Nathaniel Wyatt was an inventor and businessman in Boston, Massachusetts, before he made his way west to become an explorer and fur trader.
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 several 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. They then 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.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.
Adventures in the American West