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As It Was: Canadian Fur Trappers Build Fort McKay on the Umpqua River

Early fur trapping companies established outposts, known as forts, before the Oregon Trail opened.  One example was the rendezvous point along the Umpqua River known as the “Old Establishment” or “McKay’s Old Fort,” built in the early 1820s by the North West Company, a Canadian firm active in the fur trade from the 1780s to 1821.

The fort, possibly consisting only of a few log huts used to store furs, was named after one of the builders, Thomas McKay, and saw seasonal use into the 1830s. 

McKay was a Canadian fur trader, guide and company clerk who became a legendary hero among trappers.  Born in 1796, he settled in Oregon, married three times and had six sons and two daughters.  He became a U.S. citizen before dying in 1849.  Interested visitors can reach the fort’s original site by taking Exit 136 on Interstate 5 and following State Route 138 west to Fort McKay Road, which leads about six miles to the presumed site. 

The Douglas County Museum and Parks have placed a plaque at the intersection of Fort McKay Road and the Umpqua Bridge.

Sources: Perino, Chuck. "McKay's Fort Site and Plaque." Douglas County Historic Resource Inventory Oregon Inventory of Historic Properties Historic Resource Survey Form, Douglas County Planning Department, 1 Sept. 2002, www.co.douglas.or.us/planning/hrrc/regions/pdfs/McKaysFortSite.pdf. Accessed 31 May 2018; LaLande, Jeff. "Fort Umpqua (HBC fort, 1836-1853)." The Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon State University and Oregon Historical Society, 17 Mar. 2018, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/fort_umpqua/#.Ww4q1-4vzX4. Accessed 31 May 2018.

Emily Blakely has published poetry and prose, and frequently displayed framed works at the Umpqua Valley Arts Center as well as restaurants and libraries in the area. Researching local history has become one of her favorite pastimes.