Arrival of the Brig Pedler at Astoria.- Breaking Up of the Establishment .-Departure of
Several of the Company. - Tragical Story Told by the Squaw of Pierre Dorion.- Fate of
Reed and His Companions. - Attempts of Mr. Astor to Renew His Enterprise.-
Disappointment. - Concluding Observations and Reflection.
HAVING given the catastrophe at the Fort of Astoria, it remains now but to gather up a
few loose ends of this widely excursive narrative and conclude. On the 28th of
February the brig Pedler anchored in Columbia River. It will be recollected that Mr.
Hunt had purchased this vessel at the Sandwich Islands, to take off the furs collected at
the factory, and to restore the Sandwich Islanders to their homes. When that gentleman
learned, however, the precipitate and summary manner in which the property had been
bargained away by M'Dougal, he expressed his indignation in the strongest terms, and
determined to make an effort to get back the furs. As soon as his wishes were known in
this respect, M'Dougal came to sound him on behalf of the Northwest Company,
intimating that he had no doubt the peltries might be repurchased at an advance of fifty
per cent. This overture was not calculated to soothe the angry feelings of Mr. Hunt, and
his indignation was complete, when he discovered that M'Dougal had become a partner
of the Northwest Company, and had actually been so since the 23d of December. He
had kept his partnership a secret, however; had retained the papers of the Pacific Fur
Company in his possession; and had continued to act as Mr. Astor's agent, though two
of the partners of the other company, Mr. M'Kenzie and Mr. Clarke, were present. He
had, moreover, divulged to his new associates all that he knew as to Mr. Astor's plans
and affairs, and had made copies of his business letters for their perusal.
Mr. Hunt now considered the whole conduct of M'Dougal hollow and collusive. His only
thought was, therefore, to get all the papers of the concern out of his hands, and bring
the business to a close; for the interests of Mr. Astor were yet completely at stake; the
drafts of the Northwest Company in his favor, for the purchase money, not having yet
been obtained. With some difficulty he succeeded in getting possession of the papers.
The bills or drafts were delivered without hesitation. The latter he remitted to Mr. Astor
by some of his associates, who were about to cross the continent to New York. This
done, he embarked on board the Pedler, on the 3d of April, accompanied by two of the
clerks, Mr. Seton and Mr. Halsey, and bade a final adieu to Astoria.
The next day, April 4th, Messrs. Clarke, M'Kenzie, David Stuart, and such of the
Astorians as had not entered into the service of the Northwest Company, set out to
cross the Rocky Mountains. It is not our intention to take the reader another journey
across those rugged barriers; but we will step forward with the travellers to a distance
on their way, merely to relate their interview with a character already noted in this work.
As the party were proceeding up the Columbia, near the mouth of the Wallah-Wallah
River, several Indian canoes put off from the shore to overtake them, and a voice called
upon them in French and requested them to stop. They accordingly put to shore, and
were joined by those in the canoes. To their surprise, they recognized in the person
who had hailed them the Indian wife of Pierre Dorion, accompanied by her two children.
She had a story to tell, involving the fate of several of our unfortunate adventurers.
Mr. John Reed, the Hibernian, it will be remembered, had been detached during the
summer to the Snake River. His party consisted of four Canadians, Giles Le Clerc,
Francois Landry, Jean Baptiste Turcot, and Andre La Chapelle, together with two
hunters, Pierre Dorion and Pierre Delaunay; Dorion, as usual, being accompanied by
his wife and children. The objects of this expedition were twofold: to trap beaver, and to
search for the three hunters, Robinson, Hoback, and Rezner.
In the course of the autumn, Reed lost one man, Landry, by death; another one, Pierre
Delaunay, who was of a sullen, perverse disposition, left him in a moody fit, and was
never heard of afterwards. The number of his party was not, however, reduced by these
losses, as the three hunters, Robinson, Hoback, and Rezner, had joined it.
