Americans And British Cross The Rockies


The success of the Lewis and Clark expedition depended upon its leadership, for which Jefferson had made wise choices. Twenty-nine-year-old Captain Meriwether Lewis was a man of some education; intelligent, reticent, and observant. "Whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen, by ourselves," Jefferson believed, and Lewis' journals justified the President's confidence.

The co-leader of the expedition, Lieutenant William Clark, thirty-three years old, was the son of a frontier family and younger brother of renowned George Rogers Clark. He was awkward with a pen but expert with a gun, experienced in Indian warfare and handling peroques and canoes. Even-tempered and patient, Clark was successful in negotiations with the Indians who called him the "red-haired chief, our brother."

A common background helped these men to work well together under Jefferson's instructions. Both were born and had lived a part of their lives as Jefferson's neighbors at Shadwell, Virginia. Both were army men and had fought in Ohio Valley Indian wars, Lewis as a young officer under Clark for several years. Because of red tape in the Corps of Engineers, Clark did not get a captain's commission before the expedition set out, but he was "Captain" Clark to the party. The two leaders were engaged in a joint enterprise, and a careful reading of their journals reveals how in personality and training they complemented one another.

The expedition was well equipped, carrying arms for defense and gifts for the Indians, a tested means of winning friendship. Every effort was made to provide helpful directions from reliable sources. The leaders had access to maps of men who had traveled the Missouri over its known length. At St. Louis they talked with Louis Labeaume, Manuel Lisa, Regis Loisel, and others, who gave the leaders "a good Deel of information." They carried Mackenzie's recently published Voyages.

It was a well-reported expedition. Jefferson urged all who could to keep records of their travels. Seven of the men complied.1 The party wintered at Fort Dubois on the Wood River not far from St. Louis, and setting out from there on May 21, 1804, arrived late in October at the Mandan Villages. They set up winter quarters among the Mandans not only because it was late in the season, but also because this was a center of the Canadian traders' activities. Lewis advised the Indians to accept no more British flags or medals. He promised their principal chieftain a trip to Washington and emphasized the benefits they would receive from the Americans who now ruled the land.

The leaders exchanged courtesies with the Canadian traders, one of whom complained that "Captain Lewis could not make himself agreeable to us--he could speak fluently and learnedly on all subjects, but his inveterate disposition against the British stained, at least in our eyes, all his eloquence." But this was not a winter of social activities. As soon as the ice broke on the river, strenuous preparations were made to get the expedition under way.

When the expedition left the Mandan villages in April, 1804, it consisted of thirty-three persons, including one Indian woman and her two-month-old child. Sacajawea was the Shoshone wife of the interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, who had purchased her from the Minnetarees. She was not a guide, for the route was new to her too. But when the expedition found her people on the Beaverhead River of western Montana she convinced her chieftain brother of the Peaceful purposes of the party and persuaded him to supply much-needed horses. Occasional references to her in the leaders' journals reveal a woman adaptable and personable. Her child, Pompey, affectionately called "Little Pomp" in Clark's journal, is commemorated in Pompey's Pillar, a rocky outthrust on the upper Yellowstone River. With the exception of Sacajawea, Charbonneau, and York, Clark's Negro servant, the expedition was a detachment of the United States Army on special service.

The party traveled by boat to the Three Forks of the Missouri, thence by foot up the Jefferson River through the Beaverhead country to the Continental Divide. Lewis was in advance of the main party, following an old Indian trail, when he discovered that the valley through which he was passing turned "abruptly to the west through a narrow bottom between the mountains." Now he "did not despair of shortly finding a passage over the mountains and of taisting the waters of the great Columbia this evening."

