Donald McKenzie (explorer)
March 2, 1783
|Died||January 20, 1851
New York, United States
Born in Scotland, McKenzie emigrated to Canada about 1800. He and two or three of his brothers became involved in the fur trade and were engaged with the North West Company. In 1810, he left the employ of the North West Company to become a partner in the Pacific Fur Company (PFC), financed solely by John Jacob Astor.
Pacific Fur Company
McKenzie traveled west from St. Louis, Missouri with an expedition of fellow PFC employees to the Pacific Northwest. The group experienced hard times in southern Idaho, and divided. McKenzie’s fraction consisted of twelve total and struck north, eventually found the Salmon River and Clearwater River. They proceeded down the lower Snake River and Columbia River by canoe, and were the first of the Overland Astorians to reach Fort Astoria, on January 18, 1812.
McKenzie spent two years exploring and trading for the Pacific Fur Company in the Willamette Valley, along the Columbia River, in eastern Washington and northern and central Idaho. When the PFC sold its assets and stations to the North West Company in 1813, McKenzie was appointed to carry all important papers back east, which he did in 1814.
Fort Nez Percés and Idaho explorations
After a short time, McKenzie became reacquainted with the North West Company, and returned to the Columbia region in 1816. In 1818, he and Alexander Ross built Fort Nez Percés near the confluence of the Columbia River and Walla Walla River. McKenzie and his trappers made the first extensive exploration of what is now southern Idaho starting in 1818 with annual expeditions through 1821. His trapping ventures covered most of modern southern Idaho and parts of eastern Oregon, northern Utah, and western Wyoming. Many of the names for rivers in this region can be traced to this period.
Governor of the Red River Colony
With the merger of the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company, in 1821, Donald McKenzie was appointed Governor of the Red River Colony. He left the Pacific Northwest and moved to Fort Garry for a decade, serving as Governor of the area including most of present-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, Canada.
In 1834, McKenzie retired and moved to Mayville, New York, where he lived for the next two decades. Among the distinguished visitors McKenzie entertained and advised were Daniel Webster and William H. Seward, who later served as Secretary of State. He gave advice on where the international boundary should be established for Oregon, and also may have planted the seeds that led to the purchase of Alaska from Russia.