Kentucky and the Lewis and Clark Expedition
By James J. Holmberg
"How would you like to lead such a party?"
With those words, Thomas Jefferson put into writing his dream of sending an exploring party into the American West. Jefferson wrote those words not to Meriwether Lewis or William Clark, but to George Rogers Clark, the hero of the Revolution in the West. The date was December 4, 1783, twenty years before George's youngest brother William would actually do what the author of the Declaration of Independence and future president proposed to George Rogers Clark.
In 1783 Kentucky was the West. It was the United States' "First West" - the young nation's first country to be settled beyond the Appalachians. Kentucky became the first western state and a major supplier of settlers for lands that would become future states to the north, south, and west.
It was an area of intrigue by foreign powers. The infamous "Spanish Conspiracy" of the 1780s and 1790s witnessed attempts by the Spanish to influence Kentucky politics and possibly separate it from the young United States. In the 1790s French agents sought to enlist Kentuckians - led by George Rogers Clark - against the Spanish in Louisiana. And to the north, across the Ohio River, although the American Revolution had ended, the British from their posts in Canada and ones they still garrisoned in the Northwest Territory supplied Indians for their continuing war with the Kentuckians.
The Ohio River was the major northern highway to this "First West." Settlers descended its waters by the thousands. As the 18th century neared its end, towns and farms sprinkled the banks of the Ohio. The Cumberland Gap was the major southern highway into this "Eden of the West." Pioneers followed it into Kentucky by the thousands also. Kentucky became that arm pointing west toward the setting sun and America's destiny of reaching across the continent to the Pacific. Look at a map from the period. Kentucky looks almost like a sign post, pointing the way west.
Given this position as the first western state and the source for so many settlers and adventurers who moved on to other lands beyond the mountains, it is clear why Jefferson called on his friend George Rogers Clark to undertake an expedition to the Pacific from Kentucky. But a Clark Expedition into the West beyond the Mississippi River in 1784 was not to be. On February 8, 1784, Clark wrote Jefferson that he thought such an expedition should be carried out, but that he couldn't lead it. Having sacrificed so much already in the service of his country, Clark stated, he had to look after his own affairs and must therefore decline the invitation. The Hannibal of the West then related how he thought such an expedition should be carried out.
Jefferson did not give up hope of an exploring venture west of the Mississippi. Other duties intervened but he remained aware of other opportunities that may present themselves to achieve his long-time dream. After a failed attempt in 1787 by an American adventurer who tried to reach the Pacific Northwest by traveling east across Russia and Siberia, Jefferson refocused his attention on Kentucky as the place to begin a western expedition.
But before he organized another exploring venture, the secretary of war, Henry Knox, ordered that an army officer and small party make an attempt to explore up the Missouri. While not necessarily a secret mission, the expedition was to be quietly carried out. The officer chosen was Lieutenant John Armstrong. A Revolutionary War veteran and Clark family friend. From the Falls of the Ohio in 1790, he went cross country to Kaskaskia and then to St. Louis. While in St. Louis, Armstrong gathered information. He was warned of hostile tribes up the Missouri and decided that it was not possible to proceed farther. He returned to Louisville and then on to army headquarters at Fort Washington at Cincinnati.
Jefferson made another effort in 1793. An opportunity to explore the West presented itself in the name of André Michaux. This French botanist was believed by Jefferson and other members of the American Philosophical Society to be the man of science needed to achieve such an undertaking. The instructions he received were similar to the ones that Lewis and Clark would receive ten years later. Michaux had traveled widely in the United States and he may have succeeded in his mission, if an exploring venture into the American West had been his first priority. But it wasn't. Instead, Michaux got involved in French intrigues in America. He was instructed to travel to Kentucky to begin his journey.
