Alexander Murray Departs For The Yukon

Planning to build a fort for trading furs with the local Indians, Alexander Murray leads a heavily armed party into the Yukon River region of North America.

By 1847, Murray was already an experienced fur trader and wilderness explorer. A native of Scotland, he emigrated to the United States in the 1830s. He found a job working for the rapidly growing American Fur Company, and in 1842 became the commander of the company’s new fur trading post on the Yellowstone River in present-day southern Montana. Determined, strong-willed, and confident, Murray was well suited to the difficult and often dangerous task of trading furs on the frontier.

In 1845, Murray left the American Fur Company to join the Canadian-controlled giant of the North American fur industry, the Hudson’s Bay Company. Murray’s bosses immediately sent him north into the wild arctic regions straddling the border between the present-day Canadian Yukon and the American state of Alaska. There, he eventually became the commander of the company’s Northern Department.

In 1847, the Hudson’s Bay Company, determined to expand its fur-trading empire, ordered Murray to travel into the upper regions of the Yukon River and establish a new fort. On this day in 1847, Murray and a small party of men headed down the Porcupine River towards its confluence with the Yukon. Fearing attacks from hostile Indians–or perhaps from competing Russian fur traders–Murray insisted that his men carry a heavy supply of armaments in addition too the plentiful supplies they would need to establish the fort.

After a week of travel down the Porcupine, Murray reached the Yukon. “I never saw an uglier river,” he wrote in his journal, “everywhere low banks, evidently lately overflowed, with lakes and swamps behind, the trees too small for building, the water abominably dirty and the current furious.” The feared Indian attacks never materialized, but the party did come under constant assault from bloodthirsty mosquitoes.

Despite these drawbacks, Murray deemed the site suitable for a new fort. He began construction on June 26, and started trading with the local Native Americans. Unlike most frontier trading posts that were often only “forts” in name, Murray’s new Fort Yukon was a genuine fortress. He built Fort Yukon to withstand a potential attack by any small party of Indians or Russians that might dare to challenge the right of the Hudson’s Bay Company to dominate the Yukon fur trade.

Eventually joined by his young wife, Anne, Murray remained at Fort Yukon for four years. During that time, Anne gave birth to three daughters. The family returned to Canada in 1852, and Murray subsequently served at a variety of Canadian posts, always taking Anne and his growing clan of children with him. The couple eventually raised eight children in the isolated Canadian frontier.

Murray retired from the company in 1867 and bought a farm on the Red River in southern Manitoba, Canada. He lived for another seven years before dying at the age of 56. Anne, 10 years his junior, survived him by 33 years and died in 1907.

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