Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Madame Dorion Memorial Park, Washington"
Including ... Madame Dorion Memorial Park ... Madame Dorion Bridge ...
Image, 2005, Madame Dorion Park, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Madame Dorion Park, Walla Walla River, Washington. Image taken September 25, 2005.

Madame Dorion Memorial Park ...
Madame Dorion Memorial Park is located at the junction of Washington State Highway 12 and Highway 730, at Columbia River Mile (RM) 315 (Lake Wallula), where the Walla Walla River meets the Columbia. During winter of 1811-1812, an advance party of the first fur traders reached the Columbia River from Montreal, Canada. With them was Marie Dorion, an Iowa Indian, who was the second women to come west overland -- the first being Sacajawea, with Lewis and Clark. Marie was the wife of Pierre Dorion, the son of the interpreter for the expedition. Marie came west with her husband and two children, Jean Baptiste and Paul. In 1931 the Madame Dorion bridge was built across the Walla Walla River, the remains of which can still be seen at the mouth of the Walla Walla. The nearby 46-acre day-use and camping park is also named in her memory.

Madame Dorion ...
A brief "biography" of Marie Dorion is engraved on a stone marker at the Madame Dorion Memorial Park at Coumbia River Mile (RM) 315. The information is brief and not quite accurate, but portrays the spirit of this pioneer woman.

Madame Marie L'Aguivoise Dorion

"Madame Dorion of the Iowa tribe was the second woman to come west on an overland route. She made the Journey with her husband, Pierre and two young sons. They were part of the Wilson Price Hunt party employed by the Pacific Fur Comany. The Hunt party was part of American John Jacob Astor's attempt to establish a fur trading empire in the Pacific Northwest. Her husband was an experienced guide that had earlier traveled west with the Lewis and Clark expedition. The trip was especially arduous for Marie. She was at that time expecting her third child and caring for her sons, Baptise, age 5 and Paul, age 3.

The party left the Missouri territory in 1811 to establish trading posts along the Columbia River. After enduring cold, starvation and perilous whitewater river crossings the party arrived near this location on January 21, 1812. The Pacific Fur Company later established Fort Nez Perces along the Walla Walla and Columbia Rivers just west of this location. They eventually reached Fort Astoria for a long deserved rest.

The Dorion family and a party of trappers later set out for the Snake River country in the winter of 1813 on a fur trapping expedition. Here Snake warriors attacked the party. All the men were killed, leaving Marie Dorion and her two young children to live out the winter hiding in the Blue Mountains, near present day Hilgard, Oregon. Marie managed to keep her family alive and they endured the cruel hardships of cold and starvation. Marie then led her family to safety in the spring.

Marie Dorion later remarried and lived in Walla Walla, Washington and later in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She died on September 5, 1850 at the age of 64. Even in death she was revered by those who knew her. She was buried in a place of honor at the parish of St. Louis Catholic Church in the Willamette Valley. She had died as she had lived, a brave and noble pioneer esteemed by all who knew her."

Image, 2005, Madame Dorion Park, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Madame Dorion Park, Walla Walla River, Washington. Image taken September 25, 2005.
Image, 2005, Madame Dorion Park, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Sign, Madame Dorion Park, Walla Walla River, Washington. Image taken September 25, 2005.

Madame Dorion Bridge ...
The old concrete-construction Madame Dorion Bridge was built in 1931 and partially torn down and abandoned in 1949.
(to come)

Lewis and Clark and the Dorions ...
The Lewis and Clark expedition first met Pierre Dorion Sr. in June 1804 and hired him to travel upstream with them and be an interpreter. Dorion Sr. stayed with the expedition until late August 1804, when Captain Clark requested him to stay behind and work on a peace between local tribes.

"... had a talk with Mr. Dorion, who agreed to Stay and Collect the Chiefs from as many Bands of Soux as he coud this fall & bring about a pea[ce] between the Sciuex & their neighbours &. &c. &c.     after Dinner we gave Mr. Peter Darion, a Comission to act with a flag & some Cloathes & Provisions & instructions to bring about a peace with the Scioux Mahars, Panies, Ponceries, Ottoes & Missouries— and to employ any trader to take Some of the Cheifs of each or as many of those nations as he Could Perticularly the Sceiouex [NB: down to Washn]—
[Clark, August 31, 1804]

According to historians, Lewis and Clark did not meet Pierre Dorion Jr. - the son of their interpreter Pierre Dorion and the future husband of Marie Dorion - until August 29, 1804.