This coincided nicely with his primary mission for the French Revolutionary government. He was trusted with carrying George Rogers Clark's commission as a major general in the French army to him in Louisville. Clark had agreed to help the French in their aspirations of reestablishing a North American empire. His bitterness toward Virginia and federal officials and his hope to reverse his financial fortunes put him on what some thought was a treasonous course. The whole plan fell apart. The French, including Michaux, procrastinated, George Washington got wind of the plan and effectively broke it up, and Clark himself became disgusted and cooled in his filibustering enthusiasm. And what of Michaux's expedition up the Missouri and to the Pacific? He never got beyond the Mississippi.
A decade passed. Jefferson must have wondered if he'd ever realize his dream of an American exploring venture into the West. But events were happening that would bring about its realization.
In March 1801 Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States. That same month, a young army officer named Meriwether Lewis accepted Jefferson's invitation to serve as his private secretary. The President had not yet decided on a western expedition. He wanted Lewis in Washington because he believed he could trust him (the families were neighbors in Albemarle County, Virginia) and Lewis could provide valuable information about the West - the West being Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana Territory and other U. S. lands. There were still great expanses of wilderness in this "First West" but people were streaming over the mountains into it, and the frontier was moving westward. Kentucky was not the same "Dark and Bloody Ground" of the 1770s and 1780s . Kentucky was fast becoming a major state in the young republic, but it was still a western state. It was a major outfitting and recruitment center for pioneers traveling elsewhere and hunters and traders striking out into the wilderness. Its location and the outdoor talents of its young men destined it to be the cradle of the Corps of Discovery.
Whether Jefferson had in the back of his mind the idea of sending an exploring party up the Missouri and to the Pacific that first year of his presidency isn't known. It took a book by a Scotsman named Alexander Mackenzie to give him the push he needed to actually make his dream a reality. Mackenzie had just published his account of his 1792-1793 journey across Canada from Montreal to the Pacific. In it he recommended that the British seize control of the Pacific Northwest and monopolize its rich fur trade.
When Jefferson read this, it brought to the forefront all his fears of the U. S. being hemmed in by European powers - especially a powerful and hostile Great Britain. This gave him the push he needed to put his long-held, but hitherto frustrated, plan into action. The United States would answer the British with their own expedition across the continent and to the western sea. It would achieve everything that Jefferson and his scientific friends had always wanted in such a venture. It would blaze a potentially lucrative commercial path that would provide not only access to rich fur country and the Orient trade but also open up trade with western Indian tribes and perhaps finally determine if there actually was a northwest passage. It would be a scientific journey, with journals kept and specimens and artifacts collected. And it would secure a stronger U. S. claim to the disputed Pacific Northwest. Such a journey would be a true contribution to science and knowledge as well as in the best interests of the country.
In early 1803 the expedition began to take shape. Jefferson asked Congress for $2,500 in January for what was called a commercial and scientific undertaking. (The final price tag was almost $40,000.) Congress approved this modest expenditure. In March and April Lewis traveled to Harpers Ferry and then to Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to acquire needed arms and supplies for the trip and to be tutored in areas such as medicine and astronomy. By June he was back in Washington and getting ready to go to Pittsburgh. It was there, at the beginning of the Ohio River, that Lewis had a keelboat for the expedition built, temporary crew enlisted, and potential members for the Corps of Discovery "taken on trial." The Ohio would be the first river and the first major leg of what would be a trek of some 10,000 miles across the continent.
Before leaving Washington there was one very important task that Lewis had to perform. In doing it, he forged one of the expedition's strongest links to Kentucky and made an important move toward a successful expedition. On June 19, 1803, Lewis wrote his old army commander and friend, William Clark, inviting him to join the enterprise as co-commander.
