Dubuque County Historical Society Images

The Pathfinders

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Alexander Mackenzie

Alexander Mackenzie was an explorer and fur trader whose explorations of the rivers of North America brought him lasting fame. He was the first Euro-American to successfully cross the northern part of North America to the Pacific, preceding Lewis and Clark by more than a decade.

Born in Scotland, Mackenzie was brought to New York by his father in 1774. During the Revolutionary War, he was sent to Mohawk Valley and eventually to Montreal for schooling. Mackenzie joined a fur trading firm and became a trader for the firm at Detroit. He eventually became a partner operating out of Grand Portage and subsequently Saskatchewan.

Through the latter 1780's Mackenzie searched for a "Great River" that flowed west, but was disappointed to find that the river flowed into the Arctic Ocean. This river, the Mackenzie, was named for him.

Mackenzie resumed his search for a water route to the Pacific in 1792, setting out with 6 French voyageurs, 1 Scotsman, 2 Indians, and a dog, along with 3,000 pounds of baggage in a 25 foot birchbark canoe. Mackenzie quelled thoughts of desertion by leading a herculean portage around a great defile, journeying overland by Indian trails, and crossing the Rocky Mountains and the 6,000 foot pass which would be named for him. They finally reached the Pacific in 1793. Mackenzie published his expedition journals in 1801, bringing him great notoriety and earning him knighthood from King George III.

Inducted in 1998.

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