Peter Skene Ogden
by Tom Laidlaw
Peter Skene Ogden was born into a family divided by the American Revolution. His father, Isaac, was an American lawyer in New Jersey, but he married a loyalist lady, Sarah Hanson. After the Revolution they went first to England and eventually Isaac was appointed to a judgeship in Quebec. where Peter Skene was born in 1794. Shortly after Peter's birth his father was appointed as a judge in Montreal, where Peter grew up watching the fur trade exchanges take place at the falls of Lachine. The great sailing ships could go no further up the St. Lawrence River than Montreal, so it was here they offloaded their trade goods and supplies and took on cargoes of rich beaver pelts brought by hardy, intrepid voyageurs from as far west as the Rocky mountains. While the father dreamed about the west depicted in the mythical maps of Peter Pond, the son would spend his whole life exploring and exploiting the land beyond the Rockies, from headwaters of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers to the mouth of the Colorado.
Now at this time there were three great fur trading companies in North America, the Hudson's Bay Co. and Northwest Co. of England and John Jacob Astor's young American Fur Company. Ogden worked for all three of them. In 1910, at 16, he applied to the NW Company, but they had no place for him, so he went to Astor and was hired as a clerk. Shortly afterward the NW Company found a place for him and he was sent north and west to Ile a la Cross in central Canada.
Ogden, as a clerk for the NWC, thought it was his job to harass the officers of the older Hudson's Bay Company. He did a good job of it, too, along with his fellow clerk Samuel Black. Somewhere around 1817 he supposedly killed and mutilated an Indian who had stolen some furs from the company. When a warrant was issued for his arrest the company moved him to Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia River. This outpost was formerly the headquarters of John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company, which had been bought by the NWC during the war of 1812. That war ended with a joint occupancy agreement between the two countries covering the entire Oregon Country -- the rocky Mountians to the Pacific and California to Alaska
In 1821 the NWC was itself absorbed by the HBC, but Ogden and Samuel Grant were not invited into the combined company, because they had given them so much trouble in the past. Oh, but would Ogden mind staying in charge of the fort at Thompson River until they could find a replacement? Cheeky! Eventually Ogden went to London and won back his position along with Samuel black. They were finally admitted as Chief Traders, after George simpson warned the Governor and committee that the two of them might form their own company and go into competition; They were both excellent fur traders and commanders of men.
By 1824 the American trappers were beginning to cross the Rocky Mountains, and HBC wanted the land for England. Ogden was assigned to the Snake River Brigades, where he was assigned to make a fur desert of the whole Snake River drainage. For six years he crisscrosssed Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and even California.