Who Was Roy?
By John Eldredge
Edited by Kristin Johnson
In the autumn of 1983 Jerry Peterson, his son Brian and I went exploring part of the Mormon Trail. We were tracing Howard Egan’s journal from Fort Bridger to Sulfur Creek, not following mileages but just looking for landmarks. When we got to the junction of Stow and Aspen creeks, we thought that we were where the vanguard company had camped. Egan mentioned an oil spring about a mile to the south. We followed an old dirt road but couldn’t find the spring.
When we reached the top of the pass between Hillard and Stowe creeks we pulled out a topo map, which indicated that there was a ridge of rock containing fossil oyster close by. We hiked up to the closest outcrop of rock, but were unlucky again – no oyster fossils. The hike had been steep and tiring, so we sat down on a large lichen-covered rock to rest.
It was while sitting there that we finally got lucky. Brian noticed lettering on the rock we were sitting on, a large inscription reading “Died 1814 Roy.” We didn’t see evidence of an actual grave; however, the stone indicates that at least two non-Indians, the deceased Roy and the literate, English-speaking companion who carved the stone in his memory, came to this lonely spot in 1814. But who was Roy? A likely place to look is in the history of the American fur trade.
In 1814 American fur hunters had withdrawn from the territories west of the Missouri river. The War of 1812 had given control of the Columbia River drainage and the upper Missouri River to Great Britain. British fur traders influenced the Indian tribes in these areas to kill Americans, closing the road to the northwest. In 1812-13 a group of men guided by Robert Stuart left Astoria on the Columbia River and traveled back to St. Louis, Missouri, via the North Platt River, discovering South Pass on the way. Upon their return to St. Louis, the Missouri Gazette published an article describing this new route and stating that future parties “would not be impeded, as, in all probability, they would not meet with an Indian to interrupt their progress.” This provided a new route west. In 1814, after purchasing John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company holdings on the Columbia River, the British Northwest Company gave the American fur traders, who had been working for Astor, safe passage back to the United States by way of Canada.
Because of Indian and English troubles, Americans returning west in 1814 didn’t travel up the Missouri River but followed the Arkansas River or the new Platte River route. The known groups leaving during this time were Joseph Philibert and a group of about 18 Frenchmen in “Phillebers” company; Ezekiel Williams in company with Morris May and Baxton Cooper, Edward Rose, Toussaint Charbonneau, and party; and Pierre Lesperance, who joined with a large group of men. Lesperance reported that he left St. Louis in the spring of 1814, ascending the Platte and its south fork. Lesperance was a member of the Phillebers Company and Ezekiel Williams’ party traveled with them. Rose and Charbonneau may also have accompanied them. Williams and Philibert traveled together until they reached the Arapaho village, which Williams had visited in 1811 with Jean Baptiste Champlain and a few others.
The two men had cashed a large quantity of fur near this village, then Williams returned east, leaving Champlain there. On October 18, 1812, Robert Stuart recorded what Snake Indians had told him: “Last summer they said that the Arapahys fell in with Champlain, and 3 men he had hunting Beaver some distance down the Spanish River, murdered them in the dead of the night and took possession of all their effects.” It is generally believed that the village was on the headwaters of the Arkansas River, but other writers confirm that the “Spanish” River referred to was actually the Green. If the village were on the Green River, the 1814 party might have been in the area of the Roy marker.
Roy is a very common surname of French origin. Records of western travel up to the year 1814 list many persons named Roy. The journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition mention a Peter Roy as a member, for instance, and the 1806 Zebulon Pike expedition lists Private Alexander Roy. The Pacific Fur Company had an Oliver Roy who was at the Flatheads in October 1813, but he died on the return trip though Canada.
Members of the Northwest Company named Roy include Daniel Roy at Fort William, 1817-20, Etienne Roy on the Athabasca River 1811-21, Francois Roy at Fort Dauphin, 1811-21, Francois Roy on the Athabasca River, 1820-23, Jean Baptiste Roy at Fond du Lac, 1815-16, Joseph Roy (file de Francois) on the Athabasca River, 1820-21, Joseph Roy (fils de Baptiste) on the Athabasca River, 1820-21, Joseph Roy dit Charon on the Athabasca River 1811-12 died 1812, Louis Roy at Fort des Prairies, 1816-19, Louis Roy on the Athabasca River 1820-21, Thomas Roy on the English River 1820-21, Vincent Roy at Lac la Pluie, 1814-19, and Vincent Roy Junior on the Athabasca River 1819-21.
There were two Roys with Manuel Lisa’s Missouri Fur Company; one of them may have joined with Lisa as early as 1808. He was with the group of men who were sent to the Spanish territories under Jean Baptiste Champlain in 1809. In 1811 Roy and three other Frenchmen left Champlain and went into Taos; Joseph Philibert saw him there in 1814. The other was Francois Roy, who joined Lisa’s 1812-13 expedition on the Missouri River.
All of the above-mentioned Roys can be accounted for except for the last one. Lisa’s journal indicates that when Indian depredations broke out and his men left for Saint Louis in 1813, Francois Roy was not in the returning party.
John C. Luttig, Lisa’s clerk, kept an account of this expedition. Roy was an engagee, and Luttig rarely refers to engages by name; he generally writes that engages “left on this day” or “returned on that day.” By comparing draws on the company books recorded by Lisa with the movements of men recorded by Luttig, it is possible to determine when Roy was in camp and when he was not, and therefore where he might have been and with whom. Using this method, it appears that during the winter of 1812-13 Francois Roy was among the Grosventre Indians with Toussaint Charbonneau and Francois Oulle.
On December 29, 1812, Luttig recorded “Charbonneau and Woahl [Oulle] set off for their Stations with 2 Men and 4 horses,” and on February 21, 1813, “at 12 oclock this Day Charbonneau and 1 Engagee arrived from the Bigbellies [Grosventres].” This agrees with Lisa’s records, which show that Charbonneau drew goods for this expedition December 29, 1812, and didn’t make another draw until February 22, 1813. The only two members who didn’t make draws in this period were Joseph Leclair and Francois Roy. Leclair’s last draw on the company books before Charbonneau and Oulee left was December 29, 1812 and his next draw was February 24, 1813; Roy’s were December 9, 1812 and February 25, 1813. (Oulle’s last draw on Lisa’s books was on December 28, 1812, after which nothing further is recorded about him.)
Charbonneau stayed in camp for about a week. On March 1, 1813, Luttig writes, “after dinner Charbonneau and Leclair set off for their Stations at the Bigbellies.” Luttig makes no mention of Roy, but his last draw from the company was February 28, 1813, the same day as Charbonneau’s. Leclair’s was February 24, 1813. Since he made no further draws from the company, Roy very likely returned to the Grosventres with Charbonneau and Leclair. Roy and Leclair may have had some connection from the beginning of this expedition, for one of Lisa’s records of Leclair’s draws dated May 22, 1812, reads, “Paye a F. Roy 1.00.”
In the early months of 1813 the English stirred up the Indians against Lisa’s men. On February 21, Luttig recorded, “2 Men from the N. W. Company had been with them, they came under pretext to trade dressed Buffaloe Skins, and made some Presents to the Chiefs, and began to harangue against the American traders, told them [the Indians] we would give them nothing, but a little powder, and that they the N. W. Company would furnish them with every thing without Pay if they would go to war, and rob and Kill the Americans… thus are those Bloodhounds the British constantly employed and do everything to their Power to annoy and destroy the Americans and their trade, they have nothing to fear on Account and in Respect of our Government.” Soon after this, the Indians did become more aggressive and Lisa left for Saint Louis with as many of his men as he could gather. Charbonneau, Laclair, and Roy were left behind.
The history of Toussaint Charbonneau indicates that he returned to the Omaha village near present day Omaha, Nebraska, where he joined Edward Rose, who had returned earlier with Lisa. As mentioned above, in the spring of 1814 Charbonneau and Rose returned west with a group of men. They traveled until they reach a Snake Indian encampment. Snake territories during this period comprised the headwaters of the Green and Bear rivers and along the Snake River. Roy’s marker is on the southern limits of these territories, which groups going west along the Platte River could easily reach.
I believe that Francois Roy returned to the Omaha village with Charbonneau in 1813 and that he joined the men who were leaving for the west in the spring of 1814. He would not have been alone. Other members of Lisa’s 1812-13 expedition were known to have been with this group: Auguste Durocher, Joseph Bissonette, Athonine Leroux, Edward Rose, and Toussaint Charbonneau. Francois Roy must have died some time after March of 1813 and prior to July 12, 1817, the last day that Lisa updated his records. At some point during this period Lisa became aware of Roy’s death and wrote mor [i.e., mort = dead] at the end of Roy’s company records. The only other member of the 1812-1813 expedition who was marked mor was Baptiste Pointsable, who died prior to February 17, 1814. Both Roy and Pointsable’s records were closed between mid-1813 and 1817. After studying all the know Roys who were employed by the major fur companies during the period under study, Francois Roy is the only one known to have been in the area of Roy’s marker in 1814 and to have died during that period.