Donald MacKenzie

June 15, 1783 - January 20, 1851

MacKenzie, Donald, fur trader (June 15, 1783-Jan. 20, 1851). Born in Scotland, at 17 he entered service in the North West Company in Canada but March 10, 1810, he enrolled in Astor's Pacific coast enterprise and left St. Louis with Wilson Price Hunt October 21, wintering near the present St. Joseph and proceeding up the river in the spring. Hunt had been named to overall command of the enterprise, a fact MacKenzie resented. After a difficult journey MacKenzie reached Astoria January 18, 1812. He participated in the deliberations through which Astoria was sold to the North West Company, presumably fearing it would be taken over by the British in any event and by this means its owner would receive some compensation. Initially Astor had no suspicion of MacKenzie, who reached New York overland with a report of the transaction in November 1814, but later believed that the Scotsman had intrigued against him. MacKenzie re-entered the North West Company and was assigned to the northwest again. He constructed Fort Boise in 1819, and was instrumental in opening up the rich Snake River country to the fur trade; he explored widely. In 1823 he became chief factor of the important Red River district of the Hudson's Bay Company which had acquired the North West Company. In 1825 MacKenzie was made governor of the Red River colony, retiring in 1833. It is reported that he first interested William H. Seward in the Russian territory of Alaska, Seward later negotiating its purchase. MacKenzie died at Mayville, New York. He "was eminently fitted, both physically and mentally, for life in the wilderness. His knowledge of the Indians was remarkably keen and accurate." He weighed more than 300 pounds, but was so energetic he once earned the nickname of "Perpetual Motion." He married in 1825 and fathered 13 children.