The Glenn-Fowler expedition traversed northeastern Oklahoma in 1821 and reached Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1822. Led by Hugh Glenn, the expedition sought to establish trade with the tribes that inhabited the southern plains. Glenn, who was born in present West Virginia on January 7, 1788, moved with his family to Kentucky in 1796. Eager to escape the drudgery of frontier farming, he sought to advance his fortunes through various endeavors.
By age thirty Glenn was a successful bank director, merchant, and government contractor residing at Cincinnati, Ohio. By 1820, however, he faced court and government actions for his role in the failure of the Cincinnati branch of the Bank of the United States in Philadelphia and for possible contract fraud in provisioning western forts. Glenn fled and took up residence at a trading post sixty miles northwest of Fort Smith, Arkansas, at the mouth of the Verdigris River in present northeastern Oklahoma.
Details of the Glenn-Fowler expedition are known through the daily journal maintained by Jacob Fowler. Born in Maryland on March 1, 1764, Fowler was the oldest participant in the expedition. He had gained a wealth of frontier experiences as a soldier, scout, and hunter in the Ohio Valley. Fowler met Glenn during the War of 1812 as an assistant quartermaster in the U.S. Army. At the war's conclusion Fowler became Glenn's friend and business partner in numerous enterprises. Fowler's reasons for joining the 1821 expedition are unclear but may merely reflect his friendship with Glenn and his passion for adventure.
In August 1821 Glenn received a license at Fort Smith to trade with Indians on the southern plains and beyond U.S. authority as far west as the head of the Arkansas River. As Fowler's journal clarifies, they also planned to trap for beaver in the Arkansas's upper tributaries. The expedition was comprised of a diverse group of twenty-one men that included African Americans, American Indians, French, and Spanish.
Glenn did not initially plan to make the arduous journey to Santa Fe. On September 25 the expedition left his establishment on the Verdigris River, generally following the north bank of the Arkansas River. On October 1 they camped along the Caney River near the present site of Bartlesville in Washington County, Oklahoma. Moving through mixed prairie, the expedition passed into the present state of Kansas. There the men encountered bison and antelope for the first time as they proceeded westward toward the Great Bend of the Arkansas River.
On October 27 the expedition crossed to the south side of the Arkansas River and entered Spanish territory. On November 13 they saw the Spanish Peaks in present southeastern Colorado. Within a week they encountered Kiowa and other Indians in substantial numbers. These meetings were strained, and trade was difficult to establish. On December 29 Glenn learned from Spanish troops that Spanish rule over New Mexico had been ended by a revolution. In January 1822 Glenn traveled to Santa Fe to seek permission to trap and hunt in the former Spanish lands. When approval was granted, members of his party trapped along the Rio Grande, collecting more than eleven hundred pounds of furs. By July 15, 1822, Glenn and his men had returned to St. Louis.
The Glenn-Fowler Expedition of 1821–22 demonstrated that commerce with the province of New Mexico was open to Americans and that routes to Santa Fe were needed for trade to be successful. Fowler's daily journal of the expedition was the first detailed narrative of the southern plains region to appear after Zebulon Pike's expedition of 1806–07 and provides fascinating insight into the topography, fauna, and inhabitants of that area.
Jacob Fowler, The Journal of Jacob Fowler, ed. Elliott Coues (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970).
Raymond W. Settle, "Jacob Fowler," in The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. 3, ed. LeRoy R. Hafen (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1966).
Harry R. Stevens, "A Company of Hands and Traders: Origins of the Glenn-Fowler Expedition of 1821–1822," New Mexico Historical Review 46 (July 1971).
Harry R. Stevens, "Hugh Glenn," in The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Vol. 2, ed. LeRoy R. Hafen (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1965).
Phillip Drennon Thomas, "Thomas James, Hugh Glenn and Jacob Fowler, 1821–1823," in Frontier Adventurers: American Exploration in Oklahoma, ed. Joseph A. Stout, Jr. (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1976).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Phillip Drennon Thomas, "Glenn-Fowler Expedition," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=GL006.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.
Links of Interest
- Joseph A. Stout, Jr., ed., Frontier Adventurers: American Exploration in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1976)., The Gateway to Oklahoma History