Astor Expedition: Wikis


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The Astor Expedition of 1810-1812 was the next overland expedition from St. Louis, Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia River after the Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark.




Overland Expedition

The Astor Expedition was named for its financier, John Jacob Astor. It is sometimes referred to as the "Hunt Party" as Wilson Price Hunt was in charge of the group. It might be more accurately be called the Overland Expedition of the Pacific Fur Company. Members of the party are commonly called "Overland Astorians."

Astor owned a one-half interest in the Pacific Fur Company (half of the shares being held by the American Fur Company, which was solely owned by Astor). The other half-interest of the Pacific Fur Company was divided among working partners, each owning two-and-a-half to five shares (with some shares held in reserve). The working partners all ventured to the Columbia River, either overland or by ship. Most of the men in the Overland Party were engaged as hunters, interpreters, guides and Canadian Voyagers. The party also included one woman, Marie Dorion, an Iowan Indian and wife of Pierre Dorion, and their two young sons. A baby would be born to the Dorians and die near present-day Union, Oregon.

The party traveled west with relative ease through South Dakota and Wyoming, and accumulated 6,000 pounds of dried buffalo meat northwest of present-day Pinedale. Traveling to "Fort Henry" (a winter camp built by Andrew Henry on Henry's Fork of the Snake River in 1810-11), the party left their horses and built canoes. Traveling down the Snake to present-day Milner, Idaho, they were forced to abandon this mode of travel when they encountered rapids, mainly Star Falls or Caldron Linn, where two men were lost to capsized canoes (not to mention Shoshone Falls and Twin Falls, where the Snake River cascades hundreds of feet). Canoes capsized and a great deal of their food and other supplies were lost.

The party divided, and three main groups formed. The fraction led by Donald MacKenzie traveled generally north and made its way via the lower Snake River and Columbia to reach Fort Astoria in January 1812. The factions led by Ramsey Crooks and Wilson Price Hunt traveled on opposite sides of the Snake River until they met each other again near the upper end of Hells Canyon. The remnants reunited and were later guided west by Indians to reach the Columbia River near Umatilla, and then down the river to Fort Astoria.

Several men had detached from the main party back in Wyoming and at Henry's Fort in Idaho to trap. Ramsey Crooks and John Day, with four Canadians, were left behind by the party near present-day Weiser, Idaho. Crooks and Day were the last stragglers of the original party to reach Fort Astoria in April after falling in with David Stewart, who had arrived by ship and ventured up the Columbia to establish a trading post on the Okanagan River, and was returning to Fort Astoria.

Ocean-based Expedition

The ocean-based component of the expedition arrived via the Tonquin and established Fort Astoria, the first permanent American settlement on the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River, present-day Astoria, Oregon. The overland component (and its members return) resulted in discoveries in Wyoming including the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains route via the Snake River through which hundreds of thousands of settlers were to follow along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails.

Although Astor's plan for gaining control of the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest established the first United States settlement on the Pacific coast, the accomplishment was short lived. Both the Americans and the British subjects in the jointly occupied Oregon Country were apprehensive that a ship from the other side should arrive and seize their property as a spoil of war. In October 1813, under duress during the War of 1812, the partners of the Pacific Fur Company sold the fort and all the concern’s property in the old Oregon Country to the Montreal-based North West Company. Several weeks later, HMS Racoon arrived bringing a partner of the North West Company and supplies for the Canadian concern.

Wilson Price Hunt's Expedition

Winter on Nodaway Island

Wilson Price Hunt, a St. Louis businessman who had no outback experience, led the overland party to the Columbia River.

Hunt made a number of decisions which, in hindsight, were disastrous to the expedition. But those mistakes were to lead to the expedition's (and the company’s return expedition under Robert Stuart) most famous discoveries.

Hunt took the unusual step of starting his expedition just before the winter as he left St. Louis on October 21, 1810. The expedition traveled 450 miles up the Missouri River before setting up winter camp on Nodaway Island at the mouth of Nodaway River in Andrew County, Missouri just north of St. Joseph, Missouri.

Hunt's expedition broke the Nodaway winter camp on April 21, 1811.

New route to the Northwest

A plaque marking the spot along the Snake River where the returning Astorians had horses stolen by a Indian raiding party in September of 1812

On May 26, 1811, Hunt decided not to follow the Lewis and Clark route up the Missouri. To avoid an encounter with the Blackfeet (tribe), he chose to take his party overland instead.

After having problems obtaining horses, they were not able to leave the Arikara in North Dakota until mid-July. Several men detached from the main party to trap and hunt in Wyoming and eastern Idaho.

In September, 1811, upon reaching Henry’s Fork in present-day, Idaho, the party abandoned their horses thinking it would be easy to descend the Snake River (called by Hunt "Canoe River") to the Columbia. After losing a man and two capsized canoes below present-day Milner Dam, they discovered that the route was unnavigable. In fact, a number of large water falls and cliffs made navigation and porting impossible. The party divided into factions above present-day Twin Falls, Idaho and set out on foot for Astoria, where the main party arrived on February 15, 1812. Only 45 of the original 60 members of the expedition made it to Fort Astoria

Hunt left Astoria via ship on August 4, 1812.

A party led by Robert Stuart (including John Day who was left by Stuart on the lower Columbia River after being declared mad) was dispatched back to St. Louis, leaving Fort Astoria in June 1812, wintering on the Platte River, and arriving at St. Louis the following year. In the process, they discovered South Pass through the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming.

Settlement by Astorians in Oregon

Two surviving members of the Astorians, Étienne Lucier and Joseph Gervais, would later become farmers on the French Prairie and participate in the Champoeg Meetings.[1]

Further reading

  • Many accounts of the Pacific Fur Company’s Overland Expedition have been written. Two British naturalists, John Bradbury and Thomas Nuttall, accompanied the expedition as far as the Arikara and Mandan Villages in present-day South Dakota and North Dakota. Nuttall published an account of his observations in the book The Genera of North American Plants in 1818 as well as Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada in 1832. Bradbury published an excellent account of this leg of the journey up the Missouri in his book Travels in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811.
  • Naturalist Henry Marie Brackenridge accompanied the Missouri Fur Company party, under Manuel Lisa, up the Missouri River at the same time. Brackenridge also wrote an account, Journal of a Voyage up the Missouri River in 1811, which was published in 1814.
  • Wilson Price Hunt’s journal from the Missouri River to Fort Astoria was published in French in 1820, but not translated and published in English until 1935. Washington Irving’s Astoria, was published in 1836 (and for a synopsis of the accuracy of Irving’s work, see the Edgeley W. Todd edition). And although they arrived at Fort Astoria by sea and so did not accompany the overland party, clerks Gabriel Franchere, Alexander Ross and Ross Cox each published additional memoirs of the Pacific Fur Company, including accounts of the overland expedition.
  • A more recent historical book, "Astoria and Enterprise," was written by James R. Rhonda.


  1. ^ Chapman, J. S. (1993). French Prairie Ceramics: The Harriet D. Munnick Archaeological Collection, circa 1820-1860: A Catalog and Northwest Comparative Guide. Anthropology Northwest, no. 8. Corvallis, Or: Dept. of Anthropology, Oregon State University.


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