Four miles further on

. . . the road took up to the most distant fountain of the waters of the Mighty Missouri in surch of which we have spent so many toilsome days and wristless nights. thus far I had accomplished one of those great objects on which my mind has been unalterably fixed for may years, judge then of the pleasure I felt in all[a]ying my thirst with this pure and ice-cold water which issues from the base of a low mountain or hill . . . here I halted a few minutes and rested myself. two miles below McNeal had exultingly stood with a foot on each side of this little rivulet and thanked his god that he had lived to bestride the mighty & heretofore deemed endless Missouri . . . we proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow. I now descended the mountain about 3/4 of a mile . . . to a handsome bold runing Creek of cold Clear water. here I first tasted the water of the great Columbia River.

Lewis had crossed the Divide by Lemhi Pass and the rivulet from which he drank was one of the streams forming the Little Lemhi River. The Columbia lay beyond the snow-covered mountains in the distance.

By horse the company proceeded north along the Salmon River into the Bitterroot Valley, following a Nez Perce trail almost to Clark's Fork, near the present Missoula, Montana. They crossed the Bitterroots by Lolo Pass to the Clearwater. The trail was stony, steep, crossed by fallen timber. Game was scarce and it began to snow. "I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life," Clark wrote in his journal: "indeed I was at one time fearful my feet would freeze in the thin Mockirsons which I wore."

With the help of friendly Nez Perces on the Clearwater, the party made dugout canoes and continued to the Columbia River, reaching it on October 16. A month later, in a pounding rainstorm lasting several days, they camped near the sea on the north shore of the river.

From Cape Disappointment, they took their first look at the Pacific Ocean. According to Clark, it had been badly named: it "roars like a repeeted roling thunder and have rored in that way ever since our arrival . . . I cant say Pasific as since I have seen it, it has been the reverse." They then moved camp to the south side of the Columbia on the Lewis and Clark River, calling their primitive shelter of logs Fort Clatsop after the Indians of that vicinity. Here Clark marked the occasion by inscribing on a tree: "William Clark, December 3rd, 1805. By land from U. States in 1804 & 1805."

Christmas was celebrated in the incomplete stockade; the men exchanged gifts, fired salutes, shouted and sang. "We would have Spent this day . . . in feasting, had we any thing either to raise our Sperits or even gratify our appetites, our Diner concisted of pore Elk, so much Spoiled that we eate it thro' mear necessity. Some Spoiled pounded fish and a fiew roots," lamented Clark.

To make their monotonous diet palatable and to preserve food for their return journey, the men needed salt. A detachment was sent to the coast (at the present site of Seaside), where they erected a rock cairn, and managed to evaporate from three quarts to a gallon of salt a day. A whale cast up on the shore south of Tillamook Head was reported to Fort Clatsop, and a number of men were permitted to go with Clark to see it. Sacajawea, who had not yet even seen the ocean, was in the party, although it would appear that she had to argue for the privilege. "She observed that she had traveled a long way with us to see the great waters," wrote Lewis, "and that now that monstrous fish was also to be seen, she thought it very hard she could not be permitted to see either."

Through a dismal wet winter (Clark counted only six days of sunshine between January and the last week of March), the men hunted, suffered winter colds, food poisoning, and petty accidents, and counted the days until they could go home. Lewis and Clark worked over their maps and notes, talked with the Indians about their lives and customs, and the local topography, and planned the expedition's return route.

No one regretted the day, March 23, 1806, when Lewis turned their quarters over to the friendly Clatsop chief and the party dipped their paddles in the Columbia for the long trip home.

While at Fort Clatsop, Clark had noted in his journal: "There is a large river which falls into the Columbia on its south side at what point we could not lern; which passes thro those extensive Columbian Plains from the South East." On April 1 they camped near the mouth of that river. Using an Indian map drawn with charcoal on a piece of matting, Clark and seven men entered the many-channeled mouth of the Willamette River. From its magnitude, probably in spring freshet, he decided that it must drain "that vast tract of Country between the western range of mountains [Cascades] and those on the sea coast and as far S[outh] as the Waters of Callifornia." Subsequently, maps showed the "Multnomah" River's headwaters in 37 degrees north latitude and not far from Great Salt Lake. This error was not corrected until the late 1820s when it was proved that the Willamette had its source in the nearby Cascades.

