The men set up camp at the mouth of the Boise River near present-day Parma. After a time they determined a better site for their base would be along the Boise nearer present-day Caldwell. Marie and the kids, along with a few men, took care of things at the base camp while the trappers went out on their rounds in small groups. Pierre worked the Boise River along with Giles Le Clerc and Jacob Reznor.
In January 1814, the new year arrived with word from friendly local Indians that a band of Bannocks was terrorizing the trapping camps. Fearing for the safety of her husband, Marie piled the two kids on a horse with her and set out up the Boise to warn the trappers.
Three days later she arrived at the hut they had built, a little too late. Pierre and Jacob Reznor had been killed. Le Clerc was badly wounded. Marie got him up on a horse that was wandering near the camp, in spite of his protestations for her to leave him. The four of them began trekking back to the base camp. Two days later, Le Clerc died from his wounds.
Arriving at the base camp Marie Dorion found devastation. Everyone in camp had been killed and their bodies mutilated. All the weapons but a couple of knives had been looted. Marie gather together some meager supplies, including a buffalo robe and a couple of deerskins, and did what she had to do. In the dead of winter, she set out with her children for Fort Astoria, 500 miles away.
Her first major obstacle was the Snake River. She swam the horses across, dragging a float she had improvised for their supplies. Marie Dorion fought snowdrifts then for nine days up Burnt River, north along the Powder River, and across the hills to the Grande Ronde and to the foot of the Blue Mountains. Near today’s La Grande, Oregon, exhausted, Marie stopped and built a crude shelter beneath a rock overhang.
Marie and her children holed up in the shelter for 53 days. Early on Marie killed the horses, smoking their meat to preserve it. She caught mice with horsehair snares and foraged for a few frozen berries. Marie rationed the food through the winter. By mid-March it was getting dangerously low. They abandoned their shelter and set out on foot for the west. Marie looked for landmarks she might recognize from her trek to Astoria nearly two years before. But looking became agony. At that altitude everything was still blindingly white.
John Baptiste excitedly pointed to tracks in the snow. When they went to them their joy evaporated. The tracks were their own. They had been traveling in a circle.
The three sought the shelter of nearby brush and holed up for three days to let Marie’s eyes rest. The reprieve from staring into the maddening reflections did the trick. She could again see, but they were out of food. Growing weaker each day they were near the point where Paul, the youngest child, could no longer go on and Marie had lost the capacity to carry him.
Marie saw smoke. Quickly she found a rude shelter in the brush for the children and secreted them away there. Then she went to determine the source of the smoke. She found a camp from the Walla Walla Tribe. Some of them remembered her from two years before when she and the Astorians had travelled through the country. She was saved at last. The Walla Wallas took the three back to their camp where members of the Astoria group found them a few weeks later.
Marie Dorion would live out the rest of her life in the Northwest, first at Fort Okanagon near present-day Brewster, Washington, where she lived with a French-Canadian trapper named Venier. They had a daughter in about 1819 they named Marguerite. Later, Marie met Jean Baptiste Toupin, another French-Canadian. They had two children together, Francois and Marianne, and were married in a Roman Catholic ceremony.
The Toupins moved to the Willamette Valley and settled on a farm in 1841. Marie died there in 1850. The priest who recorded her death estimated her age at 100. After what she had been through, she may have looked very old and worn out, but she would have been about 64.
Marie Dorion became well-known in her lifetime thanks to Astoria: Or, Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains, written by Washington Irving and published in 1836.* She is memorialized at Madame Dorion Memorial Park near Wallula, Washington, and has a residence hall named after her at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. Outside of North Powder, Oregon a memorial plaque marks the likely area where she gave birth to her third child while with the Wilson Price Hunt expedition. A memorial to her was installed at the St. Louis Catholic Church in Gervais, Oregon, just north of Salem, in 2014
Red Heroines of the Northwest, by Byron Defenbach, written in 1929, tells her story extensively. Contemporary accounts include Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire, by Peter Stark, and the Tender Ties Trilogy, by Jane Kirkpatrick.*