he continued to support the occupation of Oregon by American settlers. He died on August 31, 1856.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.