Peter Skene Ogden (c. 1790-1854)

Peter Skene Ogden was a key figure in the land-based fur trade of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia during the first half of the nineteenth century. This photograph of him was probably taken sometime around 1850 when he was in his late 50s or early 60s.

Born in Quebec in 1794, Ogden worked as a servant of the Montreal-based North West Company from 1809 to 1821, during which time he earned a reputation for violence among his superiors. In 1818, he was sent to the Columbia District, in part to avoid murder charges brought against him in Lower Canada for his role in the brutal murder of a Native man.

In the 1820s, after the merger of the North West Company and the London-based Hudson’s Bay Company, Ogden led a series of extensive trapping expeditions throughout the Pacific Northwest. These expeditions trapped beaver, river otter, and other fur-bearing animals in the mostly unexplored Pacific slope of the Rocky Mountains, the Snake River Plain, the Great Basin, and the almost completely unknown lands between the Willamette Valley and the Spanish missions of California.

Ogden’s journeys of the 1820s were primarily for exploitation, not exploration. To slow American expansionism, the Hudson’s Bay Company sought to create a “fur desert” around the valuable Columbia River region, trapping out every stream they came across. In the process of leading these trapping expeditions, Ogden came to know the region better than any previous explorer.

In 1830, Ogden was transferred to New Caledonia (British Columbia), where he helped establish Ft. Simpson. He returned to Ft. Vancouver in 1845, succeeding John McLoughlin as chief factor of the Columbia District. He continued in this position until his death in 1854. He is buried in Oregon City.

Written by Cain Allen, © Oregon Historical Society, 2003.

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This entry was last updated on March 17, 2018