“The Leviathan of the North”

American Perceptions of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1816–1846

In the summer of 1833, while touring the Upper Missouri country as a guest of Pierre Chouteau and the American Fur Company (AFC), the German prince Maximilian witnessed a series of extraordinary events. At Fort McKenzie, in the heart of Blackfeet country, he was present when David D. Mitchell, the chief clerk at the fort, introduced Ninoch-Kiaiu, the Bear Chief of the Blackfeet Nation, who, Maximilian recorded in his journal, “had always been very faithful and devoted to the Whites and the Fur Company.” Ninoch-Kiaiu wore “a new uniform, half red and half green, with red and green facings, and trimmed with silver lace; a red felt hat, ornamented with many tufts of feathers; in short, a complete dress, and a new double-barrelled percussion gun.” Maximilian continued:
Mr. Mitchell wished particularly to distinguish this man [Ninoch-Kiaiu], because he had never been to the north to trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company. When he had equipped himself in his new uniform, which was worth 150 dollars, and entered the assembly of the chiefs in the court-yard of the fort, it immediately became evident that the distinction conferred upon him made no favourable impression on them; some chiefs who had made presents to Mr. Mitchell, and had not yet received anything in return — for instance, Mehkskehme-Sukahs, could not conceal their feelings; the latter hid his head behind the person who sat next to him, while others hung down their heads, and seemed lost in thought. When Mr. Mitchell perceived this, he caused it to be intimated to the chiefs, that “they saw how the American Fur Company distinguished its faithful friends; that they, on the contrary had generally taken their beaver skins to the English; that he, therefore could not give them much now, but would make every chief a present. That it would be [in] their interest to deal with him in future, like Ninoch-Kiaiu, and then it would be in his power to make them more considerable presents.”[1] 

Astoria is depicted here in 1813, the year the Americans lost the fort to the British. Gabriel Franchère, who witnessed the transfer of Astoria to the North West Company, published the sketch in his Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813 and 1814. Astoria was restored to the United States in 1818.

OHS neg, Orhi 21681

Mitchell’s strategy of favoritism exacerbated long-standing rivalries and recent tensions among the Indians who were present at Fort McKenzie in the summer of 1833. In August, after a number of “violent disputes” had erupted among Indian traders as well as among the hired engagés, a white employee named Martin was accidentally shot with a pistol by a Blood Indian who had, “till that time, always conducted himself well,” according to Maximilian. The incident pitted Indian against Indian. Ninoch-Kiaiu sided with the whites, who decided to execute the accused murderer. This further embittered the Bloods, who determined to seek vengeance at the appropriate time.[2] 

For the remainder of the summer, Indian bands of twenty to forty lodges each —representing the Blood (Kainai), Piegan (Pikuni), “Sikesekai” (Siksikai or Blackfoot proper), and their allies, the Gros Ventre — appeared before Fort McKenzie.[3] As he struggled to keep violence to a minimum, wooing Blackfoot trade away from Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) hands, Mitchell came to appreciate how little power the Americans held in Blackfoot country. On August 14, a “half Indian” named The Bird arrived to find only twenty-three lodges of Blackfeet remaining at the fort. Maximilian described him as “a tall, strong man, with a brownish complexion, [&]thick black hair” who “spoke the language of the Blackfeet perfectly and lived constantly among them.” He judged him to be a “treacherous, very dangerous man, who had great influence among the Blackfeet.” The Bird had traded with and cheated both the AFC and the HBC, and by then was a free agent who “lived by catching beaver, and hunting, for his own account.”[4] 

The seal of the North West Company

OHS neg., OrHi 37550

Several days later, upon learning that the Bloods had ambushed and killed his nephew while he was looking for his stolen horse near the fort, the Bear Chief sent the corpse to Mitchell as a present and asked him “to revenge his kinsman.” After consulting a “sensible old Indian” who “advised that this matter should not be treated as a concern of the whole tribe, but as a private affair,” Mitchell did nothing beyond properly seeing to burial by Blackfeet custom.[5] Maximilian recalled:
As the murder of the Indian was a consequence of the offence which Ninoch-Kiaiu had offered to the Blood Indians, on the occasion of Martin’s death, the present could not well be refused, and we were obliged to be very cautious how we left the fort, as the Blood Indians were hostiley [sic] disposed toward us.[6]Mitchell feared the worst. In desperation, he requested The Bird to intercede in hopes of avoiding a blood bath. Maximilian would later record this as a misjudgment:
many unfavourable reports were spread of the hostile disposition of Ninoch-Kiaiu and his adherents toward the Whites, which had, doubtless, been excited by the pernicious influence of the treacherous Bird, who was prejudiced against the Company. An Indian told us that his countrymen would demand double the usual price for the beavers, and, if that were refused, they would kill all the Americans.[7]

What followed is the well-known incident that precluded a Piegan–Blood–White war at Fort McKenzie. On August 28, the twenty or so remaining Piegan lodges outside the fort were surprised at daybreak by around six hundred Assiniboins and Crees. Men, women, and children fell in their lodges, and both sides suffered casualties. Mitchell opened the doors of the fort to take in the Piegan wounded and, in so doing, improved his diminishing reputation and enabled the American Fur Company to remain in Piegan country. Plains Indian ethnologist John C. Ewers analyzed the implications of the affair:
This battle brought to an end the Piegan-Assiniboin peace McKenzie had negotiated at Fort Union less than two years before…. Fearing the defection of the Piegans, the Hudson’s Bay Company had built Piegan [Peagan] Post on Bow River that very summer. They hoped its more southerly location would attract the Piegans and prevent the more northerly Blackfoot tribes from carrying their furs south to trade with the American on the Missouri.[8] 

The HBC plan failed. After a short trial run, Peagan Post, located west of present-day Calgary and also known as Old Bow Fort, was abandoned, it being an “abundance of trouble and expense,” in the words of Chief Trader J.E. Harriott. More to the point, as historian Hugh A. Dempsey has summarized, “the Blackfoot soon made it clear that they wanted the white man’s trade goods but they did not particularly want him. Peagan Post survived a couple of hectic years, but by January, 1834, it was evident that the traders were not welcome, so they retreated to the muskegs of Rocky Mountain House.”[9]

Meanwhile, the American Fur Company suffered a short-term loss from increased international and inter-tribal strife. While HBC craftsmen refitted old Rocky Mountain House for the much safer and more reliable trade with the Blood Indians, Kenneth McKenzie, Supreme Agent of the Upper Missouri Outfit of the American Fur Company, penned a letter from Fort Union to Mitchell on January 21, 1834:
Your beaver trade has certainly fallen very short of my expectations, but I will give you the credit of getting every skin that could be obtained respecting the course you pursued when the fort was attacked. I look to the motives which prompted you. They were noble & evinced the purest & strongest devotedness to my interest, what the eventual result may be only time can determine but it is more than probable had I been in your situation I should have done as you did. We can only regret that the Leviathan company of the north have means so extensive & goods so cheap[,] but they will not drive me from my purpose, industry & perseverance will overcome many obstacles, and if your Indians are faithful another season may be more profitable than the present.[10] 

Mckenzie — a Scot by birth and a former North West Company clerk who had been released by the HBC in 1821 at the time of the great merger of those two companies — was at the peak of his power in 1834. Twelve years earlier, this “King of the Missouri,” as he became known, had struck out on his own and entered the trade on the upper Mississippi. [11] In 1822, while in St. Louis, McKenzie became an American citizen, a practical decision that gave him legal license to compete with his “fellow Americans.” Soon thereafter he joined as a partner in Joseph Renville’s Columbia Fur Company (also known as Tilton and Company) and helped make it a success both in the upper Mississippi country and on the middle stretches of the Missouri River. [12] By 1826 it had become apparent to the recently formed Western Department of the American Fur Company that McKenzie held the key to expansion upriver into the potentially lucrative Indian trade of the northern Plains and Rockies. [13] 

Affairs on the upper Missouri went fairly smoothly for McKenzie and for the American Fur Company up to 1834, but by year’s end company owner Pierre Chouteau, Jr., ordered him to return downriver. Both McKenzie and the newly reorganized AFC needed a cooling-off period. McKenzie had jeopardized the Company’s license in the Indian trade for distilling liquor at Fort Union, something he claimed he had to do to compete successfully with the HBC after the 1832 congressional ban on dispensing alcohol to Indians in their own country. In a letter to Chouteau in March 1834, McKenzie explained:
After 20 years experience in the Indian trade I can safely declare that an entire prohibition of liquor if rightly enforced would be an almost incalculable relief to the trader, but you well know that the Indians of this district from their proximity to the trading establishment of the H.B.C. have always been accustomed to the use of liquor, & it is by no means extraordinary that they should seek to be supplied therewith when making their trade on this side of the line. I am well convinced that if I had liquor I could extend the trade very considerably but having none I do the best I can.[14] 

McKenzie left the trade for a vacation in Europe and other business pursuits. Although he lost the inertia of personally competing with his old rival, the HBC, events of the 1830s proved him right on the need for high quality, relatively inexpensive trade goods and sufficient liquor, guns, and ammunition where tribes demanded such. McKenzie also understood, as most diplomats did not, that international boundaries or trading agreements drawn by and for Euroamerican nations mattered not to Indian hunters and their families. What counted was receiving full measure in goods and proper protocol for delivering furs and robes. In the trading year of 1834–1835, only a year removed from Martin’s death and the assault by the Cree–Assiniboin war party, Fort McKenzie’s returns amounted to 9,000 buffalo robes, 180 wolves, 200 red foxes, 2,800 muskrats, 19 bear skins, 1,500 prairie dogs, and 1,020 beaver pelts.[15] Fort McKenzie remained an active post wedged in the heart of Blackfoot country until 1844, when it was abandoned and later burned. During its fourteen-year tenure, only four American Fur Company personnel were killed by local Blackfeet, and those men, John Ewers believed, “may have deserved their fate because of their own misconduct.” [16] 

This map identifies the districts of the Hudson’s Bay Company as they were defined in 1830. The Columbia Department in the West stretched from the forty-second parallel, the northern frontier of Mexico, north to Russian America and from the Pacific Ocean east to the Rocky Mountains.

Reprinted with the permission of the publisher from Trading Beyond the Mountains, by Richard Somerset Mackie, © University of British Columbia Press 1997. All rights reserved by the publisher.

