All western schoolchildren have heard of Sacagawea, and even more know the story of Pocahontas either from class or the Disney movie. But who was the great – and comparatively unknown – Marie Dorion? No less than one of the most resilient, courageous, and frankly badass 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 husband, Pierre Dorion, and a band of trappers, Marie traversed mountains, plains, and raging rivers – all with her small children in tow. Stranded after her spouse and the other members of her party were killed and scalped, Marie and her two young sons set out against all odds across a glacial winter landscape. It was a brutal journey 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 and underappreciated history. Read on to find out more.
Marie Dorion Set Off Into The Wilderness Again In 1813 - And Things Didn't Go Well
In July of 1813, a year and a half after their first expedition ended, Marie and her family set out for present-day Idaho on a beaver trapping mission. This time, Marie and her children remained at the base camp for a time while Pierre staffed a smaller trapping camp a few days' ride away, and all went well. But after a Shoshone Indian (who had become friendly with Marie) warned her that a band of Bannocks were going forth and systematically burning trappers' camps, Marie saddled up her horse like a Gothic heroine and rode out – children in tow – to warn her husband of the impending danger.
She Left Her Camp On A Mission, And When She Returned, Everyone Was Dead
When Marie reached her destination three days later, she discovered that her husband's party had been ambushed and slaughtered. One of the men, Giles LeClerc, was still alive and wounded. So Marie strapped him to a horse and guided the animal back to the base camp, through three days of arctic winter tempests.
Despite Marie's best efforts, LeClerc perished en route. But what happened next was even more horrible. Upon arriving back at the base camp, Marie found that the inhabitants there had also been murdered, mutilated, and scalped.
She Walked 250 Miles In 53 Days Through Horrible Weather Conditions
Faced with a camp full of corpses, Marie and her children set out for civilization and refuge in the dead of winter. After almost ten days of traveling, their expedition was halted by the deep mountain snows. Marie built a shelter of wood and animal skins, but shortly thereafter, the family ran out of food. Marie was forced to kill their two horses, whose meat they subsisted upon for 53 days.
She And Her Children Successfully Navigated The Winter Wilderness
When spring came, they set out once again, this time on foot, but got caught in a surprise blizzard. The children's feet were bleeding and they were too debilitated to go on, so Marie chose to burrow a hole and line it with fur. She placed her sons inside and ventured out on her own to find help. She was found, dogged and partially snow-blind, by the Walla Walla tribe, who took her in and sent a party to rescue her sons. Finally, she was reunited with a Fort Astoria group who relocated her and her children to Fort Okanogan in present-day Washington.