Malachite’s Big Hole
1834 Ham’s Fork Rendezvous:
During the winter and spring of 1834 major events would take place affecting the fur trade in the Upper Missouri River region and Rocky Mountains. The St. Louis Fur Company under William Sublette and Robert Campbell would be sold to the American Fur Company. Finally, John Jacob Astor would go into retirement, and would sell the Western Department of the American Fur Company to Pratte and Chouteau. Although this new company was named Pratte, Chouteau and Company, it and it’s successor companies would continue to be known as the American Fur Company. William Sublette would also become aware of the secret deal between Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy with Nathaniel Wyeth when a letter containing information pertaining to the agreement and addressed to Milton Sublette was erroneously delivered to William. As part of the buyout agreement between the American Fur Company and the St. Louis Fur Company, William Sublette had assured the American Fur Company that the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy would go out of business. This aspect of the deal would be threatened if the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was re-supplied by Wyeth. William Sublette determined to force the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy into liquidation. There ensued a race to the mountains between rival pack trains to re-supply the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.
Nathaniel Wyeth would leave Independence on April 28, 1834, with a pack train of 75 men and about 250 horses. This number would include Milton Sublette, Osborne Russell, Calvin T. Briggs, Jason Lee, a Methodist missionary and his four companions, and two naturalists, Thomas Nutall and Kirk Townsend. Milton Sublette would return to Independence on May 8th because of a diseased leg.
William Sublette would not leave Independence until May 5th, seven days after Nathaniel Wyeth. William Sublette’s party consisted of 37 men and 95 horses. Also leaving that spring with pack trains bound for the mountains would be Michael S. Cerre with supplies for Bonneville, and Fontenelle with supplies for the American Fur Company. The supply trains would take the familiar route up the North Platte, thence up the Sweetwater and over South Pass.
William Sublette with his long experience in packing supplies to the mountains would easily overtake and pass Nathaniel Wyeth, who was also burdened with the missionaries and naturalists, on May 12, just seven days after leaving St. Louis. Wyeth would forward a letter ahead to Thomas Fitzpatrick imploring him not to trade with William Sublette, and telling Fitzpatrick that Wyeth’s train would be at rendezvous no later than July 1st. On reaching the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers, William Sublette would direct a number of the men from his supply train to remain at this location and commence construction of Fort William. Sublette would then continue on with the remainder of his men and supplies for rendezvous.
William Sublette made contact with Thomas Fitzpatrick on June 15th. However, on June 19th, the combined parties would move up to Ham’s Fork, a tributary to Black’s Fork of the Green River. The site of this years rendezvous was again located in the territory of Mexico. (Map)
Wyeth would arrive on June 18th at the confluence of the Sandy and Green River’s, the agreed location of the rendezvous, to find no one present. Traveling upstream, he found the encampment of Fitzpatrick and William Sublette. To his disappointment, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company broke its contract with him, and refused his goods. It is likely that William Sublette was able to accomplish this by calling in the debts owed by the partners of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and thus forcing it into insolvency.
Wyeth expresses his feelings in a letter dated July 1st to Milton Sublette back in St. Louis, “…Now Milton, business is closed between us, but you will find that you have only bound yourself over to receive your supplies at such price as may be inflicted and that all you will ever make in the country will go to pay for your goods, you will be kept as you have been a mere slave to catch Beaver for others.” On June 20th, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy was dissolved and a new company formed, Fitzpatrick, Sublette and Bridger Company. This company would not exist for more than a few days.
Jim Bridger would arrive at rendezvous on June 25th, and at this same time Wyeth removed his encampment about 10 miles upstream, where he would remain until July 2nd. Fitzpatrick, William Sublette and the combined companies moved upstream a few miles for better pasture on June 28th, where they remained until July 10th when William Sublette returned to St. Louis, effectively ending the rendezvous. Those still at the encampment on July 12th then moved upstream and additional 15 or 20 miles.
On his arrival in St. Louis in late August, furs William Sublette returned from the mountains were valued at $12,250, but not all of these belonged to the now defunct Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy. Those were valued at less than $10,000, less than the debt of the new company.
The date of arrival of Andrew Drips and Lucien Fontenelle is not certain. The American Fur Company encamped at the mouth of Ham’s Fork. Thus on June 28th, there were three camps along Ham’s Fork spread over about 14 miles. Both Wyeth and Fontenelle were successful at recruiting trappers associated with the now defunct Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Benjamin Bonneville was not present at this rendezvous, however, he and the trappers working for him received supplies from Michael Cerre at a location on the Bear River.
Wyeth, after trading as much of his trade goods for beaver as he was able, left rendezvous on July 2nd. He proceeded on to the confluence of the Portneuf and Snake Rivers where he founded Fort Hall, named after Henry Hall, one of his backers. Here he would trade with the Pawnee, Shoshone, Nez Perce and Flathead Indians for buffalo robes and beaver. Additionally the men in his brigade were obligated to him for one year, and they would trap streams in the surrounding mountains during the fall and spring hunts. In 1836 he would sell the fort to the Hudson’s Bay Company which would use its strategic location as an outpost for extending the “fur desert” to discourage Americans from entering the Oregon country.
After rendezvous was over, the old partners from the defunct Rocky Mountain Fur Company and Christy were traveling with Fontenelle. On August 3rd, Fitzpatrick, Sublette and Bridger Company would be dissolved, and a new company Fontenelle and Fitzpatrick Company was formed. Although only Fontenelle and Fitzpatrick were featured in the company name, the partners in the new venture also included Milton Sublette, James Bridger and Andrew Drips.
On August 7th, Fitzpatrick and Fontenelle returned to St. Louis to make supply arrangements for the 1835 rendezvous. The main problem faced by the new company was they were dependent on the American Fur Company for supplies. The American Fur Company, in its previous takeover of the St. Louis Fur Company had an agreement with William Sublette that they would stay out of the Northern Rocky Mountains in 1835.
Through a complicated three-way deal, an agreement was made whereby Sublette-Campbell would sell Fort William to Fontenelle-Fitzpatrick with a percentage of the operations going to Sublette-Campbell. The American Fur Company would send a supply train to the mountains, and Sublette-Campbell would cease sending supply trains to the mountains. This would be William Sublette and Robert Campbell’s last trip to the mountains. From this time forward they would put their efforts into real estate and mercantilism in Missouri.