By 1822 William Ashley had made quite a successful life for himself. He had earned a sizeable sum of money mining saltpeter from a cave in Missouri for the manufacture of gunpowder. During the war of 1812 he had earned the rank of Brigadier General in the Missouri state militia. In 1820 he was even named Lieutenant Governor of his adopted state. Yet Ashley had greater ambitions, which soon became evident in a famous advertisement he and partner Andrew Henry ran in St. Louis newspapers.
All of these men had at least two things in common: a thirst for adventure and they would be led by Ashley. In effect, Ashley and Henry’s advertisement would lead to the first explorations of Bighorn Canyon country.
The Rocky Mountain Fur Company would be competing head to head with the Missouri Fur Company. It would need to make incursions into new territory, in search of rich beaver trapping areas. The first expedition in Bighorn Canyon country took place in 1823 when the company sent couriers across the Bad Pass Trail taking messages to the Wind River region of Wyoming.
Perfecting The Rendezvous
One member of this inaugural expedition did chance the rapids though. Jim Bridger, mountain man par excellence, built a boat out of driftwood and managed to navigate the Bighorn, making the first recorded passage through the canyon. By August 7th, Ashley’s party arrived just below the mouth of the canyon - the end of the Bad Pass Trail - at Grapevine Creek. Here they constructed bullboats over the next 5 days, floating the Bighorn. Part of the company, led by William Sublette was sent back over the Bad Pass Trail to continue trapping around the Green River area.
Value And Efficiency
They could stay out in the field longer, while the rendezvous became their once a year lifeline. The rendezvous became more then just a trading place, it turned into a weeks long festival whereby the trappers would eat, drink, play games, and tell stories. These meetings became a way of life.
Changes In Style
In Ashley’s absence, the rendezvous continued to grow. It peaked in the early 1830’s. By the time Ashley passed away in 1838 beaver resources were depleted and a change in style away from beaver fur hats led to the end of the rendezvous. Nonetheless, William Ashley’s innovative business sense had changed the West forever. Now previously remote regions such as Bighorn Canyon were becoming known.
Did You Know?
There are over 350 Abandoned Mineral land sites recorded in Bighorn Canyon, and even more are being discovered. These sites are the result of a mining boom, caused by the search for uranium in the production of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Even with research the names of the companies responsible for the test sites have not been found. More...