Historians of the fur trade were quick to pick up the two themes that surface from the incidents at Fort McKenzie in 1833 and 1834. Hiram M. Chittenden, an engineer who spent much of his career with the Army Corps designing dams and locks on the Missouri and Columbia rivers, turned historian in his spare time and wrote the seminal study in the field. In his influential, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, published in 1902, Chittenden devoted an entire chapter to “The Liquor Traffic” and another to “The Stress of Competition.” E.E. Rich’s comprehensive history of the HBC, published in 1960, contains a parallel chapter on American opposition. Paul Phillips, LeRoy R. Hafen, and David J. Wishart repeated these highlights to the point that competition for trading spheres and influence among the Blackfoot and the Assiniboin became stock subjects in surveys of western North American history. Most surveys also include sections on the Blackfeet “threat” or “menace” to trappers and traders active in the northern Rocky Mountains. Occasionally, this resistance is attributed to American trespass, but more commonly Blackfeet opposition to Americans is interpreted as British-induced violence to protect market-share and trade territory. Recently, Eugene Y. Arima and David Smythe, ethnohistorians with Parks Canada, independently revisited the subject, providing valuable international context for Indian–white relations, and historian John C. Jackson has recast the story of the Blackfeet in the nineteenth century as “a culture under siege.” [17]

What has been neglected in these discussions is a consideration of American attitudes toward the HBC during the height of its expansion in the region the British and Canadians called “Columbia.” Despite shared Anglo and French heritage, Americans — even those deeply involved in the fur trade — knew little about their northern neighbors. The exceptions were businessmen whose livelihoods were directly affected by monetary or diplomatic agreements, but even then sensationalism during this age of expansionist rhetoric conditioned popular opinion.[18]

In addition to Kenneth McKenzie, New Yorker John Jacob Astor and New Englander Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth were notable examples. Astor used connections and influence on both sides of the international boundary and was pragmatic in using combinations with foreign companies to operate a truly North American, international enterprise. The South West Company — a joint American and Canadian venture — was organized for this purpose in 1811 and was very successful in the Great Lakes up to 1816. His plan was set back by the War of 1812 and the loss of Astoria in 1813 to the British. In 1818, after three years of closed-door discussion in London, Astoria was restored to the United States on the technicality that it had been taken by a British naval expedition during the recent war, therefore qualifying it for restitution under the Treaty of Ghent. Despite Astor’s persistent efforts for restoration through his friend Albert Gallatin and many in Congress, the American Fur Company flag was not to fly again over the site because Astor’s men had openly sold the fort prior to its formal seizure. In 1832, two years before retiring from the fur trade, Astor reflected on his decision to sell out to the North West Company and to abandon the Columbia country. He wrote his old friend Wilson Price Hunt: “Had we succeeded in keeping Astoria, ere now we should all have made great fortunes there, and even more and much more than the Hudson Bay Company now do.”[19] 

New Yorker John Jacob Astor was a pragmatic businessman who used his connections and influence to make his Pacific Fur Company an international operation.

OHS neg., OrHi 54

In the wake of the War of 1812, international policy shifts necessitated new paradigms in American fur-trade interests throughout the West. The 1794 Treaty of London (Jay’s Treaty), which had allowed British and Canadian agents to continue the Indian trade on American soil, was rescinded by the U.S. Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1816. The act, which Astor guided through Congress, stated that “licenses to trade with the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States shall not be granted to any but citizens of the United States, unless by the express direction of the President….”[20] Even this protectionist measure was not seen as sufficient to the interests of many Americans. Since 1815, several plans to garrison the Canadian–U.S. border had been proposed to Congress. In 1818, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun wanted to establish an army post at the mouth of the Yellowstone River and sent an expedition to “extend and protect our trade with the Indians.” In his instructions to the expedition leaders, Calhoun wrote:
…English traders…have great advantages in controuling the savages thro’ their commanding station on Red river, and as our contemplated establishment at Yellow Stone, will greatly curtail their trade towards the head of the Missouri, we must expect every opposition from them. No pains must be spared to counteract such efforts….[21] 

The Yellowstone Expedition never reached its goal. Logistical problems with steamboats and, most significantly, Congress’s withdrawal of support in the wake of the Panic of 1819 led to abandonment of the original purpose. A permanent military presence on the Missouri was established near Council Bluffs at Missouri Cantonment (later Fort Atkinson), where over eleven hundred U.S. soldiers were stationed in 1820. But this was little noticed in Whitehall or at York Factory, where the Northern Council of the HBC convened for its annual directors’ meeting to discuss Lord Selkirk’s colony on Red River and the Company’s expansion in Athabasca, the Columbia District, and New Caledonia.[22] 

The rhetoric in congress and among military men set a tone in foreign policy that contrasted sharply with the diplomacy of shared occupation evident in the Convention of 1818, which provided that the territory “Westward of the Stony Mountains, shall, together with its Harbours, Bays, and Creeks, and the Navigation of all Rivers within the same, be free and open, for the term of ten years…to the Vessels, Citizens, and Subject of the Two Powers.”[23] During the First Seminole War in 1818, for example, a brash Andrew Jackson executed two British subjects in Spanish Florida and recommended to his superior, General Henry Atkinson, that all British traders caught on American soil be hanged.[24] From that time to the signing of the Oregon Treaty of 1846, Americans exhibited mixed views about the political geography of Oregon but most agreed on the potential benefits it might bring to the nation.[25] Those same Americans and many of their elected officials also had a difficult time making up their minds about the international legal rights of the London-based Bay Company. Few understood that Parliament had granted monopoly charter to the behemoth, with power to regulate and control the fur trade of Rupert’s Land as well as to build posts and establish farms and other enterprises, without relinquishing Royal claim of the lands within the Company’s domain. Prior to 1813, all Company properties lay on the north side of the Columbia. After that year, in addition to Fort Astoria (renamed Fort George), the HBC absorbed other posts through its merger with the North West Company in 1821. Fort Nez Perces, built by the North West Company in 1818 and renamed Fort Walla Walla in 1825, was one such prize, as were Spokane House and the Flathead Post in Montana.[26] 

Artist Joseph Drayton, who traveled with the Wilkes Expedition, depicted this scene of fur trappers at Fort Walla Walla in 1841. The fort had been named Fort Nez Perces when the North West Company first established it in 1818 at the fork of the Walla Walla and Columbia rivers.

OHS neg., OrHi 964

Much of the confusion stemmed from conflicting signals sent from the nation’s capital. Under the U.S. law of 1816, the President and his designates could grant licenses to foreigners to trade on American soil. By 1817, exceptions were made in the upper Great Lakes where Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan allowed foreigners to enter agreements with all American trading companies, notably David Stone and Company, a Detroit-based rival of the AFC’s Northern Department. An ardent champion of free enterprise, Cass opposed the U.S. factory system established by Congress in 1790, hoping to keep liquor and unethical traders out of Indian country, and was instrumental in its demise in 1822. Describing the system as “radically incorrect,” Cass gained supporters in the administration and Congress, looking for any means of trimming the federal budget after the business downturn of 1819.[27]

In the meantime, the opportunity for most Americans to hire Canadian traders ended under President Monroe, who in November 1818 revoked all licenses granted by James Madison. The political friends of Stone and Astor, however, combined interests and persuaded Monroe to allow Americans to hire Canadian boatmen and interpreters. American private fur-trade interests also clamored for military and legislative protection of their capital and human investments in the West. Eastern financiers resented the loss of opportunity on the Pacific Coast and in the Northwest generally, and Astor faulted the government for its inaction in exploring, policing, or garrisoning the Far West.[28]

Many St. Louis–based merchants and fur companies knew it was in their best interest to keep settlers, soldiers, and government agents out of Indian country, but the complications and challenges inherent on the Missouri and in the Rockies prompted requests for federal intervention. Most tribes, but especially the Teton Sioux, Arikara, Gros Ventre, and Blackfeet, were not disposed to allowing white trappers to displace their own hunters or to pass freely through their territories and regions where they had secured status as middleman–traders. They insisted on doing business with whites in the same manner that had become customary in trading with other tribes, with trade often overlapping sporadic fighting and counting coup through theft of horses, furs, and other personal effects. Fur-trade merchants in St. Louis were slow to understand these dynamics, and white lives and American dollars were lost when their field personnel circumvented proper Indian protocols and sovereignty.[29]

This is a familiar story in the succession of St. Louis–based fur companies from the formation of the Missouri Fur Company in 1809 to the consolidation of several smaller concerns into the Upper Missouri Outfit of the American Fur Company in 1827, an oligopoly up to its final dissolution in 1865. Both Congress and the British were blamed. High tariffs set by Congress on British and French imports — especially firearms and trade goods of metal, glass, and woolens — meant that American fur traders paid dearer prices on imported trade goods than did their Canadian neighbors. From 1816 through the 1830s, fur men blamed Congress and asked for relief, finding some on specific goods but suffering a general increase.[30] In 1830, William Clark, superintendent of Indian affairs at St. Louis, wrote:
…the American Trader is not only dependent upon his competitor for the very articles themselves, but has to pay his own Government an average duty of about 60 percent for the priviledge of importing them;…in addition to the advantages already enjoyed by the British Trader, he is priviledged to land & find a market for his furs & peltries…in the United States, free of duty (which is not reciprocated by G. Britain), it will be seen at once, that no Enterprise, talent, or industry can successfully compete in this Trade, under such disadvantages.[31 

Some Americans were also convinced that the British promoted American losses by encouraging Indians to steal or confiscate American–procured furs in the field.[32] Ultimately, the Bay Company bore the brunt of a jealous and expansionary American citizenry that wanted its share of British good fortunes in the Oregon Country and along the international border. This was especially characteristic after the North West Company merged with the HBC in 1821, a consolidation perceived as a conspiracy against American interests along the border as well as in the joint occupancy area. In 1822, the St. Louis Enquirer editorialized:
Since the abolition of the United States’ factories, a great activity has prevailed in the operation of this trade. Those formerly engaged in it have increased their capital and extended their enterprize, many new firms have engaged in it, and others are preparing to do so. It is computed that a thousand men, chiefly from this place, are now employed in this trade on the waters of the Missouri, and half that number on the Upper Mississippi. The Missouri Fur Company, which alone employs upwards of 300 men, have reached the mountains, and will soon be on the Columbia River. Others have the same destination, so that the rich furs of that region will soon cease to be the exclusive property of the Hudson Bay Company….[33] 

Government officials, fur merchants, and traders sided with victims of Indian depredations. A survivor of a well-publicized attack on the Missouri near the Arikara villages in 1823, in which twelve white trappers died and an equal number were severely wounded, expressed the exaggerated view of many Americans:
The hostility of the Ricarees, Black-feet, Snake, Chiaus [Cheyennes], and Assiniboines, is entirely owing to the influence of the Northwest or Hudson Bay Company….. From the English they can get what liquor they want, and the distance is nothing to an Indian, when he has in view the gratification of his passions. Among the Ricarees I saw several English medals, and some of British manufacture….The government must remedy these abuses; she must divest herself of that appalling slowness that attends all her operations…. The risque is too great for individual enterprise when unaided and unassisted by the government.[34]The U.S. responded by sending a retaliatory expedition against the Arikaras, not the purported Bay Company “instigators” to their north. After an inconclusive battle against several hundred American soldiers, sixty armed trappers, and seven hundred Sioux allies, the Arikara agreed to parlay and then slipped out of their villages during the night to avoid further retribution.[35] 

This “American Trapper of the Ancien Régime” is from Robert Brown’s A Graphic and Popular Description of the Countries of the World Illustrated (part 5), published in 1867.

Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, HBCA PP2150 Part 5, p. 153 (N13869)

Americans did not conceal their envy or their admiration of the successes of the Bay Company on the other side of the Rockies. St. Louis newspapers alerted the public to the success of William H. Ashley’s first Rocky Mountain Rendezvous of 1825, noting that
Ashley has indemnified himself for all the losses occasioned by the murderous attack of the Arikara’s in the summer of the year 1823…. In the course of his expedition, Genl. Ashley fell in with a party in the service of the Hudson Bay Company, who are believed to have 1,000 men in their employment west of the Rocky Mountains. The riches which this company are carrying out of the territory of the United States are immense, and beyond all calculation….[36]

Ashley’s information came directly from twenty-nine men “who had recently withdrawn [by desertion] from the Hudson[‘s] Bay Company” as well as from his business partner, Jedediah Smith, who had visited Flathead Post along Clark Fork in western Montana in the late fall of 1824. Ashley was especially impressed with the reported eighty thousand beaver coming out of “that district called the Snake country, which Mr. Smith understood as being confined to the district claimed by the Shoshone Indians.” Most of the HBC deserters were Eastern Iroquois — “intelligent men, who were formerly attached to the British trading companies, and who have resided many years with the Flat Heads” — and they became the subject of a strong American defense of the right to engage in free enterprise in the joint occupancy area. Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Crow also came to be viewed as friendly in the American trade sphere of the intermountain West and were defended in print and before Congress as independent of British influence. Even Ashley feared British motives, however, stating in 1827: “We know…that it is the interest of the British traders to poison the minds of the Indians in the region of the Rocky Mountains against us.”[37] 

That same year, the Missouri Observer reported Ashley’s returns from the third annual rendezvous as “probably worth 60 or $70,000.” The editor of this influential newspaper repeated the familiar accusation that American citizens were constantly endangered “from the Black Feet and other Indians, who are instigated to rob and murder our people by the British traders, who have almost exclusive possession of our territories at and beyond the Rocky Mountains….” The writer estimated the number of foreign interlopers on American soil to be a thousand men and surmised “their annual depredations upon us perhaps about a million of dollars in money, besides exciting our own Indians against us.”[38] 

In 1831, a presidential fact-finding committee determined to set the record straight in an eighty-six-page report that included assessments of American trade throughout the West. William Gordon, a former Missouri Fur Company trader, claimed that “five or six hundred men,” “fitted out partly from Missouri and partly from Santa Fe” and “exclusive of the British, who also hunt constantly west of the mountains and [who] did hunt to the east of them until the American hunters became numerous there,” were scouring the West trapping beaver. The British, he claimed, “come to our side of the line, and mean to exhaust it first: so that the treaty privilege to hunt and trade on our side is of great value to them.”[39] William H. Ashley provided further testimony:
Hunting is the only way our citizens have to contend with the British on our ground in and beyond the mountains, their advantage in trading being so great as to put competition out of the question. They bring their goods from Hudson’s bay, and from the mouth of the Columbia, without paying any duties, while ours, being imported through the United States, are subject to heavy duties, perhaps an average of 50 or 60 per cent. These goods are of the same kind, being made in England, and the Indians are good judges of their quality and price, so that the difference of 50 or 60 per cent in their cost puts it out of the power of the American trader to compete with the British traders. The British, besides their permanent posts along the line of our frontiers, have temporary winter establishments on the American side of the line, where they trade with our Indians, and nearly monopolize the trade on account of their advantages.
As for Americans, Ashley continued,
It is universally considered unsafe to go on the country claimed by the British; and no American has ever ventured to do it and I have no doubt would loose [sic] his life and his property if he did. They [the British] have spread over the whole region west of the Rocky mountains, quite to the Mexican territory, while no American has gone north of 49 degrees, nor even north of the Columbia, nor often to it….the Hudson’s Bay Company may….be considered the sole occupants, as they are the only persons who have any pretensions to a regularly settled system of business, or who have any establishments in that country.
Ashley concluded with a perspective Congress seldom heard: “Both the Hudson’s Bay Company and citizens of the United States engage in trapping, and each suffer occasionally from the attacks of the Indians…[however,] I saw nothing to justify the opinion that they excited the Indians to kill and rob our citizens.”[40] 

Congress continued to collect testimony on valuation of the fur trade and depredations on American property. The Astor firm claimed that its fur operations in North America were worth slightly more than one million dollars a year, and William Gordon calculated an annual return of $150,000 on furs brought into St. Louis alone. Indian Agent John Dougherty tabulated total valuation for the fur trade of the Upper Missouri and Rocky Mountains from 1815 through 1830 as $3,750,000, a profit of $1,650,000 to fur companies.[41] Another inquiry revealed that 234 Indian depredations had occurred in the contested area since the Treaty of Ghent, leaving at least 150 Americans dead and $149,374 in loss of property, a shocking total that led Dougherty to recommend building “a small military post, say two companies” to protect the fur trade in the U.S.–Canadian border region of the Upper Missouri.[42] 

Sir George Simpson (1876–1860) served as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s governor-in-chief from 1821 to 1860.

OHS neg., OrHi 54480

The forced removal of tribes to Indian Territory and resistance to American expansion during the Black Hawk War in 1832, however, diverted presidential and congressional action from the Far West. By 1833, large and small fur companies alike determined to strike bargains with the Bay Company if offered the opportunity. Through its general manager, Ramsay Crooks, the American Fur Company charted the way, accepting a proposal from Governor George Simpson to receive £300 per year in return for a promise not to interfere with Indians or the Indian trade to the north or to the west of Lake Superior.[43] This little-studied agreement benefited both companies in that the AFC was able to guarantee fishing rights on the north side of the Great Lakes, which was the largest profit sector for the company in the late 1830s and 1840s. The agreement was extended every two to three years, with minor modifications until 1847.[44]

In 1845 or 1846, British army officer Henry James Warre painted this watercolor of Fort Vancouver, a trading post on the Columbia River established in 1825 to oversee the Columbia Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Warre, who was twenty-five years old when he traveled to the West in 1844, compiled a rich pictorial record of the HBC’s western operations.

British Columbia Archives, PDP 05241

The American Fur Company also worked with the HBC by sharing market information on furs through the listening post of broker Curtis M. Lampson in London. Lampson entered the trade as a Yankee fur pedlar for Astor, who sent him to London in 1824 to buy furs at auction from HBC sales. He founded his own company in 1830 and became London agent for the New York office of the AFC in January 1835, a relationship that continued through the 1860s.[45] Once furs reached British warehouses, neither HBC nor AFC planned to lose the opportunity to sell at the highest price. Lampson seldom offered furs from both companies simultaneously in large lots to furriers based in Britain or on the Continent. In fact, in the interest of avoiding a glut on the market of any single species of animal, Lampson often sent catalogues of upcoming sales as well as marked ones of previous sales to his clients. This level of “friendly competition” meant that company managers in North America were instructed to get along with the opposition as best they could in order to maintain a workable, mutually beneficial arrangement abroad.[46] Once Lampson’s information was in-house, both companies guarded it from the opposition. For example, in February 1838, William Brewster of the AFC’s Detroit office received a duplicate copy of Lampson’s “dear opinion of the prospects for Furs and skins,” with the admonition, “Mr. Lampson’s observations you will keep entirely to yourself.” Ramsay Crooks predicted: “If Hudson’s Bay Co. will only sell stock and leave a clear market, prices must be low, the cheapness will make skins more generally used, and the market will return to a healthy state.”[47]

Based on the infrequency of letters to and from London as well as the repetition of Lampson’s reports to the Northern Department and to partners in the St. Louis–based Western Department, it appears that managers in the interior received their market news directly from New York and mainly from Ramsay Crooks, part owner and operations manager of the Company. The Western Department often negotiated with rival companies, but no record exists of any formal compact for trade or agreements on trading spheres with the HBC. After 1833, friendly posturing and some assistance in supplying remote opposition posts or traders-in-transit permeate an otherwise rather sterile documentary record. 

The final part of this story takes us back to the Oregon Country, where several diplomatic and economic probes were tested from 1834 to 1846. Nearly all explorers, traders, missionaries, prospective settlers, and U.S. government agents who visited the region found it to their liking. Company post managers, especially Dr. John McLoughlin, impressed people as exceptionally helpful and kind. These same chroniclers raved at the productivity of Bay Company enterprises — in furs, crops, fisheries, and livestock. As public officials wrestled with diplomatic matters, private citizens provided contradictory views of the Bay Company’s largess.[48] 

Negative voices were few, but they were loud. Hall J. Kelley’s was the most widely heard. His earliest tract in 1830 reveals deep admiration for British accomplishments in the Northwest. A year later, in his General Circular to all … who wish to Emigrate to the Oregon Territory, Kelley called upon Congress to grant American citizens the same rights in Oregon enjoyed by the HBC under parliamentary authority, arguing that the HBC was a “Colonial Government,” not a trading company. In the two decades that followed, however, his remarks became vitriolic as he painted a conspiracy against his American Society for the Colonization of Oregon. The chief purpose of the HBC, he charged, was “to cheat and kill Indians, and get gain.” He claimed that McLoughlin had treated him “with every demonstration of inhumanity” and labeled him a “persecuting monster,” a “lying spirit…busily engaged in spreading falsehood and calumny among the settlers and strangers.”[49]

Ironically, a second sour view was offered by one of Kelley’s critics. On the streets of Boston and in print, W.J. Snelling directly challenged the logic of Kelley’s plans, doubting that half the emigrants who wanted to leave the East for Oregon would make it as far as St. Louis. The way west, Snelling warned, was full of danger, aridity, and hostility, and the object — land, timber, fisheries, and good soil — was obtainable in the state of Maine with far less trouble. Snelling wryly concluded: “the fur trade has been over-done, done to death, for twenty years; especially in Oregon.”[50]

Most eyewitnesses of HBC operations did not agree. Guests at Mc-Loughlin’s table were astonished at their remarkable progress in so short a time. Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, the Boston ice-cutter who had been influenced by Kelley’s Oregon Colonization Society, struck out to make his fortune in fish and furs in the joint occupancy area. His description of his reception at Fort Vancouver in 1832 is typical of other first-hand accounts of the time:
Here I was received with the utmost kindness and Hospitality by Doct. McLauchland the acting Gov. of the place…. Our people were supplied with food and shelter from the rain which is constant…. I find Doct. McLauchland a fine old gentleman truly philanthropic in his Ideas he is doing much good by introducing fruits into this country which will much facilitate the progress of this settlement (Indian corn 3000 bush) The gentlemen of this Co. do much credit to their country and concern by their education deportment and talents…. The Co. seem disposed to render me all the assistance they can they live well at these posts they have 200 acres of land under cultivation[;] the land is of the finest quality.[51] 

There were some who fared less well. Prior to Wyeth’s venture, Governor Simpson had received two independent offers from Americans active in the Northwest. Jedediah Smith had agreed to give up plans to trap the Snake River country in 1828 in exchange for the Company’s purchase of his horses and furs. He also requested HBC assistance in retrieving the remains and effects of eleven of his men who had been slain following the disastrous fight with the Umpquas along the Oregon coast in July of that year.[52] A second proposal in 1829 was tendered by former Missouri Fur Company partner Joshua Pilcher, who offered to lead a party of trappers into Blackfoot country on behalf of the Bay Company. Simpson refused the offer, fearing it would set a precedent of trespass across international boundaries that would eventually escalate friction with Americans.[53] 

Nathaniel J. Wyeth, who led expeditions in 1832 and 1834 in an effort to establish his own business in the West, reported that Fort Vancouver Chief Factor John McLoughlin had treated him “with the utmost kindness and Hospitality.”

OHS neg., OrHi 305

Capt. Benjamin Bonneville made no proposal to the Bay Company, but he also became a casualty of the fur-trade diplomatic war. Born in France, Bonne-ville had immigrated with his parents to the U.S. and graduated from West Point. In 1831, he took a leave of absence from the army and entered the trade as a private agent, writing to his superiors that he intended to ascertain “the location of the Indian tribes and their habits, visit the American and British establishments, make myself acquainted with their manner of trade and intercourse with the Indians, finally, endevour [sic] to develop every advantage the country affords and by what means they may most readily be opened to the enterprise of our citizens.” Financially backed by Alfred Seton, a New York merchant and former Astorian, Bonneville struck out for the Green River with 110 men. In 1832, he built a fort named for himself near present-day Pinedale, Wyoming. For the next three years, he made Fort Bonneville his headquarters for reconnoitering the region, including areas occupied by the Bay Company, and may have been a secret agent for the United States.[54] When Bonneville arrived at Fort Walla Walla in 1834, Chief Trader Pierre Pambrun suspected espionage and was faced with a serious diplomatic dilemma. The American writer, Washington Irving, gained access to Bonneville’s private journal and recast the story to a wide reading audience in 1837. Once Bonneville and his men were fed, Irving tells us:
The worthy superintendent, who had extended to him all the genial rites of hospitality, now suddenly assumed a withered-up aspect and demeanor, and observed that, however he might feel disposed to serve him, personally, he felt bound by his duty to the Hudson’s Bay Company, to do nothing which should facilitate or encourage the visits of other traders among the Indians in that part of the country.[55]

This map shows Oregon Territory in 1838, during the period when Great Britain and the United States jointly occupied the region and companies from each nation were attempting to control the fur trade.

