Marie Aioe Dorion

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Marie Dorion
Marie dorion plaque photo by andrew olivo parodi lec.JPG
Dorion historic marker outside St. Louis Catholic Church
Bornprobably 1786
Iowa or its vicinity[1]
DiedSeptember 5, 1850(1850-09-05) (aged 63–64)
Known forassisting fur-trading expeditions in the Pacific Northwest; wilderness survival skills
Spouse(s)Pierre Dorion Jr., Louis Joseph Venier, Jean Baptiste Toupin
Relativesfive children

"Madame" Marie Aioe Dorion Venier Toupin (ca. 1786 – September 5, 1850) was the only female member of an overland expedition sent by Pacific Fur Company to the Pacific Northwest in 1810. Like her common-law[citation needed] first husband, Pierre Dorion Jr., she was Métis, with her mother from the Iowa tribe and a French Canadian father.[2] She was also known as Wihmunkewakan (Holy Rainbow)[citation needed],[3][4] "Walks Far Woman"[5] and Marie Laguivoise, the latter recorded in 1841 at the Willamette Mission and apparently a variation on Aiaouez, later rendered as Iowa.[6]

NOTE FROM THE IOWA TRIBE: The source for the name "Holy Rainbow" (Wihmunkewakan) states the name refers to Pierre Dorion's FIRST wife, a Yankton Sioux woman, not Marie: "It is believed that Dorion had taken the young Iowa Indian woman for a wife about 1806, after abandoning a Yankton woman named Holy Rainbow." Marie was the second wife, not the first who was the Yankton named "Holy Rainbow." Marie was Ioway, not Yankton, and her name was not "Holy Rainbow." Wihmunkewakan is the Lakota translation of Holy Rainbow it seems, although if it is a name of a woman, it properly would have ended with -win (female suffix). We do not have documentation of what Marie's actual Ioway name was, but the Ioway language is as different from Lakota, as German is from English. It is also unclear as to the evidence for stating she was a common-law wife or a Metis. Both seem to be assumptions of some kind. Marriages between French trappers and Indian women generally were recognized and formalized, arranged and made according to Indian law through bride price to the parents of the bride, often horses or goods.[7]

Early life[edit]

It is likely that Marie and Sacajawea knew one another.[8] Peter Stark notes the similarities between the two women in his book Astoria: both women were originally based in the then-small settlement of St. Louis, and they were both wives of interpreters in the burgeoning Missouri fur trade.[8]

Pacific Northwest[edit]

Her husband Pierre Dorion Jr. was hired by the Pacific Fur Company to join Wilson Price Hunt and a group on an overland expedition to the Pacific Fur Company.[9]) were their two young boys, who were probably two and four years old.[10] She gave birth to another child near modern North Powder, Oregon, who died several days later.[10] After reaching Fort Astoria, Marie and her family returned with a trapping party to the Snake River area.[10] While at trading post in January 1814, Marie Dorion learned from a scout that her husband and a small trapping party were about to be attacked by a band of Bannocks[11] After traveling three days only with her two infant children, she found the scene of the attack. Only one of the trappers, LeClarc, was alive, and was moved away from the area on a horse.[10] Despite the medical attention of Dorion, he died that evening.[10]

There were several horses left by the Bannock warriors and were promptly taken by Marie back to the small fur trading post. However, upon reaching the post she discovered the few staff had been killed and scalped.[11] Attempting to reach another safe fur trading station in the Pacific Northwest, one of Marie's two[11] horses collapsed in the Blue Mountains.[10] While waiting for spring weather, she supported her two infants for 50 days of winter weather.[10] Marie created snare traps out of the horse manes to provide a supply of mice and squirrels for her family.[11] She additionally smoked the horseflesh, collected frozen berries and later gathered the inner flesh of trees to avoid her family starving.[11] Near the end of March, Marie was able to progress west, eventually reaching a Walla Walla village exhausted and short of food. The village leadership provided material support and aided her in getting back to Fort George.[11]

Marie married twice more and had three more children.[10] Her second husband was Louis Venier. With her third husband, Jean Toupin, she settled near Saint Louis, Oregon, on the French Prairie.[10] It was here that she began to be known as "Madame"[10] or "Madame Iowa".[12] One of two eldest sons, Jean Baptiste joined the Oregon Rifles and fought in the Cayuse War.[12]

Death and legacy[edit]

Dorion Lane in St. Louis, Oregon

After Dorion Venier Toupin died on September 5, 1850, she was buried inside the original log Catholic church in Saint Louis.[10] When the church burned down in 1880 and the current church built, the location of Dorion's grave was forgotten and remains unknown to this day.[10] It was only when the church register was translated from French into English many years after the original church burned down that it was learned that Dorion had been buried there.[10] There is no record of why she received this honor instead of being buried in the nearby cemetery, but church burial requires special dispensation and may have indicated that Dorion was especially devout.[10]

Among the places memorializing Dorion are Madame Dorion Memorial Park in the foothills of the Blue Mountains near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, and the Dorion Complex residence hall at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.[10] There is a plaque noting the place near North Powder where she likely gave birth.[10] Hers is also one of the 158 names of people important to Oregon's history that are painted in the House and Senate chambers of the Oregon State Capitol.[13] Her name is in the Senate chamber. St. Louis, Oregon, has a street named after her, Dorion Lane.[10] Madame Dorian Memorial park, located near Wallula Junction, Washington, is named in her honor.[14]

Oregon author Jane Kirkpatrick wrote the Tender Ties trilogy of historical novels based on Dorion's life. The individual titles in the series are A Name of Her Own, Every Fixed Star, and Hold Tight the Thread.[15]

On May 10, 2014, the Daughters of the American Revolution held a service at Saint Louis Catholic Church dedicating a historical marker in Dorion's honor.[9]


  1. ^ "Marie Dorion (1786–1850)". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  2. ^ Shirley 1998, pp. 13–17.
  3. ^ "NLD Online v.3.0". Archived from the original on 2016-10-18. Retrieved 2016-02-19.
  4. ^ Wayne Jewett (2000), "Marie Dorion and The Astoria Expedition". History Net: Where History Comes Alive - World & US History Online. Retrieved 2016-02-19.
  5. ^ Chandler 2013, p. 45.
  6. ^ Morris 2013, p. 199.
  7. ^ Personal communication, 6 July 2016, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska
  8. ^ a b Stark, Peter (2014). Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire. HarperCollins. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-06-221829-2.
  9. ^ a b Pitz, Ray (May 5, 2014). "DAR Dedicates Historical Marker to Pioneer Woman". Sherwood Gazette. Pamplin Media Group. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Lynn, Capi (April 5, 2005). "'She Should Be As Famous As Sacagawea'". Statesman-Journal. Salem, Oregon: Gannett. Retrieved October 24, 2008.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ a b c d e f Shirley (1998), pp. 10-13.
  12. ^ a b Shirley 1998, pp. 18–19.
  13. ^ Cogswell, Philip Jr. (1977). Capitol Names: Individuals Woven Into Oregon's History. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society.
  14. ^ "A Celebrity Comes Calling".
  15. ^ "Tender Ties Historical Series". Goodreads. Retrieved May 22, 2014.

Works cited[edit]

  • Chandler, J. C. (2013). Hidden History of Portland, Oregon. Charleston, S.C.: The History Press. ISBN 978-1-62619-198-3.
  • Morris, Larry E. (2013). The Perilous West: Seven Amazing Explorers and the Founding of the Oregon Trail. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4422-1112-4.
  • Shirley, Gayle C. (1998). More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Oregon Women. Helena, Montana: Falcon Publishing. ISBN 1-56044-668-4.