In 1803, the United States acquired a vast amount of land from France – the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson wasted no time, commissioning a group known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore that land and beyond. Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark set out from St. Charles, Missouri, following the Missouri River all the way to its headwaters. They then descended the mountains and made their way to what is now Oregon. The expedition’s objectives were largely fulfilled – to map out and explore the newly acquired territory, to observe the plant and animal life and establish a relationship with the Indians.
After Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the fur trade opened up. John Jacob Astor was a wealthy businessman who commissioned his own expedition in 1810. From 1810 until 1840 the fur trade was a lucrative business. But by 1840 the demand for fur decreased and emigration west would soon begin in earnest. In the 1830s, missionaries began to make their way to Oregon Territory. Most notably, Narcissus Whitman, who accompanied her husband Marcus on the trek west, was the first American woman to cross the Rocky Mountains.
NOTE: Digging History is now a monthly digital (PDF) magazine. This article will be included in a future edition of Digging History Magazine. Check out the latest issue here: www.digginghistorymag.com or try a subscription here.