Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Antoine Godin and his father Thyery were Iroquois Indians employed by the North West Company, a British company operating out of Canada.  In 1816, the North West Company made a policy decision to hire such men because of their superior skills as trappers, hunters and boatmen.  

Godin and others were probably hired on in the Montreal area, to serve in the fur trade in the Oregon Country.  In 1821 the North West Company merged with the Hudson ’s Bay Company, and the Iroquois became employees of the latter company.  

In spite of their skills as hunters and trappers, the Iroquois were not ideal employees.  When supervised, “they were rebellious – even mutinous” and when left on their own, they tended to scatter in small groups to live with the local Indians. 

Antoine Godin was probably born prior to 1810, because when he is first mentioned in the journal of Peter Skene Ogden in 1825, he is already an engageé working in the northern Rocky Mountains.  At this time, Antoine’s father had already defected to American fur trappers at the urging of Johnson Gardner. Gardner had promised that those who defected would receive higher prices for their furs while being charged lower prices for goods and supplies.  As a result of Gardner's visits, twenty-three Iroquois and Canadian freeman collected their furs, and went over to the Americans.

In the year following his father’s desertion from the Hudson’s Bay Company Antoine sought out as well.  Instead of simply deserting, Antoine Godin went to Ogden to request a release from his obligations to the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Ogden writes “… being a worthless scamp, I gave him his liberty…”  

In either 1828 or 1830, Godin’s father was slain by Blackfoot Indians. Thereafter, Antoine would carry a vindictive hatred for all Blackfoot Indians and their allies. While on the way to the 1832 Rendezvous, Godin would find Thomas Fitzpatrick, emaciated and without horse or equipment, his feet bare, and his clothing in shreds.  Zenas Leonard observed "...he could not have lived too many more days."  Fitzpatrick had been attacked and robbed several weeks earlier by Blackfoot Indians (actually Gros Ventre, a closely allied tribe) when he had ridden ahead of the pack train to alert the trappers at rendezvous of the caravans arrival.  Godin brought Fitzpatrick in to the rendezvous at a time when many there had already given Fitzpatrick up for dead.  (For more about Fitzpatrick's Blackfoot Adventure) After breakup of the rendezvous, Godin joined a brigade of about 42 men led by Milton Sublette.

This party also included Nathaniel Wyeth and eleven of his men.  On the morning of the second day after leaving rendezvous, a large group of people with pack animals were observed approaching the camp.  Initially there was no alarm, for this group was assumed to be the supply train for the American Fur Company lead by Lucien Fontenelle, which had failed to show up in time for the rendezvous.  

As the group came closer, it became apparent they were not the missing supply train, but a rather a party of about 200 Blackfoot Indians and their families, who were moving the location of their village.  Because they were in transit with their families, this group was not seeking a fight with the mountain men.  Signs were made for peace, and one of the Blackfoot Chiefs rode forward, as did Antoine Godin and Baptiste Dorian.  Godin saw this as a chance to avenge the death of his father. Coming even with the Blackfoot Chief, Godin grasped the Chief’s rifle and called to Dorian to shoot the Chief which Dorian did.  The two trappers then stole the Chief’s bright red blanket and raced back to the trappers brigade, thus initiating the "Battle of Pierre’s Hole".

By 1834 Antoine Godin was employed at Fort Hall by Nathaniel Wyeth.  An entry in one of the fort’s account books notes that Godin was not reliable, and should have only limited credit.  Other entries in the account book show that Godin was a meat hunter for the fort from 1834 to mid 1836.  

On May 22, 1836 , Godin was invited to trade for furs by a half-breed named James Bird.  Arriving alone in Bird’s camp, located in full view of Fort Hall, Godin sat down to smoke a pipe with Bird and his Blackfoot companions prior to trading. As the pipe came to Godin, one of the Blackfeet raised his gun and shot Godin. Although unable to save Godin, men from the fort were able to prevent the Blackfeet from stealing his personal effects.  Godin’s blanket, rifle, saddle, camp ax, powder horn and knife were all shown as credits towards his account in the fort’s ledger on  May 23, 1836.

To learn more about Antoine Godin see the following references:

The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. 2, edited by LeRoy R Hafen, published 1965 by the Arthur H Clark Company.

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