Washington Hood, cartographer, OHS neg., OrHi 80863

Immediate physical needs were seldom denied weary travelers, but it is clear that Bay Company officers carefully weighed the motives of the itinerant tourists and likely spies who passed through the Columbia. Bonneville was denied supplies and given an “unkind reception of the traders,” who entreated him to return to the States as quickly as possible, forcing him to subsist, he claimed in a letter to Secretary of War Lewis Cass, “on horses, dogs, roots & occasionally a salmon.” He concluded: “the Hudson Bay at present have every advantage over the Americans.”[56]

The highest praise for the Bay Company came from those seeking information, protection, supplies, or a good meal. Missionary Jason Lee reported that post manager Pierre Pambrun at Walla Walla had received him with “great civility” and that Dr. McLoughlin “has treated us with the utmost politeness, attention, and liberality.” In an 1838 letter to her parents, Narcissa Whitman described McLoughlin as “our excellent friend and kind benefactor” and elsewhere described Fort Vancouver as the “New York of the Pacific Ocean.”[57] 

Early Oregon settlers and even military representatives of the United States reinforced these sentiments. John Ball, a graduate of Dartmouth College and one of the earliest American farmers in Oregon, sent a series of letters home during his trek with Nathaniel Wyeth’s party in 1832. The letters were published in the New York Commercial Advertiser. While on the Columbia, he wrote: “Mr. M’Laughlin encouraged a few men (some of whom came out here with Mr. Astor’s concern) to settle on the Multnomah, where… I intend to settle. He has liberally engaged to lend me a plough, an axe, oxen, cow, &c.;”[58]

As the political climate to take over Oregon intensified in Washington, all seemed peaceful on the Columbia. Both Lt. Charles Wilkes in 1841 and Capt. John Charles Frémont in 1843 met McLoughlin, who cooperated with their respective surveys of the region. McLoughlin provided Wilkes with a large bateau, nine of his boatmen, and camp equipment from Fort Vancouver’s stores to facilitate the American scientific expedition. Frémont later wrote: “Dr. McLaughlin [sic]…received me with the courtesy and hospitality for which he has been eminently distinguished, and which makes a forcible and delightful impression on a traveler from the long wilderness from which we had issued.” McLoughlin also helped American settlers, Frémont reported: “I found many American emigrants at the fort; others had already crossed the river into their land of promise — the Walahmette [Willamette] valley. Others were daily arriving; and all of them had been furnished with shelter….”[59] 

Capitalists with an eye on land, furs, or commercial opportunities seldom shared the world views of preachers, soldiers, and ploughmen, but they also exercised caution in not wearing out their welcome in the HBC-dominated Northwest. Wyeth in particular planned to take full advantage of the spirit of joint occupation by moving directly into HBC-controlled parts of the Oregon Country. His early favorable remarks about the Company illustrate his diplomatic acumen in gaining a foothold within the Columbia District. As H.M. Chittenden put it, “Wyeth’s indomitable pluck won for him the admiration of every one and particularly of the philanthropic Hudson Bay Company factor at Fort Vancouver, the venerable Dr. John McLoughlin. These two men formed an earnest and lasting attachment for each other with which the necessities of business competition were never permitted to interfere.”[60]

Dr. John McLoughlin, chief factor at Fort Vancouver from 1824 to 1846, was charged with the oversight of the Columbia District of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He posed here with George Warren Hyde and Dan O’Neil and his granddaughters Margaret Rae Wygant and Louisa Rae Myrick.

OHS neg., OrHi 45701

Behind a thin mask of diplomacy, Wyeth’s aggressive plans to become a power broker soon surfaced. [61] In 1832, he concocted two grandiose interdependent schemes. He proposed to supply Americans at the annual Rocky Mountain Rendezvous with goods brought overland from Boston and New York in exchange for cash and furs — hardly a novel scheme, but no one had attempted such from both coasts. He would also harvest salmon from the Columbia for trans-shipment in barrels by sea to the East Coast, where a ready market existed for salted or pickled fish, an industry that the Bay Company was developing and that had only a short history on the Columbia dating back to 1829. [62] In February 1832, true American competition arrived when two Yankee ships, the Owhyhee and the Convoy, crossed the Columbia bar and spent the spring trading with local Indians for salmon and furs. This forced the HBC to reduce its trade tariff considerably in order to keep local Indians from totally abandoning Fort Vancouver’s trade shop. The ships departed on July 29, “after giving us an immensity of trouble,” McLoughlin recalled. Over a year later, fifty-three barrels of Columbia River salmon were unloaded at Boston. [63]

Nathaniel Wyeth was connected with some of the same Boston merchants who were behind this and other Pacific Coast speculations. His own plan became more elaborate in 1833. In a remarkable letter to Governor George Simpson, Wyeth proposed a five-year agreement in which the HBC would supply goods to Wyeth, who in turn would trap the area south of the Columbia and deliver all furs to the Company. Wyeth stated his case plainly using economic savings and high profits as the guiding reason why the HBC ought to accept his offer. He asked to form his own brigade of around fifteen trappers through an HBC agent, exclaiming: “Canadians are to be had cheaper than Americans and are for some purposes better men.” He also planned to build a post “on the Columbia or south of it for collecting furs and salmon to be sent to the States by vessells [sic] ordered therefrom such vessells to bring out the goods required for the trade.” The issue of joint occupancy is imbedded in his reminder to Simpson: “It appears to me that as an American I posses [sic] some advantage than an Englishman would not inasmuch as I can visit parts of the country from which he is excluded and still not so remote in point of distance difficulty or expense as from St. Louis.”[64] Wyeth’s proposal did not require an immediate decision by Simpson, who had departed for England, where he spent the winter. 

By summer, Wyeth was rescuing another of his ventures, this one at the annual mountain man rendezvous. From Green River, Wyeth wrote HBC trader Francis Ermatinger, who had not attended the gathering that year:
…you would have been Robbed of your goods and Beaver if you had come here…. I give you this as an honest opinion which you can communicate to the Co. There is here a great majority of Scoundrels. I should much doubt the personal safety of any one from your side of the house.[65]Wyeth returned to Boston where he wrote Simpson on November 20, regretting that he had troubled him with the original proposal: “all further negotiations for the present are at an end in regard to this subject.” But the next year he was back in the West, determined to execute his plan with or without the HBC. At great expense, he carted thirteen thousand pounds of merchandise to the rendezvous, only to find he was too late to swap his consignee — the Rocky Mountain Fur Company — for its furs. Angered and frustrated, Wyeth is said to have told Milton Sublette and his partners, “Gentlemen, I will roll a stone into your garden that you will never be able to get out.”[66]

Before hearing from Simpson, whose terse rejection of Wyeth’s proposal did not reach the Columbia until October, Wyeth took advantage of distance from London and Washington. He approached McLoughlin directly and asked him to intervene. In a very unusual document drafted to formalize their agreement, McLoughlin accepted Wyeth’s salmon fishing, horse trading, and merchandising to American trappers. Wyeth promised not to encroach on the trade out of Fort Vancouver or above the Grand Ronde River, and McLoughlin agreed that the HBC would not trade beyond the Grand Ronde, except for Snake Country brigades under Francis Ermatinger and Thomas McKay. Those brigades would continue to have the right to enter the country to the south and west to trade with American trappers as well as the right to participate independently at the American summer rendezvous. McLoughlin also authorized trader Pierre Pambrun to supply Wyeth with goods for his post, should he fall short from his own sources.[67] 

Historians have mulled over the exceptional good treatment given Nat Wyeth and the implications of this agreement. Herman J. Deutsch speculated that had American fur traders been stronger, the division of fur-trade bailiwicks on either side of the Grande Ronde may have become the international boundary. John S. Galbraith has reasoned that, in theory, the HBC considered concessions to the opposition “repugnant to the policies of the Company, which sanctioned permanent division of territory only with a large company capable of enforcing its part of such arrangement.” On the practical side, however, “the Company surrendered little of value, for the Grand Ronde country was not rich in furs and the right granted Ermatinger and McKay to trade at the rendezvous preserved the Company’s only valuable connection with that country.” As Dorothy Nafus Morrison has recently written in her biography of McLoughlin, “the idea appealed to McLoughlin as reasonable and sound. In 1829 Governor Simpson had told him that if rivals appeared, the company should ‘meet them fairly and openly as competitors in Trade,’ and ‘studiously avoid any discreditable proceeding which might tarnish the reputation of the Honble Coy.'” McLoughlin “was convinced that the Bostonian’s venture would soon collapse, and he feared that if he refused supplies, the resourceful New Englander might bring in goods from some other source. So he decided to deal with Wyeth as a new outlet and accepted the proposal, but retained trapping rights in the valuable Flathead Country.” McLoughlin would later write to a disgruntled Simpson: “Mr. Wyeth…told me that he did not come to oppose us, if we would put no obstacles in the way of his trading Horses in the Interior or Salmon there, as his object was to salt Salmon for exportation, and to deal with the American Trappers in the Snake Country.”[68]

Wyeth never received formal approval from Simpson. Instead, he skirted official permission from the Governor and Committee and established a small trading station — Fort William — at Warrior Point on the northern end of Sauvie Island at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. A second, more ambitious post was built on “Lewis River” — the Snake — well to the south of any others in the HBC’s trading sphere.[69] Within sight of the Union Jack and under the watchful but cooperative eyes of Thomas McKay, the leader of the Company’s Snake River Brigade of 1834–1835, Wyeth built Fort Hall, his proverbial “stone in the garden,” near the junction of the Portneuf and Snake rivers in present-day Idaho. The palisades and two bastions were completed on August 6, “on which day the Am. Standard was raised in regions remote from its usual habitation and amid the noise of revelry and gun powder it floated in the gaze of the astonished Savages.” A week later, Wyeth departed to the mouth of the Columbia to meet his ship, the May Dacre, leaving manager Robert Evans and eleven men at the new fort.[70] 

The “Savages” Wyeth described were part of Thomas McKay’s HBC brigade; and in McKay, Wyeth met his match at entrepreneurship. Described by George Simpson as “a half breed of the Saulteaux Tribe…one of the best Shots in the Country and very cool and resolute among Indians, [McKay] has always been employed on the most desperate service in the Columbia and the more desperate it is the better he likes it.” John Kirk Townsend, an ornithologist who accompanied Wyeth, described the scene: “We found Mr. McKay’s company encamped on the bank of the river within a few hundred yards of our tents. It consists of thirty men, thirteen of whom are Indians, Nez Perces, Chinooks and Kayouse [Cayuse], with a few squaws. The remainder are French–Canadians and half-breeds.”[71] In Wyeth’s absence, McKay would soon enter into his own private deals with Wyeth’s partners. 

