Ordeal in Hell’s Canyon
The first men to follow Lewis and Clark across the continent to the Pacific were John Jacob Astor’s fur traders. They discovered the formidable chasm of Idaho’s Snake River—and almost never got out
December 1966 | Volume 18, Issue 1
The expedition had been a tragedy, but it had not been without its achievements. Although Hunt, the youthful businessman, had been unfit for its leadership, his bravery and persistence in forcing his way through to the Pacific had added greatly to men’s knowledge of the geography and terrain of the Northwest. His ordeals on the Snake River would show future travellers where not to venture, but his route as a whole did turn out to be shorter, faster, and easier than that of Lewis and Clark; almost all portions of the trail he blazed were used thereafter by western pioneers.
As for the full Astorian venture, it fell a victim to the War of 1812 and was eventually abandoned. But it lasted long enough to help establish the claim of the United States to the lower Columbia River and the Oregon country. Back in St. Louis, where he became the operator of a large farm, postmaster of the city, and a successful dealer in furs until his death in 1842, Hunt had the satisfaction of knowing that his trials on the Snake had provided a major basis for the American claim.