After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview

12

TOM FITZPATRICK:
MISSIONARIES TO OREGON

THOMAS FITZPATRICK, mountain man and fur trader; Marcus Whitman, medical doctor and Presbyterian divine. They met in the last days of July 1835, as the annual supply caravan plodding toward rendezvous paused at Fort William, the log trading post erected by William Sublette a year earlier on the Laramie River, just above its confluence with the North Platte. The meeting of these two men of such disparate backgrounds and personalities exemplified an uneasy union of mountain men and missionaries that would bear heavily on the future of the Oregon country.

Dr. Marcus Whitman and the Reverend Samuel Parker were headed for Oregon, supposedly called by tribesmen eager to learn of the white peoples religion. A traveler could reach Oregon by ship, as had one contingent of the Astorians, but that entailed a voyage of six months or more, around the Horn to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and thence to the Hudson's Bay Company headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia. The only other course was an overland crossing. For neophyte overlanders, only the mountain man claimed the knowledge, skill, and experience to get them safely across the continent.

Less than three months before meeting Whitman and Parker in July 1835, Tom Fitzpatrick had taken possession of Fort William. The collapse of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company the previous summer had left a void in the mountains. The fledgling firm of Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick & Company sought to fill it. With William Sublette increasingly confining his activities to St. Louis, he persuaded the new firm to buy his strategically sited post.

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