Reed now built a house on the Snake River, for their winter quarters; which being
completed, the party set about trapping. Rezner, Le Clerc, and Pierre Dorion went
about five days' journey from the wintering house, to a part of the country well stocked
with beaver. Here they put up a hut, and proceeded to trap with great success. While
the men were out hunting, Pierre Dorion's wife remained at home to dress the skins
and prepare the meals. She was thus employed one evening about the beginning of
January, cooking the supper of the hunters, when she heard footsteps, and Le Clerc
staggered, pale and bleeding, into the hut. He informed her that a party of savages had
surprised them, while at their traps, and had killed Rezner and her husband. He had
barely strength left to give this information, when he sank upon the ground.
The poor woman saw that the only chance for life was instant flight, but, in this
exigency, showed that presence of mind and force of character for which she had
frequently been noted. With great difficulty, she caught two of the horses belonging to
the party. Then collecting her clothes and a small quantity of beaver meat and dried
salmon, she packed them upon one of the horses, and helped the wounded man to
mount upon it. On the other horse she mounted with her two children, and hurried away
from this dangerous neighborhood, directing her flight to Mr. Reed's establishment. On
the third day, she descried a number of Indians on horseback proceeding in an easterly
direction. She immediately dismounted with her children, and helped LeClerc likewise
to dismount, and all concealed themselves. Fortunately they escaped the sharp eyes of
the savages, but had to proceed with the utmost caution. That night they slept without
fire or water; she managed to keep her children warm in her arms; but before morning,
poor Le Clerc died.
With the dawn of day the resolute woman resumed her course, and, on the fourth day,
reached the house of Mr. Reed. It was deserted, and all round were marks of blood and
signs of a furious massacre. Not doubting that Mr. Reed and his party had all fallen
victims, she turned in fresh horror from the spot. For two days she continued hurrying
forward, ready to sink for want of food, but more solicitous about her children than
herself. At length she reached a range of the Rocky Mountains, near the upper part of
the Wallah-Wallah River. Here she chose a wild lonely ravine, as her place of winter
She had fortunately a buffalo robe and three deer-skins; of these, and of pine bark and
cedar branches, she constructed a rude wigwam, which she pitched beside a mountain
spring. Having no other food, she killed the two horses, and smoked their flesh. The
skins aided to cover her hut. Here she dragged out the winter, with no other company
than her two children. Towards the middle of March her provisions were nearly
exhausted. She therefore packed up the remainder, slung it on her back, and, with her
helpless little ones, set out again on her wanderings. Crossing the ridge of mountains,
she descended to the banks of the Wallah-Wallah, and kept along them until she
arrived where that river throws itself into the Columbia. She was hospitably received
and entertained by the Wallah-Wallahs, and had been nearly two weeks among them
when the two canoes passed.
On being interrogated, she could assign no reason for this murderous attack of the
savages; it appeared to be perfectly wanton and unprovoked. Some of the Astorians
supposed it an act of butchery by a roving band of Blackfeet; others, however, and with
greater probability of correctness, have ascribed it to the tribe of Pierced-nose Indians,
in revenge for the death of their comrade hanged by order of Mr. Clarke. If so, it shows
that these sudden and apparently wanton outbreakings of sanguinary violence on the
part of the savages have often some previous, though perhaps remote, provocation.
The narrative of the Indian woman closes the checkered adventures of some of the
personages of this motley story; such as the honest Hibernian Reed, and Dorion the
hybrid interpreter. Turcot and La Chapelle were two of the men who fell off from Mr.
Crooks in the course of his wintry journey, and had subsequently such disastrous times
among the Indians. We cannot but feel some sympathy with that persevering trio of
Kentuckians, Robinson, Rezner, and Hoback, who twice turned back when on their way
homeward, and lingered in the wilderness to perish by the hands of savages.
The return parties from Astoria, both by sea and land, experienced on the way as many
adventures, vicissitudes, and mishaps, as the far-famed heroes of the Odyssey; they
reached their destination at different times, bearing tidings to Mr. Astor of the
unfortunate termination of his enterprise.
That gentleman, however, was not disposed, even yet, to give the matter up as lost. On
the contrary, his spirit was roused by what he considered ungenerous and unmerited
conduct on the part of the Northwest Company. "After their treatment of me," said he, in
a letter to Mr. Hunt, "I have no idea of remaining quiet and idle." He determined,
therefore, as soon as circumstances would permit, to resume his enterprise.
