Andrew Henry

c. 1775–1832 — Fur Trade Icon and Founder of the First American Settlement West of the Rocky Mountains

Andrew Henry was a businessman, soldier, and fur trader who played an important role in the establishment of the Western Fur Trade. Henry is famous for building the first American trading post west of the Continental Divide and founding the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

Fort Henry, Idaho, Historical Marker, HMDB

Historical marker for Fort Henry in Fremont County, Idaho. Image Source: Historical Marker Database.

Andrew Henry Quick Facts

  • Born — Andrew Henry was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, around 1775.
  • Died — Henry died on January 10, 1832, at the age of 56. 
  • Buried — He was buried in Bennett Bryan Cemetery in Washington County, Missouri.
  • Famous For — Henry is famous for his participation in the Western Fur Trade, his role in establishing the Missouri Fur Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and his association with men like Manuel Lisa and William H. Ashley.

Andrew Henry Overview

Andrew Henry played a crucial role in the Westward Expansion and Western Fur Trade in America. Although he is often overshadowed by his business partner, General William Henry Ashley, Henry’s contributions to the establishment of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company cannot be denied. 

Early Years

Henry was born in Pennsylvania, and later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and eventually the Louisiana Territory. He managed a lead mine near present-day Potosi, Missouri. 

St. Louis Missouri Fur Company

In 1809, when Manuel Lisa established the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company, Henry was one of its founding members and was a captain during the company’s trapping expeditions. That same year, Henry and Lisa encountered John Colter, the legendary Mountain Man who had been part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Colter joined them for the remainder of their journey.

Lake Henry

In 1810, Henry led an expedition to the Three Forks in the mountains of Montana and Idaho where he discovered a lake that is named after him — Lake Henry. Henry and his men explored the region and built a trading post at the Three Forks of the Missouri River. However, after encountering trouble with the Blackfoot Indians the fort was abandoned.

First American to Conduct Business West of the Continental Divide

At that point, roughly half the men in his expedition returned to St. Louis. However, Henry led the other half further up the Madison River. Eventually, they built another trading post near present-day St. Anthony, Idaho, at Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. This trading post was the first American trading post west of the Continental Divide and he is believed to be the first American to conduct business west of the Divide.

War of 1812

Henry returned to St. Louis in 1812 and resumed his lead mining activities and conducted business with William Henry Ashley. Soon after Henry’s return, the War of 1812 broke out. Henry and Ashley provided lead and saltpeter to the army, which was used for the production of ammunition. Henry also joined the Missouri Volunteer Infantry and rose to the rank of Major.

Ashley-Henry Fur Company

Henry continued to do business with Ashley, and in 1822 they decided to form a company and enter into the Western Fur Trade. 

Fort Henry

Henry led the first expedition, which built a trading post, also called Fort Henry, at the confluence of the Yellowstone River. In the spring of 1822, Henry led the first expedition, which traveled to the mouth of the Yellowstone River and then up to the Musselhell River. At the confluence of the Yellowstone, Henry and his men built a trading post, known as Fort Henry. Henry then waited for Ashley to organize his expedition and join him.

Ashley’s Hundred and the Arikara War

Ashley ran newspaper ads, looking for “enterprising young men” to join their venture. This expedition is referred to as “Ashley’s Hundred” and is often looked at as the beginning of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. 

Ashley's Hundred, Newspaper Ad, 1822
William H. Ashley’s newspaper ad. Image Source: Wikipedia.

While traveling to Fort Henry, the expedition was attacked by the Arikara Indians, triggering the Arikara War. After the attack, Henry joined the military expedition, led by Henry Leavenworth, that attacked the Arikara and destroyed their village.

On the journey back to Fort Henry, Henry and his men were attacked by Mandan Indians, but were able to return to the fort. Henry spent the rest of the winter at Fort Henry. 

Men like Jim Bridger, James Clyman, Hugh Glass, Daniel T. Potts, William Sublette, Milton Sublette, James Beckwourth, David Edward Jackson, Joseph Meek, Robert Newell, and Thomas Fitzpatrick signed on as trappers for the company and became legends in the Western Fur Trade.

Later Years and Death

In 1824, Henry decided to leave the partnership due to the financial losses of the expeditions. He sold out to Ashley, retired from the Fur Trade, and returned to his home in Washington County, Missouri. He died on January 10, 1832.