Peter Skene Ogden

February 1790 - September 27, 1854

Ogden, Peter Skene, fur trader (Feb. 1790-Sept. 27, 1854). Born at Quebec of Tory parents from New York, he was raised at Montreal and became a clerk with the American Fur Company, serving in the Hudson Bay and Athabasca regions and then the lower Columbia River country in the Pacific Northwest. He became a brigade leader in 1820, conducting annual trapping parties. After differences, he joined the Hudson's Bay Company following its merger with the North West Company, in charge of the Spokane House District. Between 1824 and 1830 he made six Snake River expeditions, major trapping operations in the upper Rockies. In 1825 he explored the Ogden River and valley (named for him), the Wasatch Mountains and the Salt Lake valley, but had a serious confrontation with American trappers with the result that his fur take was diminished by defections. His subsequent operations were much more successful and profitable, however, and his explorations extensive. He came more often into contact with American trappers, as the Rockies country was ever more heavily trapped. On his fifth expedition he was first to reach the Humboldt River and first to trace its route, and after trapping northern Utah and Nevada, crossed into California, exploring the Pit River. On his sixth expedition Ogden in 1829-1830 journeyed from Fort Vancouver to the Gulf of California by the Great Basin route, then back up the length of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys; he had discussed this region well with Jedediah Smith, who had covered much of it in 1828. At San Francisco a free trapper party under Ewing Young, which had been following up their course, contacted Ogden, continuing with him to the Pit River, Ogden returning to his post by June 30, 1830. Transferred from his Snake River station to a new one on the Nass River, 10 degrees north of Fort Vancouver in the Fraser River country, Ogden remained three years at what he named Fort Simpson. In 1834 he confronted the Russians on the Stikine River, the result inconclusive though later resolved for the benefit of the British. Ogden was promoted to chief factor January 1, 1835, and assigned to Fort St. James on Lake Stuart, where he remained nine years. In the spring of 1845 he was assigned to head the expedition of Lieutenant Henry J. Warre and Lieutenant M. Vavasour to the Columbia country, to further British interests in the developing Oregon boundary dispute with the U.S. Ogden then was assigned to Fort Vancouver and from 1849 to 1852 was the only chief factor on the Columbia. He was popular with the Americans and following the November 29, 1847, massacre of Marcus Whitman and others at his Waiilatpu (Washington) mission, Ogden by decisive action, great tact and at high personal professional risk, managed to rescue the 47 prisoners of the hostiles, this on the very eve of the so-called Cayuse War. Ogden retired to Oregon City about 1854, where he died and was buried. He had been baptized an Anglican, but stubbornly refused to formally marry his Indian consort of many years, asserting that the fact of their life together and his recognition of the parentage of their children was proof enough of his "marriage." He was wrong, as extensive litigation over his $50,000 estate demonstrated. Ogden was described as short, dark, eccentric, with a good sense of humor, high intelligence, a man of great integrity, "the terror of Indians and the delight" of others. He was an outstanding figure of the northwestern frontier. He wrote Traits of American Indian Life and Character (1853).


Gloria Griffen Cline, Peter Skene Ogden and the Hudson's Bay Company. Norman, Univ. of Okla. Press, 1974; Archie Binns, Peter Skene Ogden; Fur Trader. Portland, Ore., Binfords & Mort, Pubrs., 1967.