Lewis and Jefferson agreed that a second officer was needed on the expedition. In case Lewis should die, become ill, injured or unable to perform his duty for some reason, or face mutinous men, another officer was needed. Jefferson left the choice to Lewis. The young explorer wanted William Clark. Jefferson knew the Clark family, especially George and William. George had recommended his brother to the president for work he might need done in the West (i.e. Kentucky and the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys) just months earlier. On December 12, 1802, George wrote Jefferson, stating that William was already doing some work for the secretary of war and was "well quallified almost for any business. If it should be in your power to confur on him any post of Honor and profit, . . . it will exceedingly gratify me." Jefferson had become acquainted with William when the latter had visited Washington on business in recent years. He knew that Clark had grown up on the Kentucky frontier, served with distinction in the army, and that his wilderness, Indian, and military skills would be a valuable addition to the undertaking. Jefferson wholeheartedly agreed with his secretary's choice.
Thus, on June 19, 1803, Lewis wrote his friend about the expedition and his hope "to induce you to participate with me in it's fatiegues, it's dangers and it's honors, believe me there is no man on earth with whom I should feel equal pleasure in sharing them as yourself." The letter took a month to reach the Falls of the Ohio area.
Lewis's invitation to become his partner in discovery arrived at a perfect time in Clark's life. William had impoverished himself trying to help brother George with his serious legal and financial difficulties. He had traveled thousands of miles and pledged his own money on George's behalf but failed to reverse his fortunes. The result was William's own financial collapse. By late 1802 William had decided to sell his farm outside Louisville and use the proceeds to get a new start across the river in Clarksville. The decision could not have been easy. William and George had called the Clark farm, named Mulberry Hill, home for eighteen years. Ever since William, his parents, and three of his sisters had moved there in 1785, Mulberry Hill had been the Clark family seat. He sold the farm and its mills to brothers Jonathan and Edmund, respectively, and in the spring of 1803 William and George moved to Point of Rocks, a beautiful site on the east side of Clarksville at the foot of the Falls of the Ohio.
When Meriwether Lewis's invitation arrived, William Clark must have thought it the possible answer to his woes. At almost thirty-three years old, he was starting over. He was looking for something that would reverse his financial difficulties. He wanted to make a name for himself - to live up to, in his mind, the Clark name. It was perfect timing. An expedition to the Pacific, if they succeeded, would accomplish all this. William also knew that he would most likely receive a prominent government appointment. They would be heroes and rewarded by a grateful nation. Also tempting was the great adventure it would be!
With all this in mind, William wasted no time in replying to Lewis's letter. On July 18, the day after receiving it, he wrote
The famous duo was now set. But Lewis had asked his friend something else in his letter. Regardless of whether or not Clark went, Lewis asked him to begin recruiting the frontiersmen needed to serve on the expedition. Kentucky was fertile ground for the young woodsmen and hunters that Lewis knew were vital to the success of the journey. Although supplies were being brought with the Corps, the foodstuffs were intended to only supplement a main diet of meat. Hunters would go out almost every day in search of game.
Food historians and nutritionists have examined the amount of game killed, diet of the explorers, and the physical activity of the men and determined that the Corps - just as an army is said to do - traveled on its stomach. Supplemented by fruits and vegetables, each man consumed an average of from six to nine pounds of meat a day. Some estimates range as high as twelve pounds! The number of calories being burned ranged from four to seven thousand a day while on the march (compared to today's adult male consuming and burning a daily average of two thousand calories during a normal day). If the hunters didn't bring in game, the men didn't eat. Talented woodsmen and hunters were clearly crucial to allowing the expedition to advance day after day.
Lewis knew this, and informed his friend that while traveling down the Ohio on the way to their rendezvous in Louisville, he was going to "find out and engage some good hunters, stout, healthy, unmarried men, accustomed to the woods, and capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable degree." He then asked Clark that "should any young man answering this description be found in your neighborhood I would thank you to give information of them on my arivall." Lewis of course knew that Clark would know a number of promising candidates that met this criteria. Clark did not disappoint him.
