Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Marie Dorian:

Marie Dorian, an Iowa Indian woman, was married to Pierre Dorian. Her story is an example of incredible courage, mountain savvy and an iron will to survive.  Dorian and his wife were members of Reed’s party, members of the Astorians and a part of John Jacob Astor’s earliest attempt to seize a monopoly of the fur trade from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Reed’s party consisted of nine men plus Dorian’s wife and their two children.  Dorian served the party both as an interpreter as well as a trapper and hunter.  The party had its main camp near the mouth of the Boise River with several outlying hunting camps in the fall/winter of 1813-1814.

Most of the Shoshone Indians in the area were friendly; however, a band of “bad Snakes” persistently harassed the Astorians.  In January of 1814, most of Reed’s party was hunting out of the main camp at the confluence of the Boise River and Snake river, but a smaller party consisting of Jacob Reznor, Giles LeClerc and Pierre Dorian traveled to a location several days journey up the Boise River where they set up a small hunting camp.  Dorian’s wife remained behind in the main camp.

After several incidents with the “bad Snakes” a friendly Indian alerted those remaining at the main camp, including Dorian’s wife, that there might be trouble at the remote camp.  She took a horse and bundling up her children (one of whom was an infant, and the other probably not much more than a toddler) set off for her husband's camp.

After three days of travel through a wintry landscape, she approached the hut of her husband and his companions.  Only one man was there, Giles LeClerc, badly wounded and bloody.  He told her how the men had been attacked that morning while working their traps.  Both Dorian and Reznor had been killed and only LeClerc had survived the attack.  The woman boosted the badly injured man onto the horse along with the infant and turned back toward the main camp and safety.  

While on the return trip, LeClerc fell off the horse twice, and after being nursed for one full day, finally died in the night.  Placing both children on the horse, the woman hurried the remaining distance to the main camp.  There, instead of the expected safety, she found fresh horror.  The camp was a shambles and all of the men had been murdered, scalped and dismembered.  Death and destruction were striking all around her and her little ones, and it must have seemed only a matter of time before it would find her too.

Salvaging what little food and other supplies that remained in the gutted camp, she loaded everything onto the horse, including her children and headed to the west and presumed safety.  For three months she traveled with her children across the snow-choked Blue Mountains under conditions that might have proved deadly to even an experienced mountain man.  By springtime she had made her way down to the Columbia River and found refuge amongst the Walla Walla Indians. Finally in April 1814, she was rescued by a party belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company traveling up the river from Fort Vancouver.   

To this woman belongs a remarkable story of endurance, perseverance, survival skill, and an overwhelming will to live and to protect her children.  

For more information about Marie Dorian see also:

A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific, by Robert M Utley, published 1997 Henry Holt and Company.

The Fist in the Wilderness, by David Lavender, 1864, published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Kirkpatrick, Jane.  A Name of Her Own.  2002, Published by WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Fiction in a historical setting)

Kirkpatrick, Jane.  Every Fixed Star.  2003, Published by WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Fiction in a historical setting)

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