Within months it was apparent that the plan of a salmon and fur enterprise, each dependent on the other and both linked to perfect timing by land and by water, was flawed. Capt. Joseph Thing and Wyeth had similar visions but very different management styles, and a dozen Hawaiian laborers under Thing’s supervision deserted by the winter of 1835. The problems piled up. The May Dacre arrived on the Columbia three months late owing to damage from lightning at sea. By then, the salmon run had passed, and Wyeth’s empty barrels were useless, at least for a year, so he loaded the ship with lumber to trade in Hawaii. He wrote his brother: “If at the close of next year our prospects are not brighter you may expect to see me back again, following with fresh spirits some new or old plans of profit or improvement.”[72]

At Fort Hall, according to one employee, Evans “partook too freely of the spirituous Liquors and kept a very loose account of the property entrusted to him.” Such behavior prompted Wyeth to replace Evans with Thing. To keep the men busy and on speculation of making more in furs than fish, Thing entered into partnership with Thomas McKay to form a “Flat head country expedition” designed to build a new post in the Salmon River country. This and subsequent trapping parties were attacked by Blackfeet, forcing contraction rather than expansion of fur-gathering activities. McKay was instructed to spend the winter along the River Boise, where he built a fort in the fall of 1834 a considerable distance downstream from Fort Hall. Both American visitors and HBC officials saw the fort — first known as Snake Fort — as McKay’s private venture, not official Company property, even though McKay held the rank of clerk within the organization. In 1837, the post was renamed Fort Boise, for the Big Wood River, and was subsumed into the Bay Company’s official list of Columbia District properties, with McKay in charge.[73] By then, Wyeth was out of resources, and he retreated to Boston in 1837. Fort Hall and all of the property within its walls were sold to the HBC.

Both forts improved their fortunes after 1838, at which time Fort Hall was added to the Snake Country Department. Despite decline in fur returns across the interior Mountain West, fur-return profits from the Snake Country rose from £250 in 1838 to £1,673 in 1839 and £2,400 in 1842. British good fortune in the Columbia Department improved as Americans struggled to keep the rendezvous system alive. Cornelius Rogers, a lay missionary bound for Henry Spalding’s Lapwai Mission, wrote from the Wind River Mountains in July 1838, describing the rendezvous: “The American Fur Company must soon abandon the mountains. The trade is unprofitable, and the men are becoming dissatisfied; besides, the Hudson Bay Company will break down all opposition. Their resources are boundless, and they stop at no expense.”[74] 

This hand-colored lithograph of Fort Vancouver in 1845 was based on a sketch by Henry James Warre, a young British army lieutenant who visited several forts and settlements in the Oregon Country during his seven-month journey in 1845–1846.

OHS neg., OrHi 803

Most historians have interpreted the completion of these two small posts as American and British first and second punches in the economic and diplomatic war that escalated into the 1840s.[75] In 1847, after the Treaty of Washington had settled the boundary dispute, Wyeth revised the explanation of his misfortunes, reconciling himself a victim of “the commercial distress of that time.” In 1839, however, he had blamed HBC’s refusal to honor the joint occupation agreement of 1818, which provided Congress and the American reading public fuel to feed the fires of expansionism in the Northwest.[76] 

Beginning with Washington Irving in 1839 and culminating with H.H. Bancroft’s influential 1886 History of Oregon, Wyeth’s story was transformed from one of special privilege to one that depicted him as a victim of international struggle. Bancroft wrote:
…Wyeth’s purpose was not settlement, but traffic…. As this did not suit the gentlemen of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who were strong in land and desired the continuance of their monopoly, but who were without the political right to drive out the people of the United States while entertaining them hospitably, as a rule, at Fort Vancouver, they so circumscribed and defeated their business efforts in this quarter that Wyeth among others was finally forced to sell to them and retire from the field.[77]Bradford Cole questions this interpretation: “Although Fort Boise evolved into the Hudson’s Bay Company’s competitor to Fort Hall,” he concludes, “McKay’s original intent is not totally clear.” Cole also finds compelling evidence in the “Henry Hall Letter Book” that Wyeth was more the victim of bad timing, overly ambitious schemes, and personnel problems than HBC opposition, at least at the district and local levels.[78]

Wyeth expressed some gratification that his efforts in 1834 had a lasting legacy in that “19 of those who then accompanied me including the missionaries remained permanently in the country,” part of the American phalanx that would call for the U.S. takeover of Oregon by the late 1830s. Overall, his long-term plan failed to bridge American free enterprise in the central Rockies with HBC activities in the Northwest through fish and furs, but his enterprises opened the door for a greater threat to both the Hudson’s Bay Company and American fur-trade entrepreneurs. American farmers and zealous missionaries were willing to accept HBC largess but were ideologically committed to a change of flags and religious denominations.[79] 

Even before Wyeth had submitted his 1839 memorial to Congress, thirty-six residents had signed their own petition calling for the United States to take “formal and speedy possession” of Oregon. The “Oregon Memorial” built on a 1837 report to Congress by naval officer William A. Slacum. Slacum had sailed the brig Loriot into the Columbia on December 22, 1836, to investigate brashly with scrupulous detail the activities of the British and the resident Americans. Since “the coalition, in 1821,” he declared, “the now Hudson Bay Company have extended their enterprises over an extent of country almost incalculable.” In a jingoistic tone consistent with the administration that had sent him on his mission, Slacum made a case for liberating Americans and the retired “Canadian settlers” who had formerly served the Company and who were now on the Willamette, “although freemen in every sense of the word still subject to the protection and authority, otherwise thraldom of the Hudson Bay Company.” He concluded: “this monopoly is very wealthy; and when the question of our western lines of territory is settled, they (the Hudson Bay Company) will make the most strenuous efforts to retain free navigation of the Columbia — more important to them than the free navigation of the St. Lawrence is to the people of the United States.”[80] 

With Slacum’s document in hand and spurred on by Jason Lee, the most ardent champion of American takeover, P.L. Edwards drafted the document. Ten of the signers were attached to the Protestant mission enterprises in Oregon, seventeen were American citizens who resided near mission stations, and nine were French Canadians in residence or in retirement at Champoeg or French Prairie. Far less critical than Slacum, the “Memorial” extolled the “commercial advantages of the territory” and its “happy position for trade with China, India, and the western coasts of America.” Edwards predicted a lively exchange with Hawaii and other exotic ports for beef and flour from Oregon farms. The document included no outright accusations of mistreatment but focused on “the feeling of dependence on the Hudson’s Bay Company, and to their moral influence.”[81] 

The “Memorial” was a good nudge, but Congress and the State Department were not ready to move. Edwards would write his own reason why Americans should take to the Oregon Trail in the next few years. His Emigrants’ Guide in 1842 gave its readers a glowing report of the prospects of growing fruit, “even grapes,” grains that “have never failed, or been affected by blight, weevil or mildew,” and soils where “there is but little difference in the produce of grain sown in the spring and that sown in the fall.” In short, “in no country in the world may the husbandman look forward with more assurance to the reward of his toil.”[82]

Other voices new to Oregon in 1842–1845 shared Edwards’s enthusiasm. In 1843, as American settlers poured into the Oregon Country, the HBC moved its Columbia Department headquarters from Vancouver to Victoria, anticipating the “monstrous treaty” that would end the Company’s hegemony of the region. During the transition, the older posts continued to serve as general stores to Americans and Canadians alike, supplying a larger volume of axes, plows, and hammers than traps, blankets, or trade goods to the new clientele. Rufus Sage, a mountain man who visited the region in 1842, reported: “The agents of the Hudson Bay Company at present are of great advantage to emigrants. They extend to them every reasonable assistance by selling goods and necessaries at very low prices, and receiving their various products in payment upon most favorable terms.” [83] 

On the eve of the final negotiations leading to the Treaty of Washington, John Dunn, a former Bay Company employee who spent eight years on the Columbia, saw the irony in the new power relationship. In The Oregon Territory and the British North American Fur Trade, published in London in 1844 and reissued in Philadelphia in 1845, Dunn wrote:
The object of the Americans is to have the dominion of the whole continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and to exclude all Europeans, especially British subjects, from all habitation there. This they do not disguise: indeed, they are every day growing bolder, and more exclusive in their tone.[84]Nevertheless, Dunn proclaimed, “The Hudson’s Bay Company…exercises almost absolute sway over the whole of the northwest of America, and it may be averred, also over the Oregon country. Their power is the only civilized power known to the Indians which they show any disposition to yield to, or even respect.” In 1845, the British government sent lieutentants Henry Warre and and Mervin Vavasour, Royal Engineers, to determine the status of readiness should the Oregon question not be resolved peacefully by treaty. Warre described John McLoughlin as “settled on a beautiful farm…in a “very comfortable log Cabin, Barns, &c.; and with his Indian Wife appears quite satisfied with his lot and apparently intent upon making his way among the Yankees, by whom he is surrounded.”[85] Warre blasted McLoughlin for what he saw in Oregon:
We are convinced that without their [HBC] assistance not 30 families would now have been in the settlement the first Immigration in 1841 or 1842 arrived in so miserable a Condition that had it not been for the trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company they must have starved or been cut off by the Indians…their numbers have Increased so Rapidly that the British party are now in the Minority….Their Lands are Invaded themselves insulted and they now Require the protection of the British Government against the Very people to the Introduction of whom they have been more than Accessory.”[86]Infuriated by Warre’s report, McLoughlin wrote a lengthy reply, refuting the accusations, denying most outright, and adding: “…as a Good and faithful Subject it was my Duty to do my Utmost to maintain peace and order Between the British Subjects and American Citizens….” Later that year, McLoughlin was informed that the Company planned to transfer him to a post east of the Rockies at a reduced salary. Enough was enough. He resigned, retiring to his home in Oregon City, but not before writing the governor of the HBC: “I have Drunk and am Drinking the cup of Bitterness to the very Dregs.”[87]

During the years of Provisional Government, from 1843 to 1849, and prior to the arrival of Governor Joseph Lane, Oregon was unique in the coalition that combined to organize a successful government.[88] Described by John McLoughlin as “merely a union of certain parties, British and American subjects, being divested of all nationality of character, having no national objects in view, and its exclusive aim and purpose being the protection of persons and property,” historians still discuss the motives and levels of support that led to division at the forty-ninth parallel.[89] Most recently, it has become clear that despite saber rattles from the Polk administration and Lord Aberdeen’s polite but forceful rejections of the American demand of lands south of “54’40°,” England was disinterested in another boxing match with Americans on the Columbia. Both nations were satisfied with the treaty.[90] As historian Herman Deutsch concludes, the real winner was the settler; the immediate loser was the fur trader, American as well as British; and the ultimate victims were Native peoples, whose lands and resources would soon be severely compromised. The treaty said nothing about Indian rights but guaranteed navigation and trading rights to the HBC “and to all British subjects trading with the same” on the Columbia. Possessory rights of the HBC “and of all British subjects who may be already in the occupation of land or other property lawfully acquired” was affirmed, as were farms, land, and other property belonging to the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of the HBC and the largest farming enterprise in the region. Finally, the United States reserved the right to take possession of any British holdings “of public and political importance…at a proper valuation, to be agreed upon between the parties.”[91] 

In 1847, Governor Simpson estimated the HBC’s holdings within the American sector (exclusive of rights to navigate on the Columbia River) worth £466,400, or $2,230,00.[92] Three years earlier, one French Canadian missionary estimated the “Canadian population, country women and children, is about 1,000 souls, distributed about as follows: 600 at Willamette, 100 at Vancouver, 100 at Cowlitz; the rest are scattered at the various posts of the Company.” At the time of ratification of the Treaty of Washington, four hundred Bay Company employees were listed on the company payroll in the “Oregon Country.” By nationality or ethnicity, they were enumerated as 70 French Canadians, 11 Iroquois Indians, 42 “half breeds or men with some Indian blood,” 152 “Sandwich Islanders,” 40 Englishmen, 10 Canadians “of British origin,” 17 mainland Scots, 26 Orkadians, 21 Hebredians, 10 others from various islands of Scotland, and one Frenchman.[93] Some would continue to work for the Bay Company, which exercised its right to trade and commerce at Fort Vancouver until 1860, after which the post was closed and the structures deteriorated rapidly. A few would leave for Vancouver Island and other Bay Company posts or return to their place of origin. Still others would stay and live out their lives with the new American settlers at Oregon City, Champoeg, and French Prairie.[94]

Americans had entered the period of joint occupancy with a glimmer of knowledge of the Bay Company’s presence to the north and west of American interests. By the 1830s, a few entrepreneurs had focused on the natural resources of the region under HBC domination. They were followed by missionary organizations that combined interests with colonization societies determined to gain American access to the region. Public perceptions of the Bay Company remained mixed from the merger with the North West Company in 1821 through the early years of provisional government in the 1840s. Despite the best efforts of John McLoughlin and his officers to accommodate all interest groups, by 1846 the hegemony of the Leviathan of the North had been broken. Thereafter, the Company’s presence would continue in the region as late as 1871, but for most Americans it had returned “back home” to its British origins.[95] 


This article developed out of a paper first presented at the Rupert’s Land Research Centre Colloquium in Edmonton, 1994. The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of John C. Ewers (1910–1997), whose advice and research notes better informed this study; and David D. Smythe of Parks Canada, who recently completed his dissertation at Carleton University in an area of critical concern to this study. I am grateful to Smythe for sharing his work with me. The author also acknowledges the editorial assistance of Marianne Keddington-Lang and Joy Margheim, editors of OHQ; Janet Fireman, editor of California History; and Janet Lecompte, an independent historian in Moscow, Idaho.

