His birthdate is variously given as 1774, 1794, or 1790. He was the son of Chief Justice Isaac Ogden of Quebec, and Sarah Hanson. After a brief stint with the American Fur Company, he joined the North West Company in 1809. His first post was at Île-á-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan in 1810 and by 1814 was in charge of a post at Green Lake, Saskatchewan, 100 miles south.
Ogden had frequent run-ins with the rival Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) employees and engaged in physical violence on several occasions. In 1816, HBC clerks report that Ogden killed an Indian who had traded with the Hudson's Bay Company. Not only killed, he was "butchered in a most cruel manner," according to HBC officer James Bird. Although many in the North West Company viewed this as a necessary part of living in the Northwest, the HBC viewed him as a dangerous man, whose actions were deplorable especially considering his background as the son of a judge. Ogden was charged with murder, and the North West Company moved him further into the west to attempt to avoid any further confrontations with the HBC. He served at various posts in modern-day Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia for the next several years.
As a way of ending the ongoing strife between the two companies, the HBC and the North West Company merged in 1821. Ogden's violent history placed the now larger HBC in a quandary. The company management severely disliked and distrusted Ogden, but finally agreed that he had done no more than many other people during the 'fur-trade wars' and appointed him Chief Trader for the Snake River Country of the HBC's Columbia Department in 1823. Between 1824 and 1830 Ogden set out on a series of expeditions to explore the Snake River country. One of the company's obejectives was to bring as many furs from this area as possible to the HBC so as to create a "fur desert". This would discourage inroads by American trappers and traders. The exploration trips included:
The expeditions were a successful venture for the HBC, but not without troubles, including an attack by the Mohave near the Gulf of California.
In 1830, Ogden was sent north to establish a new HBC post named Fort Simpson near the mouth of the Nass River in British Columbia. He also managed an outpost on the south coast of Alaska. He administered a fur post at Fort Vancouver throughout the 1840s. There Ogden fought successfully against American fur competition and successfully negotiated with local native tribes, including the Cayuse.
Ogden retired to Oregon City, Oregon with one of his several Native American wives. His contact with native tribes led him to write a memoir entitled "Traits of American Indian Life and Character. By a Fur Trader." The book was published posthumously in 1855.