"... Some rain last night & this morning, Sent on Colter with Provisions in pursute of Shannon, had a Toe roap made of Elk Skin, I am much engaged reriteing— at 4 oClock P M. Sergt. Pryor & Mr. Dorion with 5 Chiefs and about 70 men &c. arrived on the opposite Side we Sent over a Perogue & Mr. Dorrion & his Son who was tradeing with the Indians Came over with Serjt Pryer, and informed us that the Chiefs were there     we Sent Serjt. Pryor & yound Mr. Dorion with Som Tobacco, Corn & a few Kittles for them to Cook in, with directions to inform the Chiefs that we would Speek to them tomorrow. ..." [Clark, August 29, 1804]

Moulton comments:

"... Pierre Dorion, Senior, evidently had several sons by the wife he took among the Yankton Sioux. The one met here is generally assumed to be Pierre, Junior, who later joined the Astorians' overland trek to the Pacific and was killed by Indians in Idaho in 1811. An apparent reference to "Francis Durwain" earlier (August 19, 1804), suggests that another son had entered the picture earlier, perhaps during the second council with the Otos. Clark's reference here, on August 29, seems to indicate that they had just now met the son who was trading with the Sioux. ..." [Moulton]

Clark mentions "young Dorion" again on September 1, 1804:

"... I then walked on the Sand beech and the indians came down to meet me     I gave them my hand and enquired of them what they were Shooting at, they informed me that they were Shooting off their guns at an old Keg which we had thrown out of one of the Canoes and was floating down.     those Indians informed me they were Yanktons,     one of the men with me knew one of the Indians to be the brother of young Durion's wife. ..." [Clark, September 1, 1804]

Moulton comments:

"... "Young Durion" was probably Pierre Dorion, Jr.. His wife among the Yanktons was named Holy Rainbow; she was apparently not the same woman who was the only survivor of an 1812 massacre of Astorians on the Boise River in Idaho, in which Pierre died. . ..." [Moulton]

The Expedition met "old" Pierre Dorion again on their return in 1806, but no mention is made of his son.

Excerpt from the National Women's History Museum website, 2014 ...
"Native American Marie Dorion is remembered for her bravery and endurance in leading white men to the Oregon Territory, when she probably was in her early twenties. Her journey followed that of famed Sacajawea by six years, but Dorion’s 3,500-mile trek was both longer and much more difficult. Her epic story shows the strength and perseverance needed to survive alone and against all odds.

Also known as Marie Iowa, Marie Aine, Laguivoise, and other names, she probably was born in 1786 and definitely belonged to the Iowa tribe. While still a teenager, she married Pierre Dorion, whose father was French Canadian; his mother was a member of the branch of the Sioux Nation that lived near modern Yankton, South Dakota. Pierre and Marie settled in this area just after the nineteenth century began, and some consider him “the first white resident of South Dakota.”

Like other men of his heritage, he made a living in the fur business that centered in St. Louis. Fur trading involved almost constant travel, and Marie often accompanied him on buying and selling trips through what later became the states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and even Arkansas. Both were familiar with several Indian languages, as well as French.

Men of French heritage had far better relations with Native American women than other Europeans, and they often assimilated into their wives’ tribes. Like all North American natives, these were matrilineal societies in which heritage was traced through the mother, not the father. Marie, however, seems not to have used a native name; probably baptized into Catholicism early in her life, she also gave Christian names to her sons, Jean Baptiste and Paul.

Jean Baptiste was five and Paul was a toddler of two when their parents accepted employment as guides and interpreters for the second overland journey of American men to the Pacific Coast. The federally sponsored Lewis & Clark Expedition had ended in 1805, and now, in March of 1811, employees of New York fur magnate John Jacob Astor were seeking a land route to their new Pacific Coast fur-trading post of Astoria, Oregon. If it were possible to cross the Rocky Mountains and go by land, trade between the Atlantic and Pacific would be greatly increased: prior to the twentieth-century Panama Canal, the trip required sailing all the way around South America. ...

On December 30, 1811, Marie Dorion gave birth to her third child near North Powder, Oregon, but the baby died eight days later. After three days of mourning and recovering, the Dorion family caught up with the expedition. They made it to Fort Astoria on February 15, 1812, after a tortuous eleven-month trek.

Marie and Pierre then joined a nine-member party that intended to secure a monopoly of the fur trade from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean for Astor’s company. Again, Marie Dorion was the only female in the group. After building their main trading post near the mouth of Idaho’s Boise River, they created several outlying hunting-and-trapping camps during the winter of 1813-1814.

They established a friendly relationship with most of the Shoshone who lived in the area, but a gang called the “Bad Snakes” persistently harassed the newcomers. After several encounters with the “Bad Snakes,” a Shoshone warned Marie that there might be trouble at the remote camp where her husband and two other men had gone.

In the cold of January 1814, she took a horse and her children and set off for her husband's camp. After three days of fighting through mountainous snow, she reached the campsite – only to find that her husband was dead. Giles LeClerc, who was badly wounded, told her that the three of them had been attacked that morning while working their traps. Pierre and Jacob Reznor did not survive.

Marie put Giles onto her horse with the two boys and began the frigid three-day journey to the main campsite – but had to stop when Giles’ condition worsened. Although she desperately tried to save him, he died. More horror greeted her back at the main camp: all the men there had been murdered, scalped, and dismembered. She was alone in the wildness with her little sons.