The Return Journey

Arriving at the Bitterroot Range too early in the season, the explorers had difficulty crossing through the ice and snow that mantled Lolo Pass. Once again at their camp, Traveler's Rest in the Bitterroot Valley, the leaders separated, according to plan.

Lewis' road took him through Hellgate Canyon and up the Blackfoot to a divide by which he reached Sun River and the Great Falls of the Missouri, where the year before the party had left a cache of goods. With five men, Lewis then went up the Marias River, which proved not to have its source as far north as he "wished and expected." Although he believed that the watershed of the Marias was only a short distance from that of the Saskatchewan, he "lost all hope" of its extending to 50 degrees north latitude. This is a significant reminder that the original purpose of the expedition had been influenced by British interests in the Saskatchewan and by Mackenzie's great plan for a transcontinental trade having the "entire command of the fur trade . . . from 48 degrees North to the Pole."

The only Indian trouble on the whole journey occurred on the Marias, and evidently Lewis handled it badly. A small party of Piegans of the Blackfeet tribe attempted to steal the white men's guns and horses. One Indian was stabbed and a second was shot by Lewis, who left an expedition medal around the dead man's neck to inform the natives "who we were." It was later believed that this incident was played up by the Canadians to turn the Blackfeet against the Americans. However, it would appear that the Blackfeet were later enemies of all white men and even of other Indians who traded with the whites.

On July 28, Lewis rejoined the rest of his party at the mouth of the Marias and in the white peroque in which they had traveled up the Missouri the previous year, made a rapid trip downstream to the mouth of the Yellowstone where he was to meet Clark.

Captain Clark and his men, in the meantime, had retraced their route from Lolo Pass up the Bitterroot Valley, crossed the Continental Divide at Gibbon's Pass, and on July 8 found their cache and dugouts on the Jefferson River. Within three days they were at Three Forks. Here Clark divided his party. Some of the men went on to the Great Falls, under the leadership of Ordway, to join Lewis, while Clark, Sacajawea, Little Pomp, Charbonneau, John Colter and the rest traveled by horse across the Gallatin Valley to the Yellowstone River. The trip down this river, by dugout and bullboat in its lower stretches, was a pleasant one. Game was plentiful, the river was full and unobstructed, and the weather pleasant. In fact, there were so few hazards that Clark assumed that this was the route by which large bateaux could reach the heart of the mountains.

On August 12 Clark's party was reunited with Lewis and in a few days all arrived at the Mandan villages. It is fair to assume that they let it be known among the British and Indians that their mission had been accomplished and that Americans had reached the Pacific. As wee shall see, the implication was that the northern and western boundaries of Louisiana had been defined by their exploration.

Before arriving at the Mandan villages the captains released John Colter to return to the mountains with two trappers who offered to share their outfit with him. They spent the winter of 1806-1807 on the tributaries of the Upper Missouri, ranging the valleys of the Yellowstone and Big Horn. Thus Colter became the first guide into the Yellowstone country and a pioneer of the American fur industry in the Rockies.2

On September 23 (1806), accompanied by the principal chief of the Mandans to whom Lewis had promised a visit with President Jefferson, the expedition arrived at St. Louis. "We Suffered the party to fire off their pieces as a Salute to the Town," wrote Lewis. "We were met by all the village and received a harty welcom from it's inhabitants. . . . I sleped but little last night."

Reporting the return of the expedition, Jefferson told Congress that the explorers deserved well of their country. Lewis served as governor of Louisiana Territory until his death in 1810. Clark was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Louisiana and then for Missouri Territory. For both men the offices were more burdensome than profitable. But the names of Lewis and Clark are indelibly fixed in American history and the highways that today follow portions of their trails are continual reminders of their exploit. The completion of the journey without serious accident overshadowed the genuine hardships it had entailed. Although they discovered no easy mountain passes, and Jefferson's hope for a continental waterway was not realized, the explorers had passed safely through hostile Indian country and crossed the continent. That was an achievement in itself.

