Interpreter, pioneer, explorer, working mother, and survivor Marie Dorion was the only woman in a group of 60 people sent on an overland expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1810.
Marie, a Native American from Iowa, was born in 1786. While still in her teens, she married fur trader Peter Dorion, Jr. When the Pacific Fur Company’s westward expedition needed translators, they hired Peter and Marie (who both spoke several Indian dialects, plus English, French, and Spanish). While pregnant, Marie walked, rode horses, worked, cared for her two little boys, and even gave birth on the trail in December of 1811. Her infant died soon after. Five weeks later, the expedition arrived in Fort Astoria. Marie’s legendary courage was challenged again when an Indian attack left Peter dead—as well as all the other men on the trip. The little family fled to the Blue Mountains, where Marie and her boys faced blizzards and starvation—huddling in makeshift shelters and eating horsemeat—yet somehow survived. Marie would go on to have three more children and outlive two more husbands. Marie Dorion, the “Madonna of the old Oregon Trail,” died in St. Louis on September 5, 1850.