The story of Sacagawea, the woman who helped guide the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the Oregon Country, is well known. But 6 years later, another American Indian woman helped guide the 1811 Astor Expedition to Oregon, and she’s believed to be buried in French Prairie in St. Louis.
Born about 1786, she was an Iowan Indian who as a teenager married Pierre Dorion, a French Canadian. Like Sacagawea six years earlier, she served as an interpreter to help guide a party of white explorers to the northwest. It’s possible that Marie and Sacajawea knew one another as both women were originally based in the then-small settlement of St. Louis, and they were both wives of interpreters in the burgeoning Missouri fur trade.
In 1813, the Pacific Fur Company hired Marie’s husband, Pierre Dorion Jr., to help with an overland expedition to the Oregon Country. Along with her two young children, Marie joined her husband and began a long and difficult trip. She is remembered for an act of heroism during the journey.
After reaching Fort Astoria in 1813, Marie and her husband joined a hunting party headed for the Snake River area, home to the Bannock tribe. In January 1814, she learned that the Bannock were planning to attack her husband’s hunting party, and Marie took a horse, 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 the other trapper, 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. Although Marie tried to save him, he died along the way. More horror greeted her back at the main camp where she found 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 hostile territory. For three months, Dorion and her children crossed deep snow in the Blue Mountains of what now is eastern Oregon and Washington. After a journey of about 250 miles, they arrived at the Columbia River and found refuge amongst the Walla Walla tribe.
Marie ultimately settled in St. Louis, Oregon, remarried and lived here until her death in 1850. When she died in 1850, she was buried inside the original St. Louis church. When that church was burned in 1880, her remains were forgotten and their exact whereabouts are no longer known. The current St. Louis church was built on the original 1880 site, but the exact site of Dorion’s remains are unknown. A large stone commemorative marker can be found on the church grounds.