Osborne Russell

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Osborne Russell
2nd Supreme Judge of the Provisional Government of Oregon
In office
October 2, 1843 – May 14, 1844
Preceded byIra Babcock
Succeeded byIra Babcock
Member of the Second Executive Committee
In office
Preceded byFirst Executive Committee
Succeeded byGeorge Abernethy
ConstituencyOregon Country
Personal details
DiedAugust 2, 1892(1892-08-02) (aged 77–78)

Osborne Russell (1814 – August 2, 1892) was a mountain man and politician who helped form the government of the U.S. state of Oregon. He was born in Maine.[1]

Early life[edit]

Osborne Russell was born June 12, 1814, in the village of Bowdoinham, Maine. He was one of nine children in farming family. As a child, he received sufficient enough education that he could easily become a proficient writer. At age 16, Russell ran away for a life at sea, but quickly gave up that career by deserting his ship at New York. Afterwards he spent three years in the employ of the Northwest Fur Trapping and Trading Company, which operated in what would later become Wisconsin and Minnesota. Russell first came to the Oregon Country in 1834 as a member of Nathaniel J. Wyeth's second expedition where Russell joined Nathaniel Wyeth's Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The company was contracted to deliver $3,000 worth of supplies and trade goods to Milton Sublette and Thomas Fitzpatrick of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company for the 1834 Rendezvous at Ham's Fork. Men for this venture were recruited on the frontier at St Louis and Independence, Missouri. It was here that Osborne Russell joined the company. The term of service was for eighteen months at a wage of $250 ($13.89/month).

In spite of his previous experience with the Northwest Fur Trapping and Trading Company, Russell was still inexperienced in the ways of the wilderness when he joined Wyeth's company. Through his journal we see Russell develop into a seasoned veteran of the mountains and a Free Trapper. When Wyeth's party arrived at the Rendezvous at Ham's Fork, he found that the Rocky Mountain Fur Company had been dissolved and a new company formed. The new company defaulted on its contract with Wyeth, who was then left with a surplus of goods and supplies that he had transported to the mountains. By necessity, Wyeth had to alter his own plans to salvage his company from financial ruin. He and his party pushed on to the Snake River plain, (near what would become Pocatello, Idaho) where he established Fort Hall, named after one of the partners in the company. Here Wyeth would trade his remaining goods with the local Indians. The fort was quickly completed, and trade with the Indians was started by the autumn of 1834. It was not until the spring of 1835 that Wyeth fielded trapping parties operating out of the fort. These trapping parties were poorly managed, and Russell through his journal often expresses his contempt for the brigade leader (Joseph Gale). Unlike many others, Russell did not desert, although we can see that his enthusiasm was definitely impacted.

After his release from the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company in late 1835, Russell joined with Jim Bridger's brigade of former Rocky Mountain Fur Company men. He continued with them even after the merger with the American Fur Company leaving it in complete control of the fur trade in the Rocky Mountains. With low prices, scarcity of beaver and declining demand for furs, rumors at the 1838 rendezvous indicated the American Fur Company was soon to abandon the Rocky Mountains. Russell would not attend the 1839 Rendezvous, as he had left the employ of the company to become a Free Trapper, once again operating out of Fort Hall. Fort Hall was now owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, and had been since 1837 when it was purchased from Wyeth's company. Even with the passing of the great fur companies, Russell, like so many others was reluctant to give up his life in the mountains. As a Free Trapper, Russell continued to trap and travel through the region centering on the Yellowstone country during the period 1838–1842. Although no longer possible to become wealthy through the fur trade, enough could be earned to easily supply all of the requirements for life in the mountains, with time to enjoy hunting, fellowship with other trappers and Indians, and reading.

He returned to the country in 1842 with the Elijah White party. He participated in the May 2, 1843 Champoeg Meeting, voting in favor of forming a government.[1] In October of that year he was selected by the First Executive Committee to serve as the Supreme Judge for the Provisional Government of Oregon and served until May 14, 1844.[2] In 1844, he was elected to the second Executive Committee of the Provisional Government of Oregon. 

He was allied with the group that planned to create an independent Republic of the Pacific[citation needed] and thus was unsuccessful in his run for governor of the Provisional Government in 1845, losing to George Abernethy. Russell eventually went to California.[1]

Although not published until well after the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, Osborne's Journal of a Trapper contains an early description of Yellowstone and surrounding areas.[3][4]


  • Russell, Osborne and Aubrey L. Haines. Journal of a Trapper: In the Rocky Mountains Between 1834 and 1843; Comprising a General Description of the Country, Climate, Rivers, Lakes ISBN 978-1542843317 ISBN 1-58976-052-2


  1. ^ a b c Cogswell, Jr., Philip (1977). Capitol Names: Individuals Woven Into Oregon's History. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society. p. 61.
  2. ^ "Earliest Authorities in Oregon: Oregon Supreme Court Justices Under Provisional Government" (PDF). Oregon Blue Book. Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
  3. ^ Haines, Aubrey L. (1996). Yellowstone Place Names-Mirrors of History. Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0-87081-382-X.
  4. ^ Russell, Osborne (1921). Journal of a Trapper: Nine Years in the Rocky Mountains (1834-1843). Boise, Idaho: Symes-York Company. p. 31.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
First Executive Committee

with Alanson Beers
David Hill
Joseph Gale
Second Executive Committee
Provisional Government of Oregon

with William J. Bailey
Peter G. Stewart
Succeeded by
Governor of Provisional Government
George Abernethy