1.� Maximilian, Prince of Wied, Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832–1834 (Coblenz, 1839), reprinted in Early Western Travels, 1748–1846, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur H. Clark, 1906), 23:127–8. On the life of David D. Mitchell (1806–1861), see Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 23:314n274.

2.� Maximilian, Travels in the Interior, in Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 23:134. See also John C. Ewers, The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958), 60–3. Engagés were laborers who “engaged” themselves under contract for specific terms of service. The vast majority of fur-trade personnel who worked for Anglo-American, Canadian, or British firms were in this category and were often called the voyageur class. See William Swagerty, “A View from the Bottom Up: The Workforce of the American Fur Company on the Missouri in the 1830s,” Montana, the Magazine of Western History 43:1 (1993):18–33.

3.� The Blackfoot in historic times have distinguished themselves in three groups or tribes: the Blackfoot proper, who occupied central Alberta; the Blood of southern Alberta; and the Piegan, who consisted of two major communities, one on the Canadian side of the border (Peigan) and the other in north-central Montana (Piegan or Blackfeet). Collectively, they call themselves Niitsitapi. See Hugh Dempsey, “Blackfoot,” in Plains, ed. Raymond J. DeMallie, Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 13, pt. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2001), 604–28.

4.� Maximilian, Travels in the Interior, in Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 23:135.

5.� Ibid., 138–40.

6.� Ibid., 140.

7.� Ibid., 145.

8.� Ewers, The Blackfeet, 63.

9.� J.E. Harriott, in Fred Stenson, Rocky Mountain House National Historic Park (Toronto: New Canada Publications for Parks Canada, 1985), 70; Hugh A. Dempsey, “A History of Rocky Mountain House,” in Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology 6 (Ottawa: National Historic Sites Service, National and Historic Parks Branch, Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1973), 9.

10.� Kenneth McKenzie to David D. Mitchell, Fort Union, January 21, 1834, “Fort Union Letterbook,” fol. 24, Chouteau Collection, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis [hereafter Chouteau Collection].

11.� See Ray H. Mattison, “Kenneth McKenzie,” in Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, ed. LeRoy R. Hafen (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1968–1972), 2:217–24.

12.� “Kenneth McKenzie,” biographical file, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Manitoba Provincial Archives, Winnipeg. Also see Erwin N. Thompson, Fort Union Trading Post: Fur Trade Empire on the Upper Missouri (Medora, N.D.: Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association, 1986).

13.� See Janet Lecompte, “Pierre Chouteau, Jr.,” in Hafen, ed., Mountain Men, 9:91–123. See also Lecompte, “The Chouteaus and the St. Louis Fur Trade,” in Papers of the St. Louis Fur Trade, ed. W.R. Swagerty (Bethesda, Md.: University Publications of America, 1991), xiii–xx.

14.� Kenneth McKenzie to Pierre Chouteau, Jr., Fort Union, March 20, 1834, “Fort Union Letterbook,” fol. 43, Chouteau Collection.

15.� Elliott Coues compiled these figures from the manuscript journals of Charles Larpenteur. See Elliott Coues, ed., Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833–1872 (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1898), 1:78–9. For comparative data from 1834–1835, see David J. Wishart, The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807–1840: A Geographical Synthesis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), 58–9.

16.� Ewers, The Blackfeet, 64.

17.� See Bruce LeRoy, ed., H.M. Chittenden: A Western Epic (Tacoma: Washington State Historical Society, 1961); Hiram M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, vol. 1 (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1902), chaps. 4 and 21; E.E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Company: 1670–1870, vol. 3 (1960; reprint, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960), chap. 22; Paul Chrisler Phillips, with J.W. Smurr, The Fur Trade, vol. 2 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), chap. 46; LeRoy R. Hafen, “A Brief History of the Fur Trade of the Far West,” in Mountain Men, 1:1–176, esp. 41–57; Wishart, Fur Trade of the American West; Eugene Y. Arima, Blackfeet and Palefaces: The Pikani and Rocky Mountain House: A Commemorative History from the Upper Sas-kacheway and Missouri Fur Trade (Ottawa: Golden Dog Press, 1995); David Smythe, “‘The Leviathan Company of the North’ is Watching: The Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Fur Trade on the Upper Missouri, to 1831,” in Indians & Traders: Entrepreneurs of the Upper Missouri: Fort Union Fur Trade Symposium Proceedings, 2000 (Wiliston, N.D.: Fort Union Association, 2001), 73–92; Smythe, “The Niitsitapi Trade: Euroamerians and the Blackfoot-Speaking Peoples, to the Mid-1830s” (Ph.D. diss., Carleton University, 2001); John C. Jackson, The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture under Siege (Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press, 2000).

18.� Albert K. Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1935); William H. Goetzmann, When the Eagle Screamed: The Diplomatic Horizon in American Diplomacy, 1800–1860 (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1966).

19.� See Kenneth Wiggins Porter, John Jacob Astor: Businessman, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931); John Denis Haeger, John Jacob Astor: Business and Finance in the Early Republic (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 128ff; James P. Ronda, Astoria & Empire (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 258ff; Frederick Merk, The Oregon Question: Essays in Anglo-American Diplomacy and Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), 8–10, 20–1; John Jacob Astor to Wilson Price Hunt, January 2, 1832, Astor Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

20.� U.S. Congress, “An act supplementary to the act passed the thirtieth of March, one thousand eight hundred and two, to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, and to preserve the frontiers,” 14th Cong., 1st sess., chap. 165, 1816, in Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, ed. Richard Peters (Boston: Little Brown, 1861), 3:332. From an American perspective, the best study remains Samuel Flagg Bemis, Jay’s Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962); 455–8. For a Canadian perspective, see A.L. Burt, The United States, Great Britain, and British North America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1940).

21.� “John C. Calhoun to Thomas Smith,” Department of War, March 16, 1818, reprinted in The Missouri Expedition, 1818–1820: The Journal of Surgeon John Gale with Related Documents, ed. Roger L. Nichols (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), 89–90. Also see Edgar B. Wesley, “A Still Larger View of the So-Called Yellowstone Expedition,” North Dakota Historical Quarterly 5 (July 1931): 219–20.

22.� Roger L. Nichols, General Henry Atkinson: A Western Military Career (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965), 47–68. See Gerald Friesen in The Canadian Prairies: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), esp. 79–83; and John Morgan Gray, Lord Selkirk of Red River (Toronto: MacMillan of Canada, 1963). Priorities of the Northern Council are summarized in Rich, Hudson’s Bay Company, 2:256ff.

23.� Article III, Convention signed at London, October 20, 1818, 8 Stat. 248; Treaty Series 112; reprinted in Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776–1949, comp. Charles I. Bevans. Department of State Publication 8761 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1974), 12:57–60. The treaty is summarized in Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963), 115. The Convention was extended indefinitely in 1827 (8 Stat. 360; Treaty Series 116, in Treaties, comp. Bevans, 12:74–5).

24.� “Andrew Jackson to Henry Atkinson, Headquarters, Nashville, Tennessee, May 15, 1819,” in The Missouri Expedition, 95–6.

25.� A summary of American attitudes is found in Samuel N. Dicken and Emily F. Dicken, The Making of Oregon: A Study in Historical Geography (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1979), chap. 1.

26.� Francis D. Haines, Jr., “The Relations of the Hudson’s Bay Company with the American Fur Traders in the Pacific Northwest,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 40:4 (1949): 273–94. The classic in-depth study that treats the HBC as an extension of the British “state” remains John S. Galbraith, The Hudson’s Bay Company as an Imperial Factor, 1821–1869 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957). Also see Richard Somerset Mackie, Trading beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific, 1793–1843 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1997). Other pertinent documents are found in B.C. Payette, comp., The Oregon Country under the Union Jack: A Reference Book of Historical Documents for Scholars and Historians (Montreal: Payette Radio, 1962).

27.� Francis Paul Prucha, American Indian Policy in the Formative Years: The Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, 1790–1834 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1962), 89–90, 108–10.

28.� Haeger outlines Astor’s political and economic power during the critical years, 1815–1819 in John Jacob Astor, chap. 7, esp. 191–2. Also see Ronda, Astoria & Empire, chap. 10.

29.� Anthony McGinnis, Counting Coup and Cutting Horses: Intertribal Warfare on the Northern Plains, 1738–1889 (Evergreen, Colo.: Cordillera Press, 1990). See also David J. Wishart, The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807–1840: A Geographical Synthesis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979); W.R. Swagerty, “Indian Trade of the Trans-Mississippi West to 1870,” in Indian-White Relations, ed. Wilcomb Washburn, Handbook of North American Indians (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1988), 4:351–74.

30.� No study of these highly restrictive tariffs has been attempted, but there is no question that tariffs were generally detrimental to American fur-trade interests. The tariff of 1816, enacted in 1815 and effective March 1, 1816, removed the surcharge on goods delivered in British vessels but imposed a 42 percent general duty on “foreign goods, wares, and merchandise.” Specific items were amended under subsequent acts reflecting successful lobbying of Congress by interest groups, including fur companies, and the status of American manufacturing. For example, the 1816 general tariff was modified to accommodate reduction on “hempen cloth, or sail cloth…stockings of wool or cotton; printing types, all articles manufactured from brass, copper, iron, steel, pewter, lead or tin…brass wire, cutlery, pins, needles, buttons, button moulds and buckles of all kinds, gilt, plated and japanned wares of all kinds: cannon, muskets, fire arms and side arms; Prussian blue, china ware, earthen ware, stone ware, porcelain and glass manufactures, other than window glass and black glass quart bottles” at a 20 percent duty. All woolen and cotton manufactures, “excepting blankets, woollen rugs and worsted or stuff goods,” carried a 25 percent tariff until June 1819, after which they too would cost the importer 20 percent. Furs “undressed, of all kinds, raw hides and skins,” were exempt from any duty. See U.S. Congress, Act of April 27, 1816, chap. 107, 14th Cong., 1st sess., chap. 10; Statute I, April 27, 1816, chap. 107; and “An Act concerning the convention to regulate the commerce between the territories of the United States and his Britannie Majesty,” March 1, 1816, chap. 22, in Public Statutes at Large, 3:253–5.

31.� Lancaster Pollard, ed., “1830 Report on the Fur Trade by General William Clark,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 48:1 (1947): 26.

32.� This subject is explored in Thomas F. Schilz, “Robes, Rum, and Rifles: Indian Middlemen in the Northern Plains Fur Trade,” Montana, the Magazine of Western History 40 (Winter 1990): 3–13. See also Smythe, “‘The Leviathan Company of the North’ is Watching.”

