Monday, March 20, 2017

Rocky Mountain Fur Company Advertises for "Enterprising Young Men" [otd 03/20]

William H. Ashley.
Legends of America.
Missouri Republican, St. Louis, March 20, 1822: "To enterprising young men. The subscriber wishes to engage one hundred young men to ascend the Missouri river to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years … "

Signed by William H. Ashley, the job posting marked the first public presence of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company (RMFC).

At the time, independent American trappers and small fur companies were focused on exploiting the Missouri River watershed, east of the Continental Divide. Ashley and his partner, Andrew Henry, had more ambitious plans.

Pennsylvanian Andrew Henry first entered the fur trade in 1808, when he was about thirty-three years old. He led an attempt to establish a Missouri Fur Company (MFC) post at Three Forks, in Montana. When Indian attacks ended that venture disastrously, he moved to Idaho and built Fort Henry, near today's Ashton.

A hard winter soon crippled that effort. The MFC struggled along for a number of years, but the War of 1812 drew Henry's interest for the duration. After his military service, until he joined up with Ashley, Henry focused on mining activities around St. Louis.

William Ashley had moved to St. Louis from Virginia in 1808, when he was about thirty years old. Prior to 1822, he engaged in real estate development, banking, and mining. He too served in the Missouri militia, rising from a captaincy during the War of 1812 to the rank of General in 1822. Along with all that, Ashley engaged in politics, being elected in 1820 as the first Lieutenant-Governor of the new state of Missouri.

Although their announcement drew enough men to their new company, the RMFC got off to a shaky start: The Arikara Indians of South Dakota inflicted heavy losses on their Missouri River expedition. After that, the company avoided that area and dispatched trains of pack horses to the Rocky Mountains on a more direct overland route.

RMFC trappers crossed the Continental Divide into the Green River area via South Pass in 1824. Two parties continued into Idaho – one, led by legendary Mountain Man Jedediah Smith, camped on the Portneuf River in the fall. In October, along the Salmon River, Smith's group met the "Snake Brigade," the large fur-trapping operation of the British-Canadian Hudson's Bay Company [blog, Oct 6].
Mountain Man. Frederic Remington drawing.

The RMFC would vigorously compete with the HBC, and with other American rivals, for the next decade. In the process, the Company would introduce a long line of famous Mountain Men into the trade: the Sublette brothers, David Jackson, Thomas "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick, freed slave Jim Beckwourth, Jim Bridger, and many others.

New management led those activities, however: In 1824, Andrew Henry retired from the trade and returned to his mining interests. He died in 1832.

Ashley sold the company two years later and, wealthy from the fur trade, renewed his political ambitions. He served several terms as a U. S. Congressman from Missouri. He died in 1838.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1986).

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