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.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Napoleon defeated at Waterloo

At Waterloo in Belgium, Napoleon Bonaparte suffers defeat at the hands of the Duke of Wellington, bringing an end to the Napoleonic era of European history. The Corsica-born Napoleon, one of the greatest military strategists in history, rapidly rose in the ranks of the French more

First American woman in space

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, the space shuttle Challenger is launched into space on its second mission. Aboard the shuttle was Dr. Sally Ride, who as a mission specialist became the first American woman to travel into space. During the six-day mission, Ride, an astrophysicist more

War of 1812 begins

The day after the Senate followed the House of Representatives in voting to declare war against Great Britain, President James Madison signs the declaration into law–and the War of 1812 begins. The American war declaration, opposed by a sizable minority in Congress, had been more

Hitler and Mussolini meet in Munich

On this day in 1940, Benito Mussolini arrives in Munich with his foreign minister, Count Ciano, to discuss immediate plans with the Fuhrer, and doesn’t like what he hears. Embarrassed over the late entry of Italy in the war against the Allies, and its rather tepid performance more

Westmoreland requests more troops

Gen. William Westmoreland, senior U.S. military commander in Vietnam, sends a new troop request to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Westmoreland stated that he needed 542,588 troops for the war in Vietnam in 1967–an increase of 111,588 men to the number already serving there. In the more

Arnold Palmer wins U.S. Open

On June 18, 1960, Arnold Palmer shoots a 65 to win the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado. It was the best final round in U.S. Open history. Palmer, from Ligonier, Pennsylvania was the son of a golf pro at the Latrobe Country Club in nearby Latrobe. His more

Mysterious crash at Heathrow

On this day in 1972, a Trident jetliner crashes after takeoff from Heathrow Airport in London, killing 118 people. The official cause of this accident remains unknown, but it may have happened simply because the plane was carrying too much weight. As the summer of 1972 more

Carter and Brezhnev sign the SALT-II treaty

During a summit meeting in Vienna, President Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT-II agreement dealing with limitations and guidelines for nuclear weapons. The treaty, which never formally went into effect, proved to be one of the most controversial more

British abandon Philadelphia

On this day in 1778, after almost nine months of occupation, 15,000 British troops under General Sir Henry Clinton evacuate Philadelphia, the former U.S. capital. The British had captured Philadelphia on September 26, 1777, following General George Washington’s defeats at the more