A photo portrait of Peter Skene Ogden from the 1850s. (Public domain photo)

HAPHAZARD HISTORY: Peter Skene Ogden

Peter Skene Ogden was a fur trader and explorer, 100 Mile House school bears his name

Barry Sale

Special to Black Press Media

Most residents of the Cariboo know that the high school in 100 Mile House is named Peter Skene Ogden Secondary.

Some may have a vague idea that the school was named after a fur trader and explorer, but most know little about the man.

So, who was Peter Skene Ogden, and how is he connected to our past?

Read more: HAPHAZARD HISTORY: Williams Lake street names

His life story is an interesting piece of history that bears repeating.

Peter Skene Ogden was born in Quebec City in 1790, the 10th child of Isaac Ogden, who became Chief Justice of the Quebec Court and his wife, Sarah.

Peter was educated at the best schools, and his father had plans for him to become a lawyer, but he was not interested.

He was a temperamental lad with a stubborn streak, and at the age of 15 he decided to head out on his own, looking for freedom and adventure.

Without his family’s permission, he joined the American Fur Company as a clerk.

Four years later, in 1809, he signed up for a seven year clerkship with the Montreal-based Northwest Company, the main rival to the HBC.

Ogden was assigned to a small trading post at isle a la Crosse in Saskatchewan, and there he began making a rather negative reputation as a ruthless bully, harassing traders who dealt with the nearby HBC post.

The HBC journals tell of Ogden slashing clothes and packs, breaking fingers and slapping and punching men without provocation.

It was a pattern of behaviour which repeated itself at subsequent postings.

In 1816, he was accused of murdering a First Nations man who insisted on trading with the HBC. There were also rumours that he was involved win two other similar murders.

Before an arrest warrant could be served, Ogden’s superiors arranged a quick transfer out to the Columbia District, and he left within days, leaving behind his Cree country wife, but taking his two young sons, Peter and Charles with him.

He was assigned to Fort George, at the mouth of the Columbia River, now the present city of Astoria, Oregon.

There, he almost immediately became caught up in a messy dispute between a group of Iroquois trappers and the local Cowlitz natives.

Several people were killed, and Ogden’s reputation as a negotiator and administrator suffered even further.

In order to remove him from the continuing and volatile situation, the Northwest Company reassigned Ogden to Spokane House for the winter of 1818/19.

There, he did much better than the company expected, making good profits on trade and keeping good order.

That summer (1819) he took a new country wife, Julia Rivet.

She was a full Salish woman from the Flathead tribe who had been widowed at 19, and who was living with her mother and stepfather, Francois Rivet, a French Canadian trapper and guide.

Julia was not an easy catch, nor did she come cheap.

It cost Ogden half his life savings, 50 horses, which he traded in ceremonial fashion for her hand. She made it very plain to him that she would not be left behind while he did his travels, and she accompanied him everywhere.

She willingly adopted his two young sons and, together, they had six more children.

In 1821, the Northwest Company and the Hudson Bay Company merged. Ogden’s past history with the HBC and their traders meant that he was not welcome in the new HBC.

Ogden refused to accept this, and he travelled all the way to London to meet with the Board of Governors to plead his case.

Governor George Simpson spoke in his favour, arguing that Ogden had done no more than many others during the “fur trade wars.”

He was finally accepted, and appointed Chief Trader in charge of Spokane House in 1823. Then, in 1824, he was promoted and put in charge of the Snake River country in the HBC’s Columbia region.

Between 1824 and 1830, Ogden led six major expeditions to explore the Pacific Northwest.

These included the Snake and Bitteroot River watersheds in Utah, the Columbia River and Blue Mountains areas in Oregon, large areas of what are now Washington and Montana, the Great Salt Lake area and the western Great Basin and northern California.

He served the HBC with dedication and distinction, opening up the northwest to settlement and establishing fur trading routes.

He left the Snake River assignment in 1830 and took a position at Fort Colville.

That spring, Ogden received orders that he was being sent north to the New Caledonia District (now British Columbia) to establish a new HBC post named Fort Simpson at the mouth of the Nass River.

He also tried to expand the HBC’s trading influence into Alaska.

In 1834, he was promoted to Chief Factor, the highest field rank in the company.

The whole family moved to Fort St. James on Stuart Lake, which was the district’s headquarters.

There, Julia gave birth to her sixth child, a boy they called Isaac. She was 51 years old at the time.

In 1844, the family returned south to Fort Vancouver (Washington).

Ogden was summoned to London. It was the time of the boundary dispute between England and the U.S.

Ogden was tasked with escorting two British army officers across the country for them to assess the possibilities of using key HBC trading posts as military installations in the case of an armed conflict.

After the Oregon Boundary Treaty was signed and ratified the HBC continued its operations in the northwest.

Peter Skene Ogden and his long-time associate, James Douglas, were appointed join Masters of Fort Vancouver in 1847.

Ogden enjoyed this new posting, which was like a semi retirement, judging horse races, becoming a patron of the curling club, writing articles in newspapers and magazines and offering advice to American settlers, who were pouring into the region.

That same year, Ogden showed his diplomatic skills in resolving a hostage taking incident where some men from the Cayuse tribe killed 14 people and took 47 prisoners near present-day Walla Walla, Washington.

He was able to negotiate an exchange of the captives for a supply of trade goods and seven oxen.

Ogden served as the Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver for almost six more years. In 1854, his health deteriorated rapidly and he and Julia retired to the home of their daughter in Oregon City.

He passed away there on Sept. 27, 1854 at the age of 64. Julia lived for another three decades.

Because Ogden had never legalized his marriage to Julia, his brother and sister began legal proceedings to disinherit her and all their children.

This was despite Ogden’s written will which clearly stated “should any relation of mine or any other individual attempt to dispute this will … I declare that I disinherit them as full as the law authorizes me.”

The local HBC Governor, John McLoughlin, intervened in this dispute and enabled a satisfactory resolution.

Ogden’s name is remembered throughout the Pacific Northwest. Ogden, Utah, Ogden Point in Victoria, Peter Skene Ogden state park in Oregon, several streets and at least four schools carry his name.

There is no doubt that Peter Skene Ogden contributed greatly to the expansion of the west and the fur trade during the first half of the 19th century.

He was a man who had overcome a ruthless streak and a flawed past to become a shrewd trader, a trusted employee, a capable negotiator and a true explorer.

Read more: Haphazard History: 150 Mile House early economic hub

Read more: Haphazard History: 150 Mile House an important supply depot



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