General William H. Ashley was not a mountain man. General Ashley went to the Rocky Mountains twice; he attended the 1825 and 1826 Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. After the Sweetwater Rendezvous of 1826, William Ashley sold out and never returned to the mountains. Ashley’s only interest in the Rocky Mountain fur trade was to make money to further his political ambitions.
Ashley fur trading career started with and ad by the William H. Ashley-Andrew Henry Fur Company in the Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser Feb. 13, 1822 and in the St. Louis Enquirer two weeks later.
Some of the best-known names in the annals of the Rocky Mountain fur trade responded to General William H. Ashley’s advertisement i.e. Jedediah Smith, Hugh Glass, Daniel T. Potts, and Jim Bridger. Three men often credited with being among the original William Ashley men are Thomas Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, and Etienne Provost. Thomas Fitzpatrick and William Sublette did not go West with William Ashley until 1823, and Etienne Provost was never one of Ashley’s men.
The Ashley-Henry Fur Trade Company sent two keelboats up the Missouri River in the spring of 1822. One of the boats under the command of Daniel Moore sank with ten thousand dollars worth of provisions on it. Ashley equipped another boat and reachedAndrew Henryat the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers where Henry and his men built Fort Henry. William Ashley returned to St. Louis for next years supplies.
On the way upriver in 1823, the Ashley Expedition was attacked by the Arikara (Rees) Indians near the North and South Dakota border. Ashley lost fifteen men before withdrawing to the mouth of the Cheyenne River. Jedediah Smith had come downriver with a request from Henry for more horses, and Ashley sent him back upriver to get Andrew Henry and his men. Several of the William Ashley men decided they had enough of the Indian fur trade; returning downriver to St. Louis, they carried word of the Arikara attack to Colonel Leavenworth at Ft. Atkinson.
Colonel Henry Leavenworth responded with six companies of soldiers. Besides the military, there was Joshua Pilcher and some of his Missouri Fur Company men, and six hundred Sioux warriors. After several days of military indecisiveness, the Sioux left in disgust. While the fur traders stood helplessly by, Colonel Leavenworth negotiated a peace treaty with the Arikara. In a letter to the War Department concerning Leavenworth’s ineffectual action to teach the Indians a lesson, Joshua Pilcher declared:
You [Leavenworth] came to restore peace and tranquility to the country, & leave an impression which would insure its continuance, your operations have been such as to produce the contrary effect, and to impress the different Indian tribes with the greatest possible contempt for the American character. You came to use your own language to “open and make good this great road”: instead of which you have by the imbecility of your conduct and operations, created and left impassable barriers.
Unable to use the Missouri River conduit, Ashley decided to dispatch a trapping party overland to the mountains. From the trading post (Fort Kiowa) at the mouth of the White River, Ashley dispatched Jedediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, James Clyman, Thomas Eddie, Edward Rose, Stone, Branch, and two other men whose names have been lost to history overland to the Rocky Mountains. Andrew Henry returned to his post near the mouth of the Yellowstone and sent another company of trappers under John H. Weber to the same area. Jim Bridger and Johnson Gardner were with Weber.
Ashley’s plan of operation differed from the early fur traders on the Upper Missouri. The Ashley plan did not depend on Indian trappers and provided for the exchange of supplies and beaver pelts at a predetermined rendezvous site. Under the Ashley plan, there was no need for trading posts. However, Ashley was not the first to use a rendezvous system for the exchange of pelts and to re-supply fur trappers.The North West Companyhad held an annually rendezvous since 1783 at Grand Portage and later at Fort William.
Smith and his men spent most of the winter in the Wind River Valley. After a failed attempt to cross the Wind River Mountains over Union Pass, Indians told him off an easier route around the south end of the Wind Rivers. In February of 1824, Jedediah Smith and his party proceeded to the south end and crossed the Continental Divide through South Pass to reach the valley of the Seeds-kee-dee (Prairie Hen River, Fat River,Green River Valley of Wyoming).
Jedediah Smithis often credited with the effective discovery of South Pass. The AstorianRobert Stuart’sdiscovery of South Pass in 1812 was for the most part forgotten, whereas, the re-discovery of South Pass by the Smith-Fitzpatrick party in 1824 was soon widely heralded as an easy wagon route to the mouth of the Columbia.
In the fall of 1824,Thomas Fitzpatrick, Stone, and Branch returned to Ft. Atkinson; the trappers crossed South Pass and then down the North Platte River. On hearing the mountain valleys were rich with beaver, William Ashley outfitted a supply train, and in November 1824, struck out overland from Ft. Atkinson. Ashley followed the Platte River and then the South Platte River to the Front Range in Colorado; Indians had told Ashley there was better feed for his pack animals along the South Platte than the North Platte River. Reaching the Front Range in Colorado, Ashley turned northwest and crossed the mountains into the Green River Valley.
William Ashley divided his men into four groups. Three of the parties were to trap, while he and several other men floated down Green River. Ashley told the men he would make a cache of his good about one hundred miles downstream, and near there would be a general rendezvous on or about July 10. After leaving the Green River, Ashley metEtienne Provostwith a party of trappers from Taos, New Mexico. Provost agreed to guide Ashley to the rendezvous site.
