Beaver pelts lured the first Euro-Americans deep into the American West. In 1810, only four years after Lewis and Clark completed their epic journey, John Jacob Astor established the Pacific Fur Company. He soon financed sea and land expeditions to establish a post near the mouth of the Columbia River. The land expedition became the first Euro-Americans to explore the Snake River Plain.
Astor's overland party numbered 65 people under the leadership of Wilson Price Hunt. Hunt's party reached the Henry's Fork drainage in eastern Idaho in October 1811 and proceeded to build canoes. They planned to float the Snake River down to the Columbia River and then to Fort Astoria.
The voyage proved extremely difficult. The party encountered dangerous rapids that capsized canoes and supplies. After a man drowned in rapids near present-day Milner Dam, Hunt realized a river passage was not possible. With little food left and winter upon them, the expedition split into three parties and headed overland.
Each party endured great hardships and nearly starved. They survived due to the assistance provided by Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Cayuse Indians who sold them horses and food, and provided directions. By February 16, 1812, all the parties had reached Fort Astoria. Portions of the overland trails followed by the Astorians were later used by westward bound emigrants.
Hunt's group followed the north bank of the Snake River until they were advised by Indians to leave the river and travel in a northwest direction. On November 21, 1811, acting on their advice, Hunt's group became the first Euro-Americans to view the Boise River Valley.
"... at sunrise, we saw before us a river which flowed westerly. Its shores were fringed with cottonwoods and willows. Some Indians had established their camp there. They had many horses, and were better clad than those we had seen previously. They inform us that beaver are common farther up in this small river. Very few of them are in the neighborhood of the camp..."
—Diary of Wilson Price Hunt, 1811