The explorers' reports covered plant, animal, and human life. Animal skins and Indian objects they had collected were displayed in the Indian room at Jefferson's Monticello and at Peale's American Museum in Philadelphia. Seeds and plants were consigned to a Philadelphia botanist for study and cultivation. A bitterroot plant leafed out, apparently died, then suddenly sent up a rosette of waxen flowers. It was appropriately named Lewisia rediviva. A flourishing specimen of snowberry moved Jefferson in later years to describe it as "singular as it is beautiful." More significantly, however, Clark's maps stimulated the already high interest in the trans-Mississippi West, and interest which did not stop at the Rockies, but contemplated the land "where rolls the Oregon."

American Traders Enter The Upper Missouri

Despite hostile Indians along the Missouri, traders and trappers were quick to follow the Lewis and Clark route.

Within the year after their return it was estimated that no fewer than 100 traders were licensed at St. Louis to go among the Indians of the Missouri country, and the number who did not bother with legal requirements may have far exceeded those who did. Several parties left for the Rockies early in the spring of 1807.

Among these was Manual Lisa, merchant and trader, who had ambitions to control the Indian trade out of St. Louis and who had demonstrated his ability to get along with the warlike tribes.3 From a number of sources he had heard that Indians of the Upper Missouri were trading with the Spaniards of New Mexico. Such a trade was known to Nor'Wester Larocque of the Mandan villages who, in 1805, reported the arrival of a Snake Indian whose people had met the Spaniards and traded with them. Lisa and his associates planned a trading system that would extend to the Missouri's headwaters and then, by a river as yet unknown to them but reported to flow south to Spanish lands, would connect with Santa Fe.

Lisa backed an expedition to Santa Fe in the summer of 1807. But before it started, he was on his way up the Missouri with a party including men who had been with Lewis and Clark, George Drouillard, John Colter, and probably John Potts. In July Lisa was at the mouth of the Big Horn where he built Fort Manuel (sometimes called Fort Lisa), and his men set out to trap the country and to invite the Indians to come to the fort to trade. It is possible that his haste was impelled by the report in St. Louis that British and American traders at Michilimackinac were forming a new company to trade on the upper river, and that a British party was moving to the headwaters of the Missouri.

Nor'Westers Move To The Rockies

The British traders were a party of Nor'Westers--representatives of the North West Company. The Montreal merchants kept abreast of all events in the world of commerce and diplomacy which might affect their interests; their wintering partners were equally alert to what was happening in any vicinity where they traded. At annual meetings they shared information from the marketplace and Indian country, and planned defense and attack on both fronts.

The company was well aware that the purchase of Louisiana would strengthen the American position on the Missouri and require some vital policy readjustments. They recognized that the Lewis and Clark expedition was a prelude to American expansion into the Far West, where already American trading ships were monopolizing the maritime commerce of the Pacific. Moreover, the North West Company's rival, the HBC, was strengthening its position on the Saskatchewan River, part of the Canadian highway to the sea. From 1804 to 1812, the policies of the North West Company were directed toward holding the Canadian Plains against the English company and securing footholds in the Far West against any competitor. In 1804, a bold move was made to establish the company in the Canadian Rockies.

Twenty-nine-year-old Simon Fraser was given the job of continuing Mackenzie's exploration and of establishing posts in northern British Columbia, then called New Caledonia. Following Mackenzie's route, he built Rocky Mountain Fort on the upper Peace River in 1805. Fort McLeod on McLeod Lake, Fort St. James on Stuart Lake, and Fort Fraser on Fraser Lake, were established during the next two years. In 1808, with John Stuart, Jules Quesnell, nineteen voyageurs, and two Indian guides, he explored the "mighty river"--the Tacoutche Tesse which Mackenzie had presumed to be the Columbia. Like Mackenzie, Fraser found passage impossible for canoes, but he continued a grueling journey, mostly on foot, to the river estuary, near the present site of New Westminster. Observations of their latitude disclosed the disappointing fact that the river they had explored was not the Columbia; so Mackenzie's Tacoutche Tesse was named the Fraser.