Within days of agreeing to join Lewis, Clark was gathering young men for their Western adventure. The Louisville area was a perfect recruiting area. It was a major frontier town and supply point. The Falls - really more rapids with a drop of some twenty feet over two miles - was the only serious obstruction to navigation in the Ohio's almost one thousand miles. Boats going down the Ohio regularly put into Louisville to hire a pilot to go through the Falls. Their cargoes were often off-loaded and portaged around the Falls to the lower landing - soon to become the town of Shippingport. Parties of trappers, hunters, and traders heading west frequently outfitted themselves in Louisville. On their return, they often sold their furs, buffalo robes, and other items in Louisville.
The young hunters and woodsmen needed for the expedition were drawn from such men. They were the sons of the pioneers who had come to Kentucky in the 1770s and 1780s. Most came to Kentucky as children. At least one was a native and another came as a young man; and William Clark knew many of them. In his July 18 letter to Lewis, Clark reported that "I shall endeavor to engage (temporally) a fiew men, such as will best answer our purpose." Actually, not all the men Clark recruited had to wait for Lewis's approval. William knew three young men were keepers from the beginning, exactly the kind of man needed for the venture.
Faced with everything he knew he had to accomplish before Lewis reached Louisville, Clark wasted no time. Since his recruiting base, resources, most of his business affairs, and his family and friends were primarily in Louisville and Jefferson County, William essentially moved back across the river to establish his headquarters and make preparations for his partner in discovery's arrival. There was no time to waste! Lewis's letter estimated he would be with Clark by mid-August. Consequently, William believed he only had about three weeks to put his affairs in order and recruit the needed hunters. In reality, he had two months.
Writing Lewis six days later, Clark reported that he already had "temperally engaged some men for the enterprise of a discription calculated to work & go thro' those labours & fatigues which will be necessary." "Gentlemens sons" weren't among the recruits. Clark believed that they were not "accustomed to labour," an essential part of a recruit's service.
Anticipation must have grown in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley as word spread of Lewis's "western tour." At this time, the official destination was the upper Mississippi River, but there was speculation that a journey up the Missouri to explore the Louisiana Territory also was planned. Clark reported to Lewis that word of his expedition had been making the rounds in Louisville since the beginning of July. When it became known that William Clark was to be co-leader of the undertaking, young men must have sought him out wherever he went.
Clark was a good judge of men and their abilities. Over the next few months, as he waited for Lewis to reach Louisville, William recruited men that became the foundation of the Corps of Discovery. The men he had waiting for Lewis became some of the most valuable members of the Corps. Writing Lewis from Louisville on August 21, Clark reported that the four "young men that I have engaged or rather promised to take on the experdition are . . . the best woodsmen & Hunters, of the young men in this part of the Country." Interest in going was great, and even "stout likely fellows" were being put off in order to be able to pick the top applicants.
We know who three of the four men were that Clark had recruited by mid-August. In fact, three of them already were on board for the expedition by the end of July. A post expedition list of the Corps' members gives the enlistment date of each man. Using it makes it possible to identify the nine recruits enlisted at the Falls of the Ohio. Three carry enlistment dates of August 1, 1803. These young men became the first permanent enlisted members of the Corps of Discovery. They were Charles Floyd and the brothers Joseph and Reubin Field. Given their almost immediate recruitment following the arrival of Lewis's letter on July 17, Clark must have known them - and known they were exactly the kind of men needed for the journey.
Charles Floyd was only about twenty years old in 1803. He had been born about 1782 in Jefferson County. His family had come to Kentucky a few years earlier and settled at his Uncle John Floyd's station along Beargrass Creek. It is believed that Charles was born there. In the 1780s there was the ever-present danger of Indian attack and families often lived together in fortified settlements for protection. But violence and death was a part of life as pioneers sought to wrest the land from the Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, and other tribes. John Floyd was killed by Indians in 1783 and buried at his station. Today, where Charles grew up and his uncle was laid to rest is surrounded by the homes, apartments, and businesses of the city of St. Matthews in eastern Louisville.