July 1, 1825, on Henry’s Fork of the Green River, Ashley wrote:
On the 1st day of july, all the men in my employ or with whom I had any concern in the country, together with twenty-nine, who had recently withdrawn from the Hudson Bay company, making in all 120 men, were assembled in two camps near each other about 20 miles distant from the place appointed by me as a general rendezvous, when it appeared that we had been scattered over the territory west of the mountains in small detachments from the 38th to the 44th degree of latitude, and the only injury we had sustained by Indian depredations was the stealing of 17 horses by the Crows on the night of the 2nd april, as before mentioned, and the loss of one man killed on the headwaters of the Rio Colorado, by a party of Indians unknown.
Part of the one hundred and twenty men sited by Ashley were at least twelve to fifteen men with Etienne Provost from Taos and the Indians defecting from Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson Bay’s Company with seven hundred pelts (~10 packs)…several of Ogden’s trappers had defected to Johnson Gardner. Ashley paid three dollars a pelt to his trappers, but only two dollars and fifty cents for the pelts he acquired from Provost’s men…this may suggest the quality of pelts taken from southern Utah were not as good as those taken from northern Utah and the Green River Valley.
The day after the first Mountain Man rendezvous, Ashley and Jedediah Smith packed the furs on packhorses and went over South Pass then down the Bighorn River to near present Thermopolis, Wyoming. The furs were loaded into bullboats and floated down the Bighorn and Yellowstone rivers to the Missouri River where Ashley met the Atkinson-O’Fallon Expedition. General Henry Atkinson and Indian agent Benjamin O’Fallon had come up the Missouri in a paddle wheeler to try and negotiate treaties with the various Indian tribes along the Missouri River. William Ashley’s furs were loaded on the boat and taken to St. Louis. Ashley arrived in St. Louis with 8,892 beaver pelts ~148 packs.
Jedediah Smith returned to St. Louis with Ashley. When Andrew Henry decided to leave the fur trade, Ashley made Smith his partner. Jedediah Smith and Robert Campbell left St. Louis in November with the supply train for the Willow Valley rendezvous (Cache Valley, Utah). Smith was snowed in on the Republican Fork River and lost about a third of the pack mules. When Ashley learned of this, he left in March to re-supply the Smith caravan and take it on to Willow (Cache) Valley. Smith went on ahead to organize the Willow Valley rendezvous.
The site of the 1826 rendezvous in Cache Valley is disputed between Cove and Hyrum, Utah. The renowned historian Dale Morgan believed it was on Blacksmith Fork near Hyrum, Utah. Dr. Morgan based this assumption on the July entries of Jedediah Smith’s Journals, but travel distances and time in Smith’s Journal does not support Dr. Morgan’s conclusions. Dr. Morgan has Smith going up over Boxelder Canyon into the southend of Cache Valley (Hyrum, Utah), whereas, the Smith Gibbs map shows Smith following Bear River into Cache Valley west of Cove, Utah, which is an easier route with no mountains.
After the 1826 Cache Valley (Willow Valley) rendezvous, Ashley met with Jedediah Smith, David Jackson, and William Sublette on Bear River between Georgetown and Soda Springs, Idaho. Ashley sold his interest in the Ashley Smith Fur Trade Company to the new company of Smith, Jackson and Sublette, but with certain provision agreed to market the furs and supply good to the rendezvous.
Articles of Agreement, July 18, 1826:
Articles of agreement made and entered into this 18th day of July 1826 by and between William H. Ashley of the first part and Jedediah S. Smith David E. Jackson and Wm. L. Sublett trading under the firm Smith Jackson & Sublett of the second part witnesseth that whereas the said party of the second part are now engaged in the fur trade and contemplate renewing their stock of Merchandise &c the ensuing year for the purpose of continuing their said business should their prospects of success Justify their doing so now Therefore the said party of the first part promises and hereby obliges him self to furnish such an assortment of Merchandise as said party of the second part may require according with an Invoice hereunto annexed refrence thereunto will more fully show and for the prices therein mentioned to wit
Gunpowder of the first and second quality at one dollar fifty per pound
Lead one dollar per pound
Shot at one dollar twenty five cents per pound
Three point Blankets at nine dollars each
Green ditto at Eleven dollars each
Scarlet cloth at six dollars per yard
Blue ditto common quality from four to five dollars per yard
Butcher Knives at seventy five cents each
two and a half point Blankets at Seven dollars each
North West Fuzils at twenty four dollars each
tin Kettles different sizes at two dollars per pound
Sheet Iron Kettles at two dollars twenty five cents per pound
Squaw axes at two dollars fifty cents each
Beaver traps at nine dollars each
Sugar at one dollar per pound
Coffee at one dollar twenty five cents pr pound
flour at one dollar per pound
Alspice at one dollar fifty cents per pound
Raisins at one dollar fifty cents per pound
Grey cloth at common quality at five dollars per yard
flannels common quality at one dollar fifty cents per yard
callicoes assorted at one dollar per yard
domestic cotton at one dollar twenty five cents per yard
Thread assorted at three dollars per pound
worsted binding [?] at fifteen dollars per gross pound
finger rings at five dollars per Gross.