33.� “The Fur Trade,” St. Louis Enquirer, reprinted in Franklin, Missouri Intelligencer, September 17, 1822, and The West of William H. Ashley … 1822–1838, ed. Dale L. Morgan (Denver: Old West Publishing Company, 1964), 19.

34.� “Letter by One of Ashley’s Men to a Friend in the District of Columbia, Fort Kiawa, ten miles below the Big Bend of the Missouri, June 17th, 1823,” in Morgan, ed., West of William H. Ashley, 31–3.

35.� Roger L. Nichols, “Backdrop for Disaster: Causes of the Arikara War of 1823,” South Dakota History 14 (Summer 1984): 93–114.

36.�Missouri Advocate and St. Louis Enquirer, October 8, 1825,” in Morgan, ed., West of William H. Ashley, 137.

37.� “The Ashley Narrative,” in ibid., 118; Frederick Merk, “Snake Country Expedition, 1824–25: An Episode of Fur Trade and Empire,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 35:2 (1934): 93–122; “William H. Ashley to Joseph Charless, St. Louis, June 5, 1827,” in Morgan, ed., West of William H. Ashley, 165–6.

38.�”Missouri Observer, St. Louis, October 17, 1827,” in Morgan, ed., West of William H. Ashley, 175–6.

39.� William Gordon to the Secretary of War relative to the Fur Trade, St. Louis, October 3, 1831, in Message from the President of the United States…With a resolution of the Senate concerning the Fur Trade, and Inland Trade to Mexico [March 5, 1832], 22d Cong., 1st sess., S.Doc. 90 (Serial 213), 27.

40.� William H. Ashley to J. H. Eaton, “British Establishments on the Columbia and the State of the Fur Trade,” January 24, 1831, in Message from the President of the United States, In Answer to a resolution of the Senate relative to the British establishments on the Columbia, and the state of the fur trade, &c.; [January 26, 1831], 21st Cong., 2d sess., S.Doc. 39 (Serial 203), reprinted, ed. Donald R. Johnson (Fairfield, Wash. Ye Galleon Press, 1981), 24–9.

41.� “William B. Astor to the Secretary of War, New York, 25 November, 1831,” 77; William Gordon, “Mr. Gordon’s report to the Secretary of War relative to the Fur Trade, St. Louis, Oct. 3, 1831,” 29; and John Dougherty, “The Fur Trade on the Missouri and its waters, including the Rocky Mountains, commencing 1815, and ending 1830,” in Message from the President (1832), 53.

42.� “Tabular Statement showing the number and names of American citizens who have been killed or robbed while engaged in the Fur Trade, or the Inland Trade to Mexico, since the late war with Great Britain;” 81–6; “From Mr. Dougherty, with statements, relating to the Fur Trade, &c;, Upper Missouri Agency, Cantonment Leavenworth, Oct. 25, 1831,” in Message from the President (1832), 51–3.

43.� Ramsay Crooks (1787–1859) immigrated to the U.S. in 1803 and was one of the founders of Astoria. He rose rapidly within the AFC, becoming general manager in 1817 and president upon Astor’s retirement in 1834. In 1825, he married Marianne Pelagie Emilie Pratte, connecting the AFC directly with Pratte, Chouteau & Co. of St. Louis. See Harvey L. Carter, “Ramsay Crooks,” in Hafen, ed., Mountain Men, 9:125–31. See also David Lavender, The Fist in the Wilderness (1964; reprint, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979).

44.� For a discussion of the Agreement of 1833, see E.E. Rich, The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), 254–5. For documents on extension of the 1883 agreement, I have relied on Grace Nute’s summaries in Calendar of the American Fur Company Papers, in Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the year 1944, pt. 1 (1831–1840): 109 (1834); 1951, 1979 (1836); 3503 (1837); 7660, 8138 (1840); pt. 2 (1841–1849), items 11,015, 11,419, 11,671 (1841); 12,911 (1842); 14,217, 14,277 (1844); 16,357 (1847).

45.� The earliest correspondence from Lampson to the New York Office of the AFC with market information is from “Wildes and Company, London, to A.F.C. Office, New York,” January 30, 1835, in Nute, comp., Calendar, pt. 1, item 198. For biographical data, see the “C.M. Lampson Biographical File,” HBC Archives, Winnipeg. See especially “Early Years of Sir Curtis Miranda Lampson,” A.5/0, fol. 124d; A.15/3-, p. 459. Also see Arthur J. Ray, The Fur Trade in the Industrial Age (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 97.

46.� Dozens of letters were received from Lampson between 1835 and 1849. See Nute, comp., “Index,” Calendar, pt. 2, 1831–1836. Letters to Pierre Chouteau, Jr. & Co. from the 1840s and 1850s are especially rich in information on HBC sales. See, for example, C.M. Lampson to P. Chouteau, Jr. & Co., London, January 18, 1845, Chouteau Collection, Missouri Historical Society.

47.� “Office of the American Fur Company, New York, 3 February, 1838, to William Brewster, Detroit,” American Fur Company Papers, Calendar, pt. 1, item 3947; Microfilm edition, New York Historical Society (New York City), 37 reels (1951–1953), reel 3, Letterbook 7:17–18.

48.� This theme is explored in Malcolm Clark, Jr., Eden Seekers: The Settlement of Oregon, 1818–1862 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). For a balanced overview of the period, see Gordon B. Dodds, The American Northwest: A History of Oregon and Washington (Arlington Heights, Il.: Forum Press, 1986), chaps. 3–5. See also Merk, The Oregon Question.

49.� Hall J. Kelley, A General Circular to all Persons of Good Character, who wish to Emigrate to the Oregon Territory (Charlestown: William W. Wheildon, 1831), reprinted in Hall J. Kelley on Oregon: A Collection of five of his published works and a number of hitherto unpublished letters, ed. Fred Wilbur Powell (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1932), 76. Kelley, A Narrative of the Events and Difficulties in the Colonization of Oregon (Boston: Thurston, Torry & Emerson, 1852), in ibid., 180. On Kelley, see Archer Butler Hulbert, The Call of the Columbia: Iron Men and Saints Take the Oregon Trail, Overland to the Pacific Series 4 (Denver: Stewart Commission of Colorado College and the Denver Public Library, 1934), 1–104. Others who complained about the power of HBC officials included Ewing Young and Thomas Jefferson Farnham, both former trader/trappers who settled in the Willamette Valley during the 1830s. See Kenneth L. Holmes, Ewing Young: Master Trapper (Portland, Ore.: Binfords & Mort, 1967). Farnham extolled the hospitality of the HBC in Travels in the Great Western Prairies, the Anahuac and Rocky Mountains, and in the Oregon Country (London, 1843), reprinted in Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 28–9. Three years earlier, however, Farnham had predicted that the British government would “cast at its [HBC’s] feet all their aid in a struggle between the two powers relative to a Territory so important to themselves as is Oregon.” See Farnham to Dept. of State, January 4, 1840, in Message from the President, January 23, 1843, 27th Cong., 3d sess., reprinted in Farnham, History of Oregon Territory, ed. Edward J. Kowrach (Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1981), 93.

50.� “[Snelling’s] Oregon Territory,” New England Magazine 2 (February 1832): 123–32; and “[Snelling’s] Geographical Sketch of Oregon Territory,” New-England Magazine 2 (April 1832): 320–6, reprinted in Hulbert, Call of the Columbia, 96.

51.�The Correspondence and Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 1831–6: A Record of Two Expeditions for the Occupation of the Oregon Country, in Sources of the History of Oregon, ed. F.G. Young, vol. 1 (Eugene: University of Oregon Press, 1899), 1:176–7. Also found in Hulbert, Call of the Columbia (1934), 152–3. On Wyeth’s enterprises, see Richard G. Beidleman, “Nathaniel Wyeth’s Fort Hall,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 58 (September 1957): 197–250; William R. Sampson, “Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth,” in Hafen, ed., Mountain Men, 5:381–401. See also Haines, “Relations of the Hudson’s Bay Company.”

52.� The “Umpqua Massacre” is best documented in Dale L. Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1953), chap. 13. For the formal arrangement between Simpson and Smith, see “Governor Simpson to Jedidiah [sic] S. Smith, Ft. Vancouver, 29 Dec., 1828,” in Fur Trade and Empire: George Simpson’s Journal … together with Accompanying Documents, ed. Frederick Merk (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931), 306–7.

53.� “Governor Simpson to Major Pilcher, Flathead Lake; Ft. Vancouver, February 18, 1829,” in Merk, ed., Fur Trade and Empire, 307–8. Also see John E. Sunder, Joshua Pilcher, Fur Trader and Indian Agent (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 67–83.

54.� Edgeley W. Todd, “Benjamin Bonneville,” Hafen, ed., Mountain Men, 5:45–63; Capt. Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville to Major General Macomb, May 21, 1831, Washington, D.C., in Washington Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A. in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West, ed. Edgeley W. Todd (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), xxv, 261. See also the discussion in Todd, Adventures of Captain Bonneville, xxxv–vi.

55.� Irving’s book first appeared as The Rocky Mountains: or, scenes, incidents, and adventures in the Far West; digested from the journal of Capt. B.L.E. Bonneville, of the Army of the United States (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1837), and was later reissued by Irving as The Adventures of Captain Bonneville U.S.A. See Todd, ed., Adventures, 261.

56.� B.L.E. Bonneville to Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, September 30, 1835, Washington City; and, Bonneville to Major General Macomb, July 29, 1833, Crow Country, Wind River, in Todd, ed., Adventures, app. B:393, 382. See also Edgeley W. Todd, “Benjamin L.E. Bonneville,” in Hafen, ed., Mountain Men, 5:45–63; Chittenden, Fur Trade of the Far West, 1:421–33.

57.� F.G. Young, ed., “Diary of Rev. Jason Lee,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 17 (1916): 257, 266; Narcissa Whitman, letter, March 14, 1838, Wieletpoo, Walla Walla River, Oregon Territory, in The Letters of Narcissa Whitman, 1836–1847 (Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1986), 53; Narcissa Whitman, quoted in Julie Roy Jeffrey, Converting the West: A Biography of Narcissa Whitman (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), 92. See Clifford M. Drury, Henry Harmon Spalding, Pioneer of Old Oregon (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1937); Drury, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1973), 1:219–20; and Cornelius J. Brosnan, Jason Lee: Prophet of New Oregon (New York: MacMillan, 1932).

58.� John M. Ball to Dr. Brinsmade, January 1, 1833, Fort Vancouver, in Hulbert, Call of the Columbia, 180.

59.� William Stanton, The Great United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 225–6; Donald Jackson and Mary Lee Spence, eds., The Expedition of John Charles Frémont, vol. 1: Travels from 1838 to 1844 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970), 566–7.

60.� Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West. 1:453.

61.� Bradford R. Cole, “Failure on the Columbia: Nathaniel Wyeth’s Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company,” in The Fur Trade Revisited: Selected Papers of the Sixth North American Fur Trade Conference, Mackinac Island, Michigan, 1991, ed. Jennifer S.H. Brown et al. (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994), 269–83.

62.� The Bay Company produced 3,315 barrels of salmon on the Columbia from November 1830 through January 1843, most marketed in Hawaii, with two shipments to California and one each to London, Canton, and Boston. See Mackie, Trading Beyond the Mountains, 197.

63.� Samuel Eliot Morison, “New England and the Opening of the Columbia River Salmon Trade, 1830,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 28:2 (1927): 111–32. McLoughlin to John Rowand, Fort Vancouver, August 3, 1830, quoted in ibid., 115. This epoch is also interpreted by Galbraith, The Hudson’s Bay Company as Imperial Factor, 98–100.