In looking for opportunities to improve their economic opportunities, Charles's father, Robert, moved across the Ohio to the Clarksville area by 1799. There, the young Charles quickly made his mark. He became the first constable of Clarksville Township when Clark County was formed in 1801. He also got the contract to carry the mail between Louisville and Vincennes in 1802. This was no easy job! The trip between the two towns crossed unsettled country. Hardship and danger would have been a constant companion. A seasoned traveler, who had proven himself responsible and capable, Charles was just the kind of young man William Clark wanted. Clark knew the family, and undoubtedly knew Charles. It is likely that when he thought of the men he wanted to recruit for the venture Charles Floyd was among his top prospects. This assessment was proven in the ensuing months. When three sergeants were officially appointed in the spring of 1804 before the expedition set off up the Missouri, Charles Floyd was one of them.
Clark most likely knew the Field brothers, also. The brothers weren't born in Kentucky but moved to Jefferson County as mere children. Probably born in Culpeper County, Virginia, their father Abraham was an Indian fighter and hunter. He settled at the Fishpools, in the present Okolona area of Louisville, in 1784. Best evidence indicates that Joseph was born about 1780 and Reubin about 1781. Thus they grew up on the frontier, just like Charles Floyd. In 1790, their father purchased a farm on Pond Creek in the present Valley Station area of Louisville. There the young boys grew to young men, learning the hunting and frontier skills that brought them to Clark's attention. Like the Floyd family, it is likely that Clark knew the Field family as well. They had friends, neighbors, and associates in common, and their paths had probably crossed any number of times. By early August 1803, the Field brothers were preparing for a hunting trip like no other.
Who the fourth man was isn't known. Could it be John Colter? Colter is believed to have been born in Augusta County, Virginia, about 1775 and moved to Maysville (at that time named Limestone), Kentucky, with his family about 1779. We actually have a physical description of this young frontiersman, one of the few we have for expedition members. Colter was described as being 5'10" tall, with blue eyes, a good mind, and shy. He was among the best hunters on the expedition and thus certainly fit the criteria. He would have ranged far and wide in the Ohio Valley in his hunting pursuits. It is generally believed that he joined Lewis at Maysville, but this may not be the case. Lewis never gives the names of his two recruits but they may have been with him since Pittsburgh. Had Colter perhaps gone downstream to Louisville and Clark? The next official enlistment date after August 1 was October 15, and it was John Colter's. That was the day after Lewis and Clark met in Louisville, and the day the keelboat was piloted through the Falls. Could it be that Clark thought it best to get Lewis's approval of Colter before officially accepting him as a member of the expedition?
Could the other man have been Nathaniel Hale Pryor? Pryor was Charles Floyd's first cousin. Born in Virginia about 1772, young Nathaniel had moved to Jefferson County with his family about 1782. Like so many people of that time, death was no stranger to Pryor. By the time he was twenty, both his parents are believed to have been dead. In 1798 he married Peggy Patten, daughter of James Patten, one of Louisville's original settlers and most experienced pilots to guide boats through the Falls of the Ohio. By 1803, though, Peggy had died, and Nathaniel had few ties binding him to home. Pryor proved his value to the party early on, and, like his cousin, was appointed a sergeant. However, his enlistment date is the last one for the Falls recruits, October 20. Did he hesitate to commit to the venture, deciding to go only after talking with Lewis as well as Clark and thinking about the opportunity?
What about John Shields or William Bratton? John Shields was the Corps' primary gunsmith and blacksmith. Clark knew someone with those skills was essential. If the gun repairs and other smith work that would inevitably be needed on this wilderness trek couldn't be made, then the expedition may very well fail. A man with the eye of a hunter as well as the skills of a gunsmith-blacksmith would have been high on Clark's list. Even the fact that John Shields was married didn't matter. A native of Virginia, Shields was actually older than Clark. Born in the vicinity of Harrisonburg in 1769, his family moved to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in 1784. It was there that young John learned blacksmithing. About 1790 John moved to Jefferson County, Kentucky, and later married a woman named Nancy. By 1803, John and Nancy Shields were living in West Point, located on the Ohio at the mouth of Salt River. Despite Lewis's instructions to recruit unmarried men, Clark knew that an exception - at least in this case - was necessary. William's judgement was proved right yet again. Shields was not only one of the best hunters but was indispensable concerning his gunsmith and blacksmith talents.