At the return of peace, Astoria, with the adjacent country, reverted to the United States
by the treaty of Ghent, on the principle of status ante bellum, and Captain Biddle was
despatched in the sloop of war, Ontario, to take formal possession.
In the winter of 1815, a law was passed by Congress prohibiting all traffic of British
traders within the territories of the United States.
The favorable moment seemed now to Mr. Astor to have arrived for the revival of his
favorite enterprise, but new difficulties had grown up to impede it. The Northwest
Company were now in complete occupation of the Columbia River, and its chief
tributary streams, holding the posts which he had established, and carrying on a trade
throughout the neighboring region, in defiance of the prohibitory law of Congress,
which, in effect, was a dead letter beyond the mountains.
To dispossess them would be an undertaking of almost a belligerent nature; for their
agents and retainers were well armed, and skilled in the use of weapons, as is usual
with Indian traders. The ferocious and bloody contests which had taken place between
the rival trading parties of the Northwest and Hudson's Bay Companies had shown
what might be expected from commercial feuds in the lawless depths of the wilderness.
Mr. Astor did not think it advisable, therefore, to attempt the matter without the
protection of the American flag; under which his people might rally in case of need. He
accordingly made an informal overture to the President of the United States, Mr.
Madison, through Mr. Gallatin, offering to renew his enterprise, and to reestablish
Astoria, provided it would be protected by the American flag, and made a military post;
stating that the whole force required would not exceed a lieutenant's command.
The application, approved and recommended by Mr. Gallatin, one of the most
enlightened statesmen of our country, was favorably received, but no step was taken in
consequence; the President not being disposed, in all probability, to commit himself by
any direct countenance or overt act. Discouraged by this supineness on the part of the
government, Mr. Astor did not think fit to renew his overtures in a more formal manner,
and the favorable moment for the re-occupation of Astoria was suffered to pass
The British trading establishments were thus enabled, without molestation, to strike
deep their roots, and extend their ramifications, in despite of the prohibition of
Congress, until they had spread themselves over the rich field of enterprise opened by
Mr. Astor. The British government soon began to perceive the importance of this
region, and to desire to include it within their territorial domains. A question has
consequently risen as to the right to the soil, and has become one of the most
perplexing now open between the United States and Great Britain. In the first treaty
relative to it, under date of October 20th, 1818, the question was left unsettled, and it
was agreed that the country on the northwest coast of America, westward of the Rocky
Mountains, claimed by either nation, should be open to the inhabitants of both for ten
years, for the purpose of trade, with the equal right of navigating all its rivers. When
these ten years had expired, a subsequent treaty, in 1828, extended the arrangement
to ten additional years. So the matter stands at present.
On casting back our eyes over the series of events we have recorded, we see no
reason to attribute the failure of this great commercial undertaking to any fault in the
scheme, or omission in the execution of it, on the part of the projector. It was a
magnificent enterprise; well concerted and carried on, without regard to difficulties or
expense. A succession of adverse circumstances and cross purposes, however, beset
it almost from the outset; some of them, in fact, arising from neglect of the orders and
instructions of Mr. Astor. The first crippling blow was the loss of the Tonquin, which
clearly would not have happened, had Mr. Astor's earnest injunctions with regard to the
natives been attended to. Had this ship performed her voyage prosperously, and
revisited Astoria in due time, the trade of the establishment would have taken its
preconcerted course, and the spirits of all concerned been kept up by a confident
prospect of success. Her dismal catastrophe struck a chill into every heart, and
prepared the way for subsequent despondency.
Another cause of embarrassment and loss was the departure from the plan of Mr.
Astor, as to the voyage of the Beaver, subsequent to her visiting Astoria. The variation
from this plan produced a series of cross purposes, disastrous to the establishment,
and detained Mr. Hunt absent from his post, when his presence there was of vital
importance to the enterprise; so essential is it for an agent, in any great and
complicated undertaking, to execute faithfully, and to the letter, the part marked out for
him by the master mind which has concerted the whole.
