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Early Fur Traders Nearly Starve in Southern Oregon

Quebec-born fur trader Peter Skene Ogden led six Hudson’s Bay Company trapping parties from the Rockies to the Pacific.

He began his third expedition in 1826 with 286 horses and 131 people to explore and gather beaver pelts in Oregon’s Klamath Region.  Ogden took along his Salish Indian wife, Julia, and their four children, including a 6-month-old baby.  Other trappers had families with them, too.

Near starvation was frequent in the desert east of Klamath Lake and, again, in the Siskiyou Mountains.  At one point Ogden ironically observed, “Fortunately our camp contains many sick and while they remain so, will be the means of destroying less food.”

By Christmas 1826, the expedition was reduced to one meal a day.  On New Year’s Day, the men received tobacco, a dram of spirits and shared meat from a single mountain goat.

As Indians became aware the expedition depended on dogs for food, they raised prices to one dog in exchange for four rings, buttons or thimbles and two dogs for a knife.

After passing one miserable night in pouring rain without blankets, 36-year-old Ogden wrote in his journal, “This life makes a young man sixty in a few years.”


Binns, Archie. Peter Skene Ogden: Fur Trader. Hillsboro, Ore.: Binfords & Mort, Publishers, 1967. Print; Elliott, T C. "The Peter Skene Ogden Journals." Oregon Historical Quarterly (2010). Web. 20 Oct. 2015. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.