In the meantime, across the eastern ridges of New Caledonia's mountains, one of Fraser's fellow Nor'Westers was wintering at the headwaters of the Columbia River. He too was temporarily a victim of the confusing mountain topography; he did not know that he had actually found the source of the Columbia.

David Thompson

Trade brought David Thompson into the Northwest, but he is remembered today for his exploration of the Columbia River and his skill as a geographer and map-maker. The young Welshman entered the trade in 1784 as an apprentice, but after thirteen years with the HBC, he went over to the more aggressive North West Company. Various assignments during the next ten years acquainted him with the plains country from the Missouri to Lesser Slave Lake, and from Hudson Bay to the Rockies. In 1804 he was made a partner and in 1806 was assigned the task of developing the Nor'Westers' trade south of Peace River.

From Rocky Mountain House on the North Saskatchewan River, May 10, 1807, Thompson, accompanied by his wife and three small children, three men, and ten pack horses, set out for the mountains where he was to spend most of the next twelve years. A month later the party was in the "stupendous and solitary Wilds covered with eternal Snow . . . the collection of Ages and on which the Beams of Sun makes hardly any Impression." Here they waited fourteen days for the snows on the heights to melt.4 Crossing these heights by Howse Pass, they came to the welcome sight of a ravine "where the Springs send their Rills to the Pacific Ocean," and followed the Blaeberry River, "a Torrent that seemingly nothing can resist," until June 30, when they reached a river where Thompson could report "thank God, we camped all safe."

The river was the Columbia, though Thompson did not know it. Nor is this surprising when one examines a map of the region. It will be noted that the Columbia has its source in two lakes, lovely Windermere and shallow, reedy Columbia Lake. From them, the river flows north about 200 miles before it bends around the Selkirk Range to take up its long southwesterly course.

Thompson was looking for a river which flowed to the south and west, not to the north. Hence he turned his attention as soon as possible to the Flat Bow or McGillivray's River. This river, which we know as the Kootenai, had its source in a canyon near the Columbia's upper waters and not far from the mouth of Blaeberry Creek. It flowed parallel to, but in the opposite direction from, the Columbia, and coursed south and east into northwestern Montana, reversed its direction and flowed north to Kootenai Lake, joining the Columbia above the 49th parallel.

Before the winter closed in, Thompson had explored the Columbia River to Columbia Lake and had traversed the two-mile portage to the Kootenai River. Had he not been concerned with building his winter quarters, trading with the Indians, and getting food supplies, he would have taken time immediately to "explore at least the Flat Bow Country, a[nd] by the Course of the large River, [to] determine whether it is the Columbia or not."

Thompson wintered at Kootenai House north of Lake Windermere at the junction of Tobey Creek with the Columbia. Indians from far and near came to trade and to seek an alliance with the white men against their traditional enemies, the Blackfeet. From them Thompson had encouraging news about the river he wished to explore. ". . . after drawing a Chart of their Country . . . from thence to the Sea, a[nd] describing the Nations along the River, they assured me that from this House to the sea a[nd] back again was only the Voyage of a Summer Moon. . . ."

However, it was not until early in 1811 that Thompson could embark on this Voyage of a Summer Moon. In the meantime his work as a trader took precedence over his yearning to explore. The Americans had arrived in the mountains.

Competitors And Patriots

In August (1807), Indians told Thompson that about three weeks earlier forty-two Americans, including two or three men who had been with Lewis and Clark, had "arrived to settle a military Post, at the confluence of the two most southern a[nd] considerable Branches of the Columbia," and that they were preparing to set up a small advance post. "This establishment of the Americans will give a new Turn to our so-long-delayed settling of this Country, on which we have entered it seems too late," Thompson reported, "but, in my opinion the most valuable part of the Country still remains to us. . . ." If this were true, he must protect the trade of that country.

