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Lewis and Clark’s


Meriwether Lewis
Meriwether Lewis

Idaho was the last of the 50 states to be entered by whites, although European or American wares had reached the area through trade and diseases such as small pox had struck the Nez Perce before white explorers arrived. The American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first white men known to have entered the Idaho country. Their expedition, which sought a water route to the Pacific Ocean in 1805, crossed the challenging Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho where they ran out of food (see Lewis and Clark Expedition). During an encounter with the Nez Perce, Clark distributed ointments for eyes, which the Nez Perce found very effective.

Lewis and Clark’s discoveries encouraged fur traders to explore the area. They later found less difficult routes across Idaho to the north and the south of the great central mountain barrier. In 1809 David Thompson, working for the North West Company, a Montréal-based fur-trading company, established Kullyspell House, on Lake Pend Oreille. This was the first trading post in what are now Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. In 1811 Wilson Price Hunt and Donald Mackenzie of the Pacific Fur Company led a party through the Snake River valley in southern Idaho on its way to the company’s headquarters at the mouth of the Columbia River. Much of the route they took across Idaho later formed part of the Oregon Trail, over which thousands of migrants traveled westward in the 1840s and 1850s. Initially the North West Company, which was merged with the British-owned Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, carried on fur-trading activities in the Idaho country, with little or no competition.

General Henry William Ashley


Then in 1825, Missouri businessman General Henry William Ashley developed a trading practice called the “rendez-vous” system. Instead of established trading posts, the system had annual gatherings where American fur trappers, known as mountain men, and Native Americans met and exchanged goods in Idaho country. The rendez-vous system was less costly to operate than trading posts. It remained popular, but was supplemented in the 1830s with two trading posts. In 1834 Nathaniel Wyeth, a businessman from Boston, established Fort Hall in Idaho. In response, the Hudson’s Bay Company built Fort Boise near an annual rendez-vous location near the Snake and Boise rivers. In 1836 Wyeth sold his fort to the Hudson’s Bay Company. By the early 1840s the fur traders had greatly reduced the region’s fur supply. After that, the Hudson’s Bay Company controlled what little trade was left through their two Snake River valley posts, Fort Hall and Fort Boise, which later came to serve primarily as outposts on the Oregon Trail. "Idaho" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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