William Ashley and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company


William Henry Ashley

William Henry Ashley

William Henry Ashley was a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, who led a hundred men along the Missouri River on trapping expeditions. The men became known as “Ashley’s Hundred.”

A native of Virginia, Ashley moved West in 1803 to St. Genevieve in what was then called Louisiana, and would later become Missouri. In 1808, he moved to St. Louis where he earned a small fortune manufacturing gunpowder from a lode of saltpeter mined in a cave near the headwaters of Missouri’s Current River. Serving in the Missouri Militia during the War of 1812, he was elevated to the rank of Brigadier General. In 1822 Ashley and a business partner named Andrew Henry, a bullet maker whom he met through his gunpowder business, decided to form the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. To ready for their adventure, the post advertisements in St. Louis newspaper seeking one hundred “enterprising young men… to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years.”

The men who responded became known as “Ashley’s Hundred.” For the next three years, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company made several large scale fur trapping expeditions in the west. It was Ashley’s idea for trappers, Indians and traders to meet annually in a predetermined location to exchange furs, goods, and money. The first mountain man’s rendezvous took place on Henry’s Fork of the Green River in what is now Wyoming in 1825. Ashley’s innovations in the fur trade earned him recognition, money, and helped to open the western part of the continent to American expansion. In 1826, he sold the trading company to Jedediah Smith and other traders and moved on to politics, becoming a U.S. Representative. When Missouri was admitted to the Union Ashley was elected its first Lieutenant Governor. Ashley died of pneumonia in 1838 and was interred atop an Indian burial mound in Cooper County, Missouri.

©Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2020.

Also See:

Fur Trading on the Frontier

Rocky Mountain Fur Company

Trading Posts of the Mountain Men

Trappers, Traders & Pathfinders

3 thoughts on “William Ashley and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company”

  1. Your “facts” are faulty.
    Ashley and Henry did partner in a fur trading/trapping enterprise starting in 1822. However they did not name it “Rocky Mountain Fur Company”. Neither did the company that bought out Ashley – “Smith, Jackson and Sublett”. Following “SJ&S” another group of trappers – Thomas Fitzpatric, Jim Bridger, Milton G Sublett, Henry Fraeb and Jeane Baptiste Gervais – bought out SJ&S. This group named their enterprise “The Rocky Mountain Fur Company”

    1. Interesting. While I did find one reference (True West Magazine article) agreeing with your comment, several other references I found show the Rocky Mountain Fur Company organized in 1822, including the Encyclopedia Britannica. Can you point us to another source, we’d be happy to correct and properly attribute? Thanks!

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