All western schoolchildren have heard of Sacagawea, and all western schoolchildren (and, of course, contemporary Disney enthusiasts) have heard of Pocahontas. But who was the great - and comparatively criminally unknown - Marie Dorion? No less than one of the most resilient, courageous, and frankly badassed women in history. Dorion (1786 – 1850) was the daughter of a French Canadian father and a Native American mother. A seasoned survivalist, she would go on to become the only female member of John Jacob Astor’s legendary Astoria expedition, whose goal was to establish the first trading post at the mouth of the Columbia.
Along with her (abusive) husband, Pierre Dorion, and a band of trappers, Marie traversed mountains, plains, and raging rivers - all with her small children in tow. After her spouse and the other members of her party were massacred and scalped, Marie and her two young sons set out against all odds across a glacial winter landscape. It was a bloodcurdling journey, and one that has more than earned its place in the epic-odyssey canon.
Today, the story of Marie Dorion and the Astoria expedition, or the story of Marie Dorion and John Jacob Astor, is the stuff of towering, yet still modestly stashed-away, history. Read on to find out more.
She Was the Only Woman On The Expedition - And Had Two Young Sons To Care For
Pierre Dorion was hired for Astor's expedition primarily because he spoke a variety of Sioux languages and dialects fluently. (His mother was a Sioux, and his father, Pierre Sr., had worked as an interpreter for Lewis and Clark). In 1811 Pierre, Marie, and their two sons (aged two and four) were slated to leave for said mission. But on the eve of the journey, according to historians, Pierre severely "beat [his wife], causing her to flee into the woods." Nevertheless, Marie and her children would go on to accompany the all-male party into the wilderness ... with Marie bearing sole responsibility for the welfare of the children.
Her Husband Rode A Horse Through The Rugged Territory, But Marie Walked It Like A Pro
When the Astor expedition left, they departed with an inadequate number of horses. Though most of the steeds were used as pack animals, Pierre Dorion imperiously rode one of them, while his wife (with their youngest child strapped to her back) walked alongside him. When the party reached the Snake River (a tributary of the Columbia), they abandoned their animals and, according to sources, "constructed 15 dugout canoes."
The remaining water-borne miles turned out to be lethally difficult to navigate: one person drowned, and the bulk of the expedition's food supplies were swept into the current, as well. As for Marie, she walked along the banks, apparently keeping perfect pace (along with her two sons) with the rest of the struggling expedition.
She Was Pregnant Throughout Her Ordeal - And Gave Birth Under Harrowing Circumstances
In addition to being responsible for her two existing children, Marie had an especially daunting hardship to contend with: she was eight months pregnant. As her time drew near, the members of her party finally came to their senses and gave her a horse to use, and in December of 1811, she gave birth to her third child.
After the event, the group apparently considered killing and cooking Marie’s horse for dinner, as they were all starving. But under the circumstances, they ultimately (if perhaps grudgingly) voted not to.
Her Infant Child Died, But She Kept Going
Marie's infant child, born under such unlikely and harrowing circumstances, would barely live three months. A number of weeks after the birth, the Astor expedition stumbled across an encampment of Umatillas in the Grande Ronde Valley. The women were solicitous and nurturing, and made a valiant attempt to nurse the considerably debilitated mother and child back to health; but the baby didn't survive.
Nevertheless, Marie persisted.