The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) began in 1670 to trade furs in the North American Northeast. While they controlled a massive area—the drainage basin of Hudson’s Bay, called Rupert’s Land—they wished to the be the sole fur traders in the North. They faced stiff competition, however. The magnate John Jacob Astor hoped to make his Pacific Fur Company a profitable competitor.
Robert Stuart was an employee of the Pacific Fur Company. He sailed on the Tonquin, the Company’s ship, around Cape Horn to the Pacific Northwest. The crew established Fort Astoria in May 1811. The Tonquin continued to trade up the coast, but its crew was killed, and the boat destroyed, in an altercation with the Tla-o-qui-aht nation. Stuart was part of the overland expedition that was to deliver news of this setback.
Stuart and his party traveled up the Columbia, then along the Snake River to American Falls and Soda Springs. This would become a crucial part of the Oregon Trail. They explored Wyoming then followed the North Platte River, arriving in St. Louis in late April 1813. His adventures were popularized in Washington Irving’s Astoria.