Ogden, Peter Skeene
b. 1790-02-12
d. 1854-09-27
Peter Skene Ogden, fur trader and explorer, was born in Montreal on 12 February 1790. Son of a judge, Ogden was expected to follow a legal career, but the allure of the fur-trade proved too great, and Ogden signed on with the North West Company as a junior clerk in 1809.1
Sent west to Île-à-la-Crosse in Saskatchewan, Ogden soon acquired a ferocious reputation for intimidation and physical violence against rival HBC employees. In May 1816, Ogden and a group of NWC toughs forced the HBC fort at Edmonton House to hand over an Indigenous person who had been trading with the HBC. Once in their hands, Ogden and his men murdered him in full view of the fort's walls. Murder, even of an Indigenous person, could not go completely unpunished, and news of the crime led to an indictment being drawn up against Ogden by the HBC. The needle was only so long, however, and Ogden was transferred by the NWC west to the Columbia Department, out of reach of the HBC, eventually being put in charge of Thompson's River Post near Kamloops, BC.2
The HBC did not forget Ogden, and excluded him from the company when it absorbed the NWC in 1821, although they left him in charge of Thompson's river, fearing the damage he could do if hastily forced out. Ogden, determined to clear his name and continue trading, travelled to England, where he won over HBC Governor George Simpson. Simpson was impressed by the aggressive trader, whom he believed had behaved no worse than others in lawless North America and whom he felt could be profitably employed by the HBC. Ogden was thus made a chief trader, sent back to Spokane House, and ordered to fit out a trapping expedition to the Snake River country in the spring of 1824.3
Ogden's expedition into Snake River country, hitherto relatively unknown and unmapped by Europeans, was a combination of trading and exploration. From 1824 to 1830 Odgen and his men made six different expeditions into much of the American south west, an inhospitable and sometimes hostile region. Ogden made European discoveries of the Humboldt river and the Great Salt Lake in Utah and likely ventured as far as the Gulf of California, all the while trapping without restraint, having been ordered by Governor Simpson to destroy the beaver population before the area was handed over to the United States and lost to the HBC. He was wildly successful in this regard: his expiditions returned over 100 per cent profit.4
Ogden spent from 1835 to 1845 on the western coast of British Columbia and later Stuart Lake. Successful at these postings, he was promoted in 1845 to the HBC's management board of the Columbia District. After the Oregon Boundary Treaty set the border at the 49th parallel, Ogden was sent south to manage HBC property now located in the United States. Most of his time was spent dealing with the problems caused by increasing numbers of American settlers, whose presence destabilized the HBC's relationship with local Indigenous Peoples. In December 1847 Ogden's rapid intervention saved 47 American settlers and missionaries who had been taken hostage by the Cayuse, an act that earned the company, and especially Ogden, considerable good will.5
Ogden died in Oregon City on 19 September 1854.
  • 1. Glyndwr Williams, Ogden, Peter Skene, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
Mentions of this person in the documents