64.� “Nathaniel J. Wyeth to Geo. Simson [sic], Esq, Gov. H.B.C., Fort Colville, March 12, 1833,” in Young, ed., Correspondence and Journals, 57; also found as “Copy of proposal to the Hon. Hudson Bay Co,” Henry Hall Letter Book, Fort Hall Copybook, MS. 938–1, Oregon Historical Society, 5–9. Hall held a 3/16 financial interest in the company and kept very careful records. The post was named for him. See Richard G. Beidleman, “Nathaniel Wyeth’s Fort Hall,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 58:3 (1959): 197–250, 98n4.

65.� “Nathl J. Wyeth to Mr. F. Ermatinger, Green River, July 18, 1833,” in Young, ed., Correspondence and Journals, 69.

66.� “Nath. J. Wyeth to Geo. Simson [sic] Esq, Boston, Nov. 20, 1833,” in ibid., 84. This famous quote is attributed to the memory of Joseph L. Meek, whose oral history was used as the basis for Frances Fuller Victor’s River of the West: The Adventures of Joe Meek (1871; reprint, Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press Publishing, 1983), 1:164. Wyeth’s own recollections of the event are found in Young, ed., Correspondence and Journals, 138–9.

67.� “Articles of Agreement between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company,” September 27, 1834, Henry Hall Letter Book, Fort Hall Copybook, MS. 938–1; McLoughlin to Pierre Pambrun, October 10, 1834; McLoughlin to Thomas McKay, October 4, 1834, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, B-223b/10.

68.� Herman J. Deutsch, “The Evolution of Territorial and State Boundaries in the Inland Empire of the Pacific Northwest,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 51:3 (1960): 121; Galbraith, The Hudson’s Bay Company as an Imperial Factor, 103–4; Dorothy Nafus Morrison, Outpost: John McLoughlin and the Far Northwest (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1999), 238; McLoughlin to Simpson, March, 3 1835, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, D.4/127, fol. 70.

69.� Wyeth to Col. E.W. Metcalf, Hams Fork of the Colorado of the West, June 21, 1834, in Young, ed., Correspondence and Journals, 136–7.

70.� Wyeth to James Brown, October 6, 1834, Columbia River, in ibid., 144. Thomas McKay (1797–1849/50) was the mixed-blood son of Alexander McKay, who accompanied Alexander McKenzie in the service of the North West Company in 1793. Thomas McKay served with the Pacific Fur Company, the North West Company and was retained at the rank of clerk by the Hudson’s Bay Company after the merger in 1821. See Annie Laurie Bird, “Thomas McKay,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 40 (March 1939): 1–14. Robert Evans, a former employee of William Sublette, had been hired for $300 a year in St. Louis. The other men were each hired for $250 a year in Independence. Among their number was John (Osborne) Russell, later a permanent settler in Oregon, whose account, Journal of a Trapper, ed. Aubrey L. Haines (1914; reprint, Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1955) remains the only account left by Wyeth’s men except for official letters and two ledgers given to the Oregon Historical Society in the 1890s. For a list of the personnel, see Beidleman, “Nathaniel Wyeth’s Fort Hall,” 213n40.

71.� “No. 62, McKay, Thomas,” in “The ‘Character Book’ of George Simpson, 1832,” Hudson’s Bay Miscellany, 1670–1870, ed. Glyndwr Williams (Winnipeg: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1975), 221–2; John Kirk Townsend, Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountain, to the Columbia River (1839; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), 115.

72.� Wyeth to Leonard Wyeth, October 6, 1834, Columbia River, in Young, ed., Correspondence and Journals, 156.

73.� Abel Baker to Tucker and Williams, June 17, 1835, Hall Letterbook, 69; J. Neilson Barry, “Fort Reed and Fort Boise, 1814–35,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 34 (March-December 1933): 60–7; H.J. Swinney and Merle W. Wells, “Fort Boise: from Imperial Outpost to Historic Site,” Idaho Yesterdays 6:1 (1962): 15–39; “Fort Boise” Vertical File, HBC Archives, Winnipeg.

74.� Snake River Returns, HBC Archives, in Swinney and Wells, “Fort Boise,” 34; Cornelus Rogers, “The Journey to the Rocky Mountains,” Wind River, July 3, 1838, The Oregonian and Indian’s Advocate (Boston, 1838), reprinted in News of the Plains and Rockies, 1803–1865, vol. 3: Missionaries, Mormons, Indian Agents, Captives, ed. David A. White (Spokane, Wash.: Arthur H. Clark, 1997), 168.

75.� For example, Hiram M. Chittenden, American Fur Trade, 1:450–6; LeRoy R. Hafen, “A Brief History of the Fur Trade of the Far West,” in Mountain Men, 1:166–7; Wishart, Fur Trade of the American West, 159–60; R.G. Robertson, Competitive Struggle: America’s Western Fur Trading Posts, 1764–1865 (Boise, Idaho: Tamarak Books, 1999), 74–6.

76.� Wyeth, “Copy of a Letter and a Statement of Facts pertaining to a Claim based upon Operations involved in the Two Expeditions, December 13, 1847, in Young, ed., Correspondence and Journals, 255; Mr. Wyeth’s Memoir, U.S. House. 25th Cong., 3d sess. H.Doc. 101 (1839), app. 1.

77.� H.H. Bancroft, History of Oregon, 1834–1848, in The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft (San Francisco: The History Company, 1886), 29:70.

78.� Bradford Cole, “Nathaniel Wyeth’s Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company,” 280.

79.� Wyeth, “Copy of a Letter…,” December 13, 1847, 256. The literature on American expansion into the Oregon Country is extensive. The best studies of American diplomacy on this remain the works of Frederick Merk, especially The Oregon Question, and Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation (New York: Vintage, 1963). Also see Weinberg, Manifest Destiny. American expansion into Oregon is quantitatively analyzed by William A. Bowen, The Willamette Valley: Migration and Settlement on the Oregon Frontier (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978). The story of both British and American interest is cast in Clark, Eden Seekers. The British perspective is best reconstructed in Galbraith, The Hudson’s Bay Company as an Imperial Factor. Also see Charles H. Carey, “British Side of Oregon Question, 1846,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 36:3 (1935): 263–94; and Payette, Oregon under the Union Jack.

80.� Cornelius J. Brosnan, ed., “The Oregon Memorial of 1838,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 34:1 (1933): 75. The official report was printed as U.S. House, 25th Cong., 3d sess., H.R. 101, 3, 4, and Supp. Report, 4–7; “Memorial of William A. Slacum, December 18, 1837,” U.S. Senate, 25th Cong., 2d sess., S.Doc. 470 (Serial 318), reprinted as “Memorial of William A. Slacum,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 13 (March-December 1912): 177–224; and in facsimile (Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1972), 6, 13, 24.

81.� For biographies and analysis of each signer, see Cornelius J. Brosnan, “The Oregon Memorial of 1838 and its Signers,” in New Spain and the Anglo-American West, Historical Contributions Presented to Herbert Eugene Bolton, (Lancaster, Penn.: George P. Hammond, 1932), 2:50–1.

82.� Philip Leget Edwards, Sketch of the Oregon Territory or Emigrants’ Guide (1842; reprint, Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1992), 11, 12.

83.� James Douglas and John Work used this phrase in their “Letter to Govr., Deputy Govr. And Committee, Honble. Hudsons Bay Comy, Fort Victoria, December 7, 1846,” in Fort Victoria Letters, 1846–1851, ed. Harwell Bowsfield (Winnipeg: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1979), 1; LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, eds., Rufus B. Sage, His Letters and Papers, 1836–1847 (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1956), 2:171. Sage wrote two popular accounts based on his travels in the Far West, one published in Philadelphia in 1855 and the other in Boston in 1857.

84.� John Dunn, The Oregon Territory and the British North American Fur Trade (Philadelphia: G.B. Zieber & Co., 1845), 207.

85.� Ibid., 232; H.J. Warre, Overland to Oregon in 1845: Impressions of a Journey across North America (Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada, 1976), 84.

86.� Warre, “Report,” in Herman A. Leader, “McLoughlin’s Answer to the Warre Report,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 33:3 (1932): 216–17.

87.� “McLoughlin’s Answer to the Warre Report,” 227; McLoughlin to Sir J.H. Pelly, Governor, HBC, July 12, 1846, quoted in Morrison, Outpost, 427. See her reconstruction of this transition in his life at 413–27.

88.� This is elaborately outlined in Frederick V. Holman, “A Brief History of the Oregon Provisional Government and What Caused its Formation,” Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 13:2 (1912): 89–159.

89.� John McLoughlin, quoted in John Hussey, Champoeg: Place of Transition: A Disputed History (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1967), 179. See Hussey’s discussion at 167ff.; Merk, The Oregon Question; Norman A. Graebner, Empire on the Pacific: A Study in American Continental Expansion (New York: Ronald Press, 1955); David Pletcher, The Diplomacy of Annexation: Texas, Oregon, and the Mexican War (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1973); Carey, “British Side of the Oregon Question.”

90.� This was Merk’s original conclusion in The Oregon Question, recently validated by Thomas C. McClintock in “British Newspapers and the Oregon Treaty of 1846,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 104:1 (2003): 96–109.

91.� Deutsch, “The Evolution of Territorial and State Boundaries,” 121; Oregon Treaty, as Proclaimed by the President of the United States, August 5, 1846. 9 Stat. 869; Treaty Series 120, in Treaties, ed. Blevans, 12:95–6. For Congressional, Department of State, and Executive Office attitudes regarding the HBC during debate on the Oregon Treaty, see U.S. Senate. 29th Cong., 1st sess., S.Doc. 489 (Serial 478).

92.� T.C. Elliott, “British Values in Oregon, 1847,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 32 :1 (1931): 45.

93.� Carl Landerholm, trans., Notices and Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission to the Pacific Northwest (Portland: Champoeg Press, 1956), 207; “Origin of Hudson’s Bay Company Employees in the Oregon Country, January to June, 1846,” Oregon Search File, HBCA, Winnipeg. Based on B239/1/16, B239/g/85.

94.� Hussey, Champoeg, chap. 8, 173ff; Oswald West, “Oregon’s First White Settlers on French Prairie,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 43:3 (1942):198–209. See also Mackie, Trading Beyond the Mountains, 314ff.

95.� The HBC exercised its rights under the Oregon Treaty and built Fort Connah on the Flathead River in Montana in 1846. The post served as a general store to Indians and whites living in the Mission Valley until 1871. See Albert J. Partoll, “Fort Connah, A Frontier Trading Post, 1847–1871,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 30 (1939): 399–415. In 1852, through paid lobbyists, the HBC approached the U.S. government, offering to give up its remaining posts operating within the U.S. in exchange for $1,000,000. The State Department made a counteroffer of $300,000 in 1855, but the Senate defeated the appropriation. Most of the posts were abandoned or closed during the Indian wars of 1855–1857, and all suffered trespass or land fraud or both from the British point of view. In 1863, a commission was created to resolve the issue. By then, only Fort Okanagan and Fort Colville in Washington and Fort Connah in Montana were active. In 1869, the commission awarded the HBC $450,000 for its rights and $200,000 for those of the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company, paid in gold coin in 1871. See “Settlement of Claims of the Hudson’s Bay and Puget’s Sound Agricultural Companies,” 13 Stat. 651; Treaty Series 128, in Treaties, ed. Blevans, 12:154–6. Also see Rich, History of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 3:743–8. Concurrently, in 1867, Parliament passed the British North American Act, creating the Dominion of Canada and guaranteeing transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada. In 1869, after two years of rough discourse, the HBC surrendered to the British Crown its monopoly charter to trade within Rupert’s Land for £300,000, retaining its posts and one-twentieth of the “fertile belt” of the Prairies. See Galbraith, Hudson’s Bay Company, 410–28; Rich, History, 3:850–90.