The breaking out of the war between the United States and Great Britain multiplied the
hazards and embarrassments of the enterprise. The disappointment as to convoy
rendered it difficult to keep up reinforcements and supplies; and the loss of the Lark
added to the tissue of misadventures.
That Mr. Astor battled resolutely against every difficulty, and pursued his course in
defiance of every loss, has been sufficiently shown. Had he been seconded by suitable
agents, and properly protected by government, the ultimate failure of his plan might yet
have been averted. It was his great misfortune that his agents were not imbued with his
own spirit. Some had not capacity sufficient to comprehend the real nature and extent
of his scheme; others were alien in feeling and interest, and had been brought up in the
service of a rival company. Whatever sympathies they might originally have had with
him, were impaired, if not destroyed, by the war. They looked upon his cause as
desperate, and only considered how they might make interest to regain a situation
under their former employers. The absence of Mr. Hunt, the only real representative of
Mr. Astor, at the time of the capitulation with the Northwest Company, completed the
series of cross purposes. Had that gentleman been present, the transfer, in all
probability, would not have taken place.
It is painful, at all times, to see a grand and beneficial stroke of genius fall of its aim:
but we regret the failure of this enterprise in a national point of view; for, had it been
crowned with success, it would have redounded greatly to the advantage and extension
of our commerce. The profits drawn from the country in question by the British Fur
Company, though of ample amount, form no criterion by which to judge of the
advantages that would have arisen had it been entirely in the hands of the citizens of
the United States. That company, as has been shown, is limited in the nature and
scope of its operations, and can make but little use of the maritime facilities held out by
an emporium and a harbor on that coast. In our hands, besides the roving bands of
trappers and traders, the country would have been explored and settled by industrious
husbandmen; and the fertile valleys bordering its rivers, and shut up among its
mountains, would have been made to pour forth their agricultural treasures to
contribute to the general wealth.
In respect to commerce, we should have had a line of trading posts from the Mississippi
and the Missouri across the Rocky Mountains, forming a high road from the great
regions of the west to the shores of the Pacific. We should have had a fortified post and
port at the mouth of the Columbia, commanding the trade of that river and its
tributaries, and of a wide extent of country and sea-coast; carrying on an active and
profitable commerce with the Sandwich Islands, and a direct and frequent
communication with China. In a word, Astoria might have realized the anticipations of
Mr. Astor, so well understood and appreciated by Mr. Jefferson, in gradually becoming
a commercial empire beyond the mountains, peopled by "free and independent
Americans, and linked with us by ties of blood and interest."
We repeat, therefore, our sincere regret that our government should have neglected
the overture of Mr. Astor, and suffered the moment to pass by, when full possession of
this region might have been taken quietly, as a matter of course, and a military post
established, without dispute, at Astoria. Our statesmen have become sensible, when
too late, of the importance of this measure. Bills have repeatedly been brought into
Congress for the purpose, but without success; and our rightful possessions on that
coast, as well as our trade on the Pacific, have no rallying point protected by the
national flag, and by a military force.
In the meantime, the second period of ten years is fast elapsing. In 1838, the question
of title will again come up, and most probably, in the present amicable state of our
relations with Great Britain, will be again postponed. Every year, however, the litigated
claim is growing in importance. There is no pride so jealous and irritable as the pride of
territory. As one wave of emigration after another rolls into the vast regions of the west,
and our settlements stretch towards the Rocky Mountains, the eager eyes of our
pioneers will pry beyond, and they will become impatient of any barrier or impediment
in the way of what they consider a grand outlet of our empire. Should any
circumstance, therefore, unfortunately occur to disturb the present harmony of the two
nations, this ill-adjusted question, which now lies dormant, may suddenly start up into
one of belligerent import, and Astoria become the watchword in a contest for dominion
on the shores of the Pacific.
Since the above was written, the question of dominion over the vast territory beyond
the Rocky Mountains, which for a time threatened to disturb the peaceful relations with
our transatlantic kindred, has been finally settled in a spirit of mutual concession, and
the venerable projector whose early enterprise forms the subject of this work had the
satisfaction of knowing, ere his eyes closed upon the world, that the flag of his country
again waved over "ASTORIA."