William Ashley - Mountain Man

William Ashley 1778?-1838

William Ashley was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, in about 1778. As a young man he moved to Missouri where he became a trader at St. Genevieve. He then joined the army and by 1812 had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Ashley moved to St Louis and in 1819 was elected lieutenant governor of Missouri in 1820. Ashley and Andrew Henry decided to form the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. On 13th February, 1822, they placed an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Adviser where he called for 100 enterprising men to "ascend the river Missouri" to take part in the fur collecting business. Those who agreed to join the party included James Bridger, Tom Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, Jim Beckwourth, David Jackson, Hugh Glass, Jedediah Smith, James Clyman and Edward Rose.

Ashley's company was the first to depend primarily upon trapping the beaver rather than buying them from Native Americans. Ashley did not pay the trappers a fixed wage. Instead, in return for transporting them to the Rocky Mountains, he took a share in the furs they obtained.

On 30th May, 1823, Ashley and his party of 70 men were attacked by 600 Arikaras. Twelve of Ashley's men were killed and the rest were forced to retreat. Jedediah Smith volunteered to contact Andrew Henry and bring back reinforcements. A message was sent back to St Louis and Colonel Henry Leavenworth of the U.S. Sixth Infantry and later 200 soldiers and 700 Sioux allies attacked the Arikara villages.

In 1825 Ashley put Jedediah Smith in charge of the trappers and returned to St Louis. The following year he sold his business to Smith and two other mountain men.

Ashley now entered politics and was elected to the House of Representatives but was twice defeated for the post of governor.

William Ashley died of pneumonia on 26th March, 1838.