He learned that Flathead Indians who had been trading with him "had pitched away" to the American camp. To meet competition, it was necessary to hold the Indians with a regular and assured supply of the kinds of goods they wanted, so they could not be coaxed away by occasional opposition. It is in this light that we understand Thompson's distress over the "difficulty of getting Goods from Fort des Prairies, a[nd] the still more formidable poverty of the Country in Animals"--that is, horses with which to distribute goods from post to post.

The identity of these Americans has been a puzzle. One of the West's most informed historians, Dale Morgan, believes that there was an "obscure group of traders," among whom was one Charles Courtin, operating in the vicinity of Three Forks in the summer of 1807.5 One tale has it that Courtin was killed by Indians on Clark's Fork in 1810. However, the possibility remains that these men were an advance group from Manuel Lisa's party, the only one setting out from St. Louis in 1807 which had the identifying features mentioned by Thompson: forty-two men, among whom were "two or three" former members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Correspondence of the Americans, reported by Thompson, suggests that these men were experienced traders, under the leaders both literate and informed on matters of American trade regulations.

The message Thompson received from the Americans was brought by two Kootenais who had had it from "a more southerly tribe." It was an open letter addressed to "the foreigners who may at present by carrying on a traffic with the Indians within our territories." Some of its contents were probably familiar to Thompson. Eight of the ten paragraphs were almost verbatim instructions on customs regulations for foreign traders in the Old Northwest.

The tenth paragraph, however, dealt specifically with the Far West and revealed a writer somewhat familiar with Anglo-American boundary issues and an expansionist whose zeal was not at the moment shared by the American government. It read:

The new ceded Territories to the American States northward and westward of the Illinois, comprehend the Mississourie Red River and all the Lands westward to the Coast of California and the Columbia River with all its Branches; of which we have now taken Possession and on which we are now settled down to the Pacific Ocean; extending northward to about 50 Degrees north Latitude, according to the Boundaries settled at the Treaty of Peace, between the united States and the Court of Great Britain [sic], although it is by no means allowed here nor does any of our Expressions bear the Sense that, Great Britain has any special right to any of the Lands on the Pacific Ocean, or to the Commerce of any of the Rivers that flow into the said Ocean, all of which we shall comprehend as within our said Territories until some further Explanation takes place on this head between the united States of America and the Court of St. James.6

The message was dated July 10, 1807, from "Fort Lewis, Yellow River, Columbia," and signed by "James Roseman Lieutenant" and "Zachary Perch Captain & Commanding Officer." Thompson neither mentioned the missive in his journal, nor replied to it. He simply forwarded it to Rocky Mountain House.

About December 24 he received another letter, addressed this time specifically to "the British Mercht. Trafficking with the Cabanaws [Kootenais]." It informed Thompson that his failure to reply to the first letter was construed as "tacit disrespect," and that it was therefore concluded that Thompson did not properly "acknowledge the authority of Congress over these Countries, which are certainly the property of the United States both by discovery and Cession." Thompson was asked to submit "with a good grace" before military posts were fortified and patrols sent out. This letter was dated September 29 from "Poltito Palton Lake" and was signed "Jeremy Pinch Lieut." Thompson privately characterized the writer as "one of these petty officers . . . [with] as much arrogance as Buonaparte at the head of his Invincibles." He replied that he was "neither authorized nor competent" to discuss boundary issues and that customs matters would be considered by all the partners of the North West Company.

Thompson's identification of his correspondent as military was only natural in the circumstances. However, research has failed to produce these names in army records; nor was there any army fort so far west. It must be inferred then that the names Roseman, Perch, and Pinch disguised the authors of a hoax, who depended upon military references for their authority. There identity remains a mystery.

