Ramsay Crooks was one of four children of William Crooks and Margaret Ramsay. Ramsay Crooks was born in Scotland; after the death of her husband, Margaret moved the entire family to Canada. The Crooks family was loyal to England, and took some offense when Ramsay took US citizenship. Ramsay's brother James became a member of the Canadian Parliament. His brother William II married into the family of Col. Butler, an ardent Tory in the Revolutionary War.
As a young man, Ramsay worked fur trade routes from Montreal to the Great Lakes to St. Louis. When he met Robert McClellan, the two organized a trip to Astoria in the Oregon territory with Wilson Price Hunt for John Jacob Astor.
In 1811 The Oregon territory was still up for grabs. Thomas Jefferson laid claim on it for the USA with the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Astor party was on business, trying to establish a colony/trading post to capture what should be a lucrative fur territory. In order to go to the Columbia River, the Astorians had to do it as US citizens, rather than British citizens.
The Astor expedition got into trouble crossing the Rocky Mountains. They got lost and split up during the winter, trying to get down off the Rockies by the Snake River. One of the explorers, John Day, was sick and losing his mind, and the consensus of the group was to leave him and continue on. Crooks stayed behind with him, almost starving, surviving by such strategies as boiling old pieces of leather, drinking the soup and chewing the leather. Crooks and Day eventually walked out of the mountains into Walla Walla and were rescued and re-outfitted by the Indians there. They recovered and set off to find the rest of the explorers at Astoria, only to be met by pirate Indians on the Columbia River who robbed them of everything: horses, food, weapons and clothes, and left them standing on the banks of the river. Disgusted, as they were about to head back to the Walla Walla, McClellan came up the river looking for them.
They spent the winter in Astoria, established a trading post and waited for a ship to come get them. Most of the explorers returned by ship, but a party of seven (including Crooks) went overland. Because of better communication with the Indians, this time they took an easier way, and found the pass through the Rocky Mountains that was to become the Oregon Trail.
On his return, Ramsay Crooks became general manager for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. He had an Indian family, and supported his Indian daughter, Hester (Born 1817, married Rev. William Boutwell on Sept. 10, 1834) through school. The work for the American Fur Company was arduous. Supervising the business meant constant travel. He and Astor eventually managed to build the American Fur Company into a dominant near monopoly of the US fur trade. In 1825, Ramsay married Emilie Pratte, daughter of an associate, Gen. William Pratte who was a partner in a rival fur company. With Emilie, he had three children. When Astor retired in 1834, Ramsay Crooks bought the company. He ran a huge trade until 1842. When the European fur market collapsed, the American Fur Company collapsed too.
Ramsay then opened a small fur business in New York, and lived quietly there until his death at 72. Two books to read are: ASTORIA by Washington Irving, and THE FIST IN THE WILDERNESS by David Lavender, which tells the story of the American fur trade with Ramsay Crooks as the central character.
There is an interesting link to a diary by Wilson Price Hunt, leader of the Astoria expedition. Click this link to WP Hunt's diary
At the same web address, there is a letter written by Ramsay Crooks about who discovered the South Pass (Oregon Trail). Click this link to Ramsay Crooks' letter
Click this link to read Washington Irving's book Astoria online!