Beads assorted at two fifty cents per pound
Vermillion at three dollars per pound
files assorted at two dollars fifty cents per pound
fourth proof rum reduced [?] at thirteen dollars fifty cents per Gallon
Bridles assorted seven dollars each
spurs at two dollars per pair
Horse shoes and nails at two dollars per pound
tin pans assorted at two dollars per pound
hand kerchiefs assorted at one dollar fifty cents each.
ribbons assorted at three dollars per bolt
Buttons at five dollars per Gross
Looking glasses at fifty cents each
flints at fifty cents per dozen
mockacine alls at twenty five cents per dozen
Tabacco at one dollar twenty five cents per pound
Copper Kettles at three dollars per pound
Iron Buckles assorted at two dollars fifty cents per pound
fire steels at two dollars per pound
Dried fruit at one dollar and fifty cents per pound
Washing soap at one dollar twenty five cents per pound
Shaving soap at two dollars per pound
first quality James River Tobacco at one dollar seventy five cents per pound
Steel Bracelets at one dollar fifty cents per pair
Large Brass wire at two dollars per pound
which merchandise is to be by said Ashley or his agent delivered to said Smith Jackson & Sublett or to their agent at or near the west end of the little lake of Bear river a watter of the pacific ocean on or before the first day of July 1827 without some unavoidable occurrence should prevent, but as it is uncertain whether the situation of said Smith Jackson & Subletts business will Justify the proposed purchase of Merchandise as aforesaid it is understood and agreed between the said parties that the said party of the second part shall send an Express to said Ashley to reach him in St Louis on or before the first day of March next with orders to forward the merchandize as aforesaid, and on its arrival at its place of destination, that they the said Smith Jackson & Sublett will pay him the said Ashley the amount for Merchandise sold them on this day for which the said Ashley holds their notes payable the first day of July 1827 for, and it is further understood that the amount of merchandise to be delivered as aforesaid on or before the first of July 1827 shall be not less than Seven Thousand dollars nor more than fifteen thousand and If it is in the power of said party of the second party to make further payment in part or in whole for the Merchandize there to be delivered that they will do so or If not that they will pay the amount at St. Louis on or before the first day of October in the year 1828 but If the said party of the first part receive no order from said party of the second part to forward said Merchandize as aforesaid or direction not to forward it by or before the time before mentioned then this article of agreement to be null and void and it is understood and agreed between the two said parties that so long as the said Ashley continues to furnish said Smith Jackson & Sublett with Merchandize as aforesaid That he will furnish no other company or Individual with Merchandise other than those who may be in his immediate charge service
In presence of Robert Campbell
Wm H Ashley
J S Smith
D E Jackson
Wm L Sublette
There are two major points of interest in this agreement between Ashley and Smith Jackson and Sublette:
The contract does not stipulate William Ashley is the sole supplier for Smith Jackson and Sublette. Based on the agreement, Smith Jackson and Sublette must notify Ashley by March 1 of the year prior to the rendezvous or the contract is null and void
Based on the agreement, Ashley supplied the trade goods at a fixed price. If, as is often stated, the supplies were marked up sometimes a thousand percent, it was by Smith Jackson and Sublette not Ashley.
Ashley never attended a rendezvous as the supplier for Smith Jackson and Sublette. Ashley hired Hyrum Scott to be in charge of the supply train to the 1827 rendezvous. This was the only rendezvous Ashley could be considered the supplier, and then he was in partnership with Pierre Chouteau and Company. For the 1828 Rendezvous, Sublette bought trade goods fromAshley and the Auld Brothers of Lexington, Missouri.
Hyrum Scott and forty-six men took the 1827 supply caravan to the Sweet Lake (Bear Lake) rendezvous near Laketown, Utah. The Ashley trade goods sent out this year included alcohol (Rum). This was the first listing of alcohol in the trade goods, but there are reports of alcohol at the two previous rendezvous. With the caravan was a small cannon mounted on two wheels. The two-wheeled cart made the first wheeled tracks over South Pass.
On the way back to St. Louis with the furs, Hiram Scott become ill and was abandoned. Scott’s body was found three years later near Scotts Bluff, Nebraska.
The fact several CongressionalTrade and Intercourse Acts (1790-1802) made it illegal to trespass on Indian lands, sell alcohol to Indians, trade for Indian horses, or the fact that the 1825 and the 1826 rendezvous were held on Mexican soil did not bother General William H. Ashley, the Lieutenant Governor and future Missouri Congressman, one bit…one constant in history is politician change little with time.
Myths connected with William Ashley:
Ashley was never a mountain man – he went to the mountains twice.
Ashley was not the sole supplier for Smith, Jackson and Sublette.
Ashley was a congressman – never a Senator.
Etienne Provost was not an Ashley man.
The Ashley article was written by Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming.
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