An Early Sketch of Oregon

In March 1811, the Tonquin arrived at the Columbia River, and soon after they commenced erecting on the south bank, a few miles inland, their factory or depot building, naming it Astoria. In June, the Tonquin, with Alexander McKay, sailed north to make arrangements for trading with the Russians. In July, the Astorians were surprised by the appearance of a party of the North West fur company, under Mr. Thompson, who had come overland from Canada, to forestall them in the occupation of the mouth of the Columbia; but, had been delayed too late for this purpose, in seeking a passage through the Rocky Mountains, and had been obliged to winter there. Mr. Thompson was accompanied on his return, by David Stuart, who founded the trading-post called Okonogan.

In the beginning of the next year (1812), the detachment of Wilson Hunt came into Astoria in parties, and in a wretched condition. They had been over a year in coming from St. Louis, Missouri; had undergone extreme suffering from hunger, thirst, and cold in their wanderings that winter, through the dreary wilderness of snow-clad mountains, from which, and other causes, numbers of them perished. In May 1812, the Beaver, bringing the third detachment. under Mr. Clarke, arrived at Astoria. They brought a letter which had been left at the Sandwich Islands by Captain Ebbets of the Enterprise, containing the sad intelligence, that the Tonquin and her crew had been destroyed by Indians, near the Straits of Fuca, the June preceding.

Fort Astoria, Oregon

Fort Astoria, Oregon

In August, 1812, Wilson Hunt, leaving Astoria in the charge of Duncan McDougall, embarked in the Beaver, to trade with the Russian posts, which was to have been done by the Tonquin. He was successful, and effected a highly advantageous arrangement at Sitka, with Baranof, Governor of Russian America; took in a rich cargo of furs, and dispatched the vessel to Canton, via the Sandwich Islands, where he, in person, remained, and in 1814, he returned to Astoria in the Peddler, which he had chartered, and found that Astoria was in the hands of the North West Fur Company.

When Hunt left in the Beaver, a party was dispatched, which established a trading-post on the Spokane. Ramsey Crooks, Robert McClellan, and Robert Stuart about this time set out and crossed overland to New York, with an account of what had been done. The trade, was in the meantime, very prosperous, and a large quantity of furs had been collected at Astoria.

In January 1813, the Astorians learned from a trading vessel, that a war had broken out with England. A short time after, John Mactavish and Joseph Laroque, partners of the North West Company, arrived at Astoria; Duncan McDougall and Kenneth McKenzie (both Scotchmen) were the only partners there, and they unwisely agreed to dissolve the company in July. Stuart and Clarke, at the Okonogan and Spokane posts, opposed this; but it was finally agreed that if assistance did not soon arrive from the United States, they would abandon the enterprise.

Mactavish and his followers of the North West Company again visited Astoria, where they expected to meet the Isaac Todd, an armed ship from London, which had orders “to take and destroy everything American on the northwest coast.” Notwithstanding, they were hospitably received, and held private conferences with Duncan McDougall and Kenneth McKenzie, the result of which was, that they sold out the establishment, furs, and supplies of the Pacific Fur Company in the country, to the North West Company, for about $58,000. That company was thus enabled to establish themselves in the country.

Thus ended the Astoria enterprise. Had the directing partners on the Columbia River been Americans instead of foreigners, it is believed that they would, notwithstanding the war, have withstood all their difficulties. The sale was considered disgraceful, and the conduct of Duncan McDougall and Kenneth McKenzie in that sale and subsequently were such as to authorize suspicions against their motives; yet, they could not have been expected to engage in hostilities against their countrymen and old friends.

The name of Astoria was changed by the British, to that of Fort George. From 1813 to 1823, few, if any American citizens, entered the countries west of the Rocky Mountains. Nearly all the trade of the Upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was carried on by the American Fur Company, of which Astor was the head; and by the Columbia Fur Company formed in 1822, composed mainly of persons who had been in the service of the North West Company, and were dissatisfied with it. The Columbia Fur Company established posts on the upper waters of the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, and the Yellowstone, which were transferred, in 1826, to the North American Company on the junction of the two bodies. About this time, the overland trade with Santa Fe commenced, caravans passing regularly every summer between St. Louis and that place. In 1824, Ashley of St. Louis re-established commercial communications with the countries west of the Rocky Mountains and built a trading-post on Ashley’s Lake in Utah.

Hudsons Bay Company at Fort Colville, Oregon, 1860

Hudsons Bay Company at Fort Colville, Oregon, 1860

These active proceedings of the Missouri Fur Company traders stimulated the American Fur Company to send their agents and attaches beyond the Rocky Mountains, although they built no posts. In 1827, Johsua Pilcher of Missouri went through the South Pass with forty-five men, and wintered on the headwaters of the Colorado River, in what is now the northeast part of Utah. The next year he proceeded northwardly along the base of the Rocky Mountains to near lat. forty-seven degrees. There, he remained until the spring of 1829, when he descended Clark River to Fort Colville, then recently established at the Falls, by the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had a few years previous, absorbed and united the interests of the North West Company. He returned to the United States, through the long and circuitous far northward route of the Upper Columbia, the Athabasca, the Assinaboin, Red River, and the Upper Missouri River. But, little was known of the countries through which Pilcher traversed, previous to the publication of his concise narrative. The account of the rambles of J.O. Pattie, a Missouri Fur Company trader, through New Mexico, Chihuahua, Sonora, and California, threw some light on the geography of those countries. In 1832, Captain Bonneville of the U.S. Army, while on a furlough, led a party of 100 men from Missouri, over the mountains, where he passed more than two years on the Columbia and the Colorado Rivers, in hunting, trapping, and trading.

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