William H. Ashley's 1825 Rocky Mountain Papers


William H. Ashley, with his partner Andrew Henry, owned a fur trading company based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Prior to the period covered by these papers, he had lost a fortune in an ill-fated attempt to establish a trapping business on the upper Missouri river. His new plan was trap the region to the south, just over the divide. The previous year, an Ashley-Henry party led by Jedediah Smith had crossed the continental divide at what came to be known as South Pass and found the valley of the Green river to be rich with beaver. Consequently, the remainder of Ashley's fur company left St. Louis and made their way up the Platte.

Ashley left two documents describing the events of 1825: One is what appears to be his field diary, containing daily entries. The other is a letter to Gen. Atkinson written after Ashley's return that fall, and contains a narrative of his 1825 season in the Rockies. These two documents are mostly consistent, although the narrative appears to have been written from memory because in some cases, details are different from those recorded in the contemporaneous diary.

The diary was kept from March 25 to June 27, 1825. The diary commences on the Platte, just east of the continental divide. It describes the journey to the Green River and the division of the trapping party there. It also details Ashley's trip down the Green River in bullboats, and ends just a few days before Ashley's parties met on the Henry's Fork for the first Rocky Mountain Rendezvous.

The narrative covers a longer period of time, from the time he left Ft. Atkinson on November 3, 1824 until he reached the Yellowstone below Big Horn Mountain on the 7th day of August, 1825. From there he proceeded downriver in boats with his rich cargo of furs, to the settlements.

Bibliographical Information

The original manuscript of Ashley's Diary is in the possession of the Missouri Historical Society. A microfilm copy of the manuscript was made available to the author of this web site by the Utah State Historical Society. The diary was quoted in:
The West of William H. Ashley, by Dale Lowell Morgan, Denver, Old West Publishing Co., 1964.

The original manuscript of Ashley's Narrative is also in the possession of the Missouri Historical Society. It has been previously published in:
The Ashley-Smith explorations and the discovery of a central route to the Pacific, 1822-1829, with the original journals, by Harrison Clifford Dale, Cleveland, The Arthur H. Clark company, 1918.
A more recent edition, currently in print, is:
The explorations of William H. Ashley and Jedediah Smith, 1822-1829 edited by Harrison Clifford Dale, Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press (Bison books), 1991.

On-line Versions

  • View Diary
  • View Narrative
  • Ashley's business records