What about William Bratton? Another native of Augusta County, Virginia, Bratton is one of the few men whose actual birth date - July 27, 1778 - is known. Augusta was a huge county at that time, comprising much of what is today the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and West Virginia. Nothing has been found to indicate if men such as Colter, Shields, and Bratton, known to have been born in Augusta, lived in the same vicinity. About 1790 the Bratton family moved to Kentucky, settling, it is believed, in Jefferson County. In addition to being one of the hunters on the expedition, Bratton also assisted John Shields with the gunsmith and blacksmith duties.
The final possibility is York, William Clark's enslaved African American. A companion of Clark's since they were boys, York was probably born about 1772 in Caroline County, Virginia, on the Clark farm. Assigned to William as his servant, he had traveled extensively with his master. Having grown up on the frontier, York was also a hunter and frontiersman. Realistically, however, given his status as a slave and the servant of Clark, it is unlikely that Clark counted him as one of those first four, even though he most likely planned on bringing him on the expedition from the time he accepted Lewis's invitation. York was an important members of the Corps, although he was never an official member. Unlike the other explorers, York received no pay or land grant for his contribution to the expedition. He does have the distinction of being the first African American to cross the United States from coast to coast, and today enjoys a degree of fame greater than all but a few of the other members of the Corps.
If those were the seven recruits William Clark had waiting on October 14, who were the two men on trial that Meriwether Lewis had with him? All historians are agreed that George Shannon, the youngest member of the Corps, was one of the two. Born in Pennsylvania in 1785, young George moved to Belmont County, Ohio, with his family in 1800. In 1803 he is believed to have been attending school in Pittsburgh when he joined Lewis as one of "three young men on trial." Unfortunately, Lewis never names who these young men were. From what we do know, however, Shannon is almost assuredly one of the two that were still with Lewis when he reached Louisville. Despite being "lost" on a couple of occasions during the expedition - once for some two weeks - Shannon earned his place as an explorer. After the expedition he helped with the publication of the official history, attended Transylvania University in Lexington and enjoyed a long and sometimes turbulent career as a lawyer, state legislator, and judge in Kentucky and Missouri. Perhaps "lost" was a theme for George. In 1807 he lost a leg as a result of an Indian fight and in 1828 he moved to Missouri after being on the losing side of a Kentucky political issue, with the subsequent effect of lost reputation and career prospects. That was far in his future though, as he worked his way down the Ohio in that late summer and early fall of 1803.
The other recruit that Lewis brought with him down the Ohio may have been George Gibson. Born in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, not even an approximate year is known for his birth. Previously believed to have moved to Kentucky as a child, a post expedition legal document casts doubt on that belief. In that document, Gibson identifies himself a resident of Mercer County, thus indicating that he lived there at the time he joined the expedition. In addition to being one of the hunters, Gibson also played the fiddle on occasion and is said to have assisted sometimes as an interpreter with the Indians. If this is true, he probably used sign language. Another possible hint that Gibson and Shannon had come down the river together is their enlistment date - they have the same one, October 19.
Will we ever know exactly who Lewis brought with him and who Clark had waiting? Possibly not. The answers may be lost in the fog of time. But we do know that these nine men are forever associated with Kentucky in the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. After interviewing Clark about the expedition, Nicholas Biddle, author/editor of the official expedition history published in 1814, noted that nine of the men were "robust young American citizens from the neighborhood of Louisville." Clark identified these first recruits as being from Kentucky, and thus in Biddle's history and those that followed it, they entered the annals of this American epic as the "Nine Young Men from Kentucky."