Thompson was not intimidated by the threats. With driving energy, he worked to win over the natives and to set up trading houses among them. Finan McDonald built a temporary depot near Kootenai Falls in 1808. In September 1809 Thompson selected the site for Kullyspel House on the eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille. Saleesh House, near Thompson Falls on the Clark Fork River, was built the same fall. In 1810 or 1811 McDonald and Jacques (Joco) Finlay built Spokane House near the present city of Spokane. Not only did Thompson keep on the move through these parts of western Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington, but he also made three arduous trips out of the country with packs of furs, returning with trading goods. In 1808 he left Kootenai House early in June, arrived at Rainy Lake on August 2, and was back on the Columbia in October. The next year he descended the Saskatchewan to Fort Augustus, and returning, crossed by Howse's Pass to his post in thirty-five days. At the annual meeting of the partners in 1810 he was directed to go back to the mountains and explore fully the Columbia River.

There were several reasons for this. One was the Pinch episode; another, the activities of Manuel Lisa and his partner, Andrew Henry.

After his first trip to the mountains, Lisa became a partner and dynamic leader in the Missouri Fur Company. He had trading posts at the mouth of the Yellowstone and Big Horn; and Andrew Henry built a temporary house at the Three Forks of the Missouri, which he was forced to abandon under Blackfeet attack. Henry and his men crossed over the Continental Divide and, in 1810, established a winter camp on the northern fork of the Snake, near Elgin, Idaho. Although safe from hostile Indians, they were short of game and in the spring the party broke up. Some returned to the Missouri but others remained in the mountains and became the first of that "reckless breed of men" whose short lives were spent and expended in trapping the Rocky Mountain beaver grounds. Henry's Fort was only a winter encampment, but so far as we know for sure, it was the first American fur trade post west of the Divide.

Jeremy Pinch's and Lisa's enterprises, following so closely on the Lewis and Clark expedition, corroborated Canadian fears of American entry into the West. In the spring of 1808, Alexander Mackenzie was in London asking British government support for a Columbia River settlement on the ground that the Lewis and Clark expedition would provide the Americans with arguments for exclusive claims to the country between Spanish settlements and 50 degrees north latitude. He did not know that American traders were already moving west, but it is possible that he did know that there was already in the offing a major American venture to the Columbia. The Northwest had become part of fur trade politics and of the commercial rivalry which plagued American-British relations.


1Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, R.G. Thwaites, ed., 8 vols. (1905).

2Burton Harris, John Colter, His Years in the Rockies (1952).

3Richard E. Oglesby, Manuel Lisa and the Opening of the Missouri Fur Trade (1963).

4"The Discovery of the Source of the Columbia River," T.C. Elliott, ed., OHQ, March 1925; David Thompson's Journals Relating to Montana and Adjacent Regions, 1806-1812, M. Catharine White,ed. (1950); David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in Western America, 1784-1812, J.B. Tyrell, ed. (1916)

5The West of William H. Ashley . . . Recorded in the Diaries and Letters of William H. Ashley and his Contemporaries, 1822-1838, Dale L. Morgan, ed. (1963). There were other mysterious travelers in the Far West at an early date. In the early part of 1805, Louisiana Territory's Governor, James Wilkinson, said he sent an expedition to explore the Yellowstone River; he expected his party to return in late 1807. Who composed his party and what they did has not been discovered. However, an Anthony Bettay wrote Jefferson, January 27, 1808, that he had just returned from three years in the interior; that about 1700 miles from St. Louis, he had found a silver mine on the Platte River or one of its branches; had discovered an "eligible passage" across the mountains and a westward-flowing river, and a silk nettle which grew to about eight feet in height. The native nettle that reaches this size is found only west of the Rocky Mountains, especially in southern Idaho and northern Colorado. It is possible that the party of which Bettay was a member crossed the Divide about the same time as Lewis and Clark. This may have been the Wilkinson expedition. See Territorial Papers of the United States, Clarence E. Carter, ed., 26 vols. (1939- ), XIII, 243.

6"Letter of Roseman and Perch, July 10th, 1807," J.B. Tyrell, ed., OHQ, December 1937, 393-394; T.C. Elliott, "The Strange Case of David Thompson and Jeremy Pinch," OHQ, June 1939.