Gathering some food supplies, she loaded the boys onto the horse and headed west, away from enemy territory. For three months, Dorion and her children crossed deep snow in the Blue Mountains of what now is eastern Oregon and Washington. When they were near starvation, she killed and butchered her horse. The smoked meat kept the little family alive, while she used the horse’s hide and cedar boughs as shelter. When it appeared that spring had come, she and her sons again moved west – only to be caught by another blizzard. Finally, they arrived at the Columbia River and found refuge amongst the Walla Walla tribe. She and the little children had walked some 250 miles. ...

[Marie] Dorion moved north to Fort Okanogan in modern Washington, and by 1819, was married to Louis Joseph Venier. They had a daughter named Marguerite before he, too, was killed by Native Americans. Jean Baptiste Toupin then entered her life, and because Marie lived by a different moral code, she bore two children, Francois and Marianne, prior to their belated 1841 marriage. The mother of five children by three men, she had learned independence early in life.

She and her children were the first settlers of French Prairie in Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley, where white neighbors called her “an impressive and admirable woman.” Marie Dorion died there on September 5, 1850, just as the great migration on the Oregon Trail was beginning. Her son Paul escorted famous writer Francis Parkman on that trail, while Jean Baptiste went on to a career with the British Canadian fur-trading Hudson Bay Company. Several sites along the Walla Walla River commemorate Marie Dorian as the “Madonna of the old Oregon Trail.” ..."

Source:    National Women's History Museum website, 2014, "Marie Dorion".

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 18, 1805 ...
This morning Cool and fare wind from the S. E. ...     Took our leave of the Chiefs and all those about us [from their camp, the location of today's Sacajawea State Park] and proceeded on down the great Columbia river     passed a large Island at 8 miles about 3 miles in length, a Island on the Stard. Side the upper point of which is opposit the center of the last mentioned Island and reaches 3˝ miles below the 1st. Island and opposit to this near the middle of the river nine Lodges are Situated on the upper point at a rapid which is between the lower point of the 1st Island and upper point of this; great numbers of Indians appeared to be on this Island, and emence quantites of fish Scaffold     we landed a few minits to view a rapid which Commenced at the lower point, passd this rapid which was verry bad between 2 Small Islands two Still Smaller near the Lard. Side, at this rapid on the Stard. Side is 2 Lodges of Indians Drying fish, at 2˝ miles lower and 14˝ below the point passed an Island Close under the Stard. Side on which was 2 Lodges of Indians drying fish on Scaffolds as above

[Today this reach has been inundated by the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam. The Burbank Slough - part of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge - dominates the eastern bank of the Columbia and two islands which remain offshore of Wallula are Crescent Island and Badger Island.]    

at 16 miles from the point [junction of the Snake River with the Columbia, location of today's Sacajawea State Park] the river passes into the range of high Countrey at which place the rocks project into the river from the high clifts [Wallula Gap] which is on <both> the Lard. Side about 2/3 of the way across those of the Stard Side about the Same distance, the Countrey rises here about 200 feet above The water and is bordered wth black rugid rocks [Columbia River Basalt],     at the Commencement of this high Countrey [Wallula Gap] on Lard Side a Small riverlet falls in [Walla Walla River] which appears to passed under the high County in its whole cose     Saw a mountain bearing S. W. conocal form Covered with Snow [Mount Hood, Oregon].    passed 4 Islands, at the upper point of the <first> 3rd is a rapid, on this Island is two Lodges of Indians, drying fish, on the fourth Island Close under the Stard. Side is nine large Lodges of Indians Drying fish on Scaffolds as above [Yellepit area]; at this place we were called to land, as it was near night and no appearance of wood [Lewis and Clark are in the Port Kelley area, where today the islands offshore are under the waters of Lake Wallula.],     we proceeded on about 2 miles lower to Some willows, at which place we observed a drift log     formed a Camp on the Lard Side [Spring Gulch] under a high hill nearly opposit to five Lodges of Indians; Soon after we landed, our old Chiefs informed us that the large camp above "was the Camp of the 1st Chief of all the tribes in this quarter [Chief Yellepit], and that he had called to us to land and Stay all night with him, that he had plenty of wood for us &" This would have been agreeable to us if it had have been understood perticelarly as we were compelled to Use drid willows for fuel for the purpose of cooking, we requested the old Chiefs to walk up on the Side we had landed and call to the Chief to come down and Stay with us all night which they did;     ... we made 21 miles to day.

Snake River ConfluenceReturn to




*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • National Women's History Museum website, 2014, "Marie Dorion";
  • Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website, 2003;
  • Hitchman, R., 1985, Place Names of Washington, Washington State Historical Society;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2004, Walla Walla District;
  • Washington State Department of Tourism website, "experiencewashington.com", 2004;
  • Washington Secretary of State website, 2004, Washington History;
  • Washington State Historical Society website, 2004, "Lasting Legacy";

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
© 2019, Lyn Topinka, "ColumbiaRiverImages.com", All rights reserved.
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March 2014