On August 31, Lewis left Pittsburgh. In its upper reaches, the river had was extremely low - lower than anyone could remember. The young captain had to hire teams of horses and oxen to actually drag the boat downstream in some places. His men had to shovel through sand bars blocking their way. As Lewis proceeded down the Ohio, the water level rose, but it was still low and progress was slow. Lewis bought the red pirogue - which would travel almost to the Great Falls of the Missouri - in Wheeling to help spread the load and make the keelboat and at least one other boat he had with him lighter. It was in Wheeling where some of his supplies were loaded after being shipped by wagon from Pittsburgh. Sometime in mid-September, perhaps about the 20th, Lewis passed onto Kentucky's stretch of the Ohio where the Big Sandy River enters it and where Ashland now stands watch over the river. Making his way downstream, he continued to stop at towns along its banks. Maysville, a major port of entry into central Kentucky's Bluegrass region would have been a likely stop. Augusta, eighteen miles farther downstream, another.
On September 28, Meriwether Lewis reached Cincinnati. On October 1, he dispatched his little flotilla to Big Bone Lick, where he met it on perhaps the 4th, after staying in Cincinnati a few more days before taking the much shorter overland route to the lick. Big Bone Lick, in Boone County, was of great interest to Thomas Jefferson. Ever the man of scientific inquiry, he had requested Lewis stop there and send him specimens of the bones of mastodons and other prehistoric animals that could be found there. Lewis did just that. He loaded some boxes with bones and sent them to Natchez. There they sank at the dock. It wouldn't be until 1807, when Clark made a major dig for Jefferson at Big Bone Lick, that the president's curiosity was satisfied. That dig resulted in enough specimens that Jefferson sent many of them to his scientist friends in Paris. Using these Big Bone Lick bones, they determined that the mastodon and mammoth were two distinct species and established paleontology as a modern science.
Captain Lewis probably left Big Bone Lick on October 7 or 8. Louisville and his rendezvous with Clark was only about a week away. The Ohio was still low but higher than in its upper reaches and navigation was easier as the little flotilla continued downstream toward the Falls of the Ohio. Little towns, farms, and even a vineyard continued to dot the riverbanks. At the mouth of the Kentucky River stood the little town of Port William - now Carrollton.
The anticipation of William Clark, his recruits, and others living at the Falls of the Ohio must have been great. Lewis's expected mid-August arrival had become later and later as he waited in Pittsburgh for the keelboat to be finished and then labored his way downriver. Lewis's letter to Clark dated September 28 from Cincinnati predicted he might be in Louisville before his letter since he planned to set out again on September 30. William probably had his friend's letter in hand, stating his estimated October 7 arrival date, as October entered its second week. He must have been expecting Lewis to hove into site at any time. He almost certainly had a watch kept at the Louisville waterfront, and probably spent time there himself, looking upriver for his friend.
Finally, on Friday, October 14, Lewis and his little flotilla did indeed appear. Word must have raced through town that Captain Lewis was coming! The welcoming committee that greeted him at the Louisville landing probably included Clark, some or all of his recruits, and interested citizens. One can image a festive atmosphere, with shouts of greeting and warm handshakes. The Kentucky Gazette newspaper in Lexington reported the event:
Thus the famous partnership of Lewis and Clark was formed. Also formed at the Falls of the Ohio in the days that followed was the all-important foundation of the Corps of Discovery - those Nine Young Men from Kentucky, York, and don't forget Lewis's faithful Newfoundland dog Seaman. Without this solid beginning upon which the rest of the Corps of Discovery and the success of the expedition were built this U. S. "enterprise" very well may have failed. From good beginnings do indeed come good things and this was the best of beginnings.
But there was no time to waste! The season for travel was growing shorter, and the captains hoped to get some distance up the Missouri before establishing winter quarters. The following day, October 15, fellow traveler Thomas Rodney noted in his journal that "Captn. Lewis's boat passed the Falls just before we got here." Rodney arrived in Louisville at 1:00 p.m. Therefore, the keelboat and red pirogue were apparