Osborne Russell's Journal of a Trapper

Osborne Russell's Journal of a Trapper

Osborne Russell's Journal of a Trapper

Osborne Russell's Journal of a Trapper


Born in a little Maine village in 1814, Osborne Russell ran away to sea at the age of sixteen, but he soon gave up seafaring to serve with a trading and trapping company in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1834 he signed up for Nathaniel Wyeth's expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the mouth of the Columbia. Subsequently he joined Jim Bridger's brigade of old Rocky Mountain Fur Company men, continuing with them after a merger that left the American Fur Company in control of the trade. When the fur trade declined, he became a free trapper operating out of Fort Hall, staying in the mountains until the great Westward migration began.

Osborne Russell's journal covering the years 1834 to 1843 is, in the words of editor Aubrey L. Haines, "perhaps the best account of the fur trapper in the Rocky Mountains when the trade there was at its peak. It is a factual, unembellished narrative written by one who was not only a trapper but also a keen observer and an able writer." Edited from the original manuscript and originally printed in a limited edition of 750 copies, this classic piece of Western Americana is now available to the general public.


The author of Journal of a Trapper is not nearly so well known as his priceless book. He was more than a trapper or a mere journalist, for out of the adventurous years he so faithfully records emerged a mature man of high character and good works who should not be forgotten.

Osborne Russell was born June 12, 1814, at the little village of Bowdoinham, Maine, on the estuary of the Kennebec River. He was one of nine children in the family of George G. and Eleanor (Power) Russell; a family which had New Hampshire roots. Osborne's boyhood was probably typical of the Maine farmboy of that day, and there is no doubt the environment was a wholesome one, for, despite the limited schooling which Russell mentions, he developed into an able young man of good morals and sound judgment. According to his great-nephew, L. A. York, Russell ran away to sea at the age of 16 but soon gave up that career by deserting his ship at New York, after which he spent three years in the service of what was called the Northwest Fur Trapping and Trading Company, operating in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Nothing else is known of him until he joined Wyeth's expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the mouth of the Columbia River in 1834.

Nathaniel J. Wyeth had become interested in colonizing the Oregon country, and in the business possibilities there, through the influence of Hall J. Kelley, a one-time Boston school teacher. After years of effort, Kelley succeeded in 1831 in organizing the Oregon Colonization Society, to which Wyeth agreed to attach himself with a company which he would raise. Kelley's plans for an overland expedition to Oregon failed, but Wyeth went ahead and led his party across the country in 1832 along the route which later became the Oregon Trail.

The first expedition was pushed with the resourcefulness characteristic of Wyeth, but inexperience, desertion, sickness and the . . .

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