Alexander Ross arrived in the Pacific Northwest aboard the ill-fated Tonquin, commanded by Captain Jonathan Thorne in March of 1811. He provided one of the best descriptions of the treacherous waters at the mouth of the Columbia River, known then as the Columbia Bar, but later known as Peacock Bar, in commemoration of the United States Exploring Expedition sloop-of-war Peacock that was wrecked there in 1841:

"The mouth of [the] Columbia River is remarkable for its sand-bars and high surf at all seasons, but more particularly in the spring and fall, during the equinoctial gales: these sand-bars frequently shift, the channel of course shifting along with them, which renders the passage at all times extremely dangerous. The bar, or rather the chain of sand-banks, over which the huge waves and foaming breakers roll so awfully, is a league [three miles] broad, and extends in a white foaming sheet for many miles, both south and north of the mouth of the river, forming as it were an impracticable barrier to the entrance and threatening with instant destruction everything that comes near it.";

Two years after Ross' arrival, the HMS Racoon under Captain William Black became the first warship to cross the bar, but was severely damaged during its exit and forced to make repairs in San Francisco.

Having left Scotland in 1804, Alexander Ross tried his hand at teaching, but later became a clerk in John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company. Astor, influenced by his dinners at the Beaver Club in Montreal, hosted by Alexander Henry (the Elder), had founded the American Fur Company in 1808 and then the Pacific Fur Company in 1810 in response to trading opportunities he foresaw in the wake of the American expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in November of 1805. Astor's partners in this enterprise included John Clarke, Duncan McDougall, Alexander McKay, David Stuart, Robert Stuart, Donald McKenzie-all formerly affiliated with the Nor'westers-as well as St. Louis trader Wilson Price Hunt, Gabriel Franchère and Jean Baptiste Perrault of Montreal.

Alexander Ross would be one of the most steadfast of the Astorians before it became part of the North West Company. He described how the the Astorians of the Pacific Fur Company struggled to establish Fort Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River when he became one of the first year-round European residents on the Pacific Slope. With a Chinook dictionary and Ross' own speculations on the "Origin of the Oakinackens,"; Ross' fur trading memoir entitled Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River frankly recalls his career as the second European to reach Kamloops and the first European in the Similkameen Valley.

Alexander Ross reached Cumcloups ("the meeting of the waters";) in 1812, after David Stuart of the Pacific Fur Company had seen the junction of the North and South Thompson Rivers in 1811. Ross took a wife from among the local Okanagan (or Okanogan) tribe and they had at least three children. She went with him to Manitoba when he retired to the Red River Settlement in 1825, and he later became sheriff of Assiniboia. He died in 1856. She died in Winnipeg in 1886.


Ross, Alexander. Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River; being a narrative of the expedition fitted out by John Jacob Astor to establish the "Pacific Fur Company;" with an account of some of the Indian Tribes on the coast of the Pacific (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1849; Chicago: R.R. Donnelley, 1923; Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1986; Oregon State University Press, 2000).

Ross, Alexander. The Fur Hunters of the Far West; a narrative of adventures in the Oregon and Rocky Mountains (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1855; Chicago: Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelly & Sons Company, 1924; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956).

Ross, Alexander. Red River Settlement; its rise, process and present state. With some account of the native races and its general history, to the present day. (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1856).

Ross, Alexander. Letters of a Pioneer (Winnipeg: Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba / Winnipeg Free Press, 1903).

[BCBW 2014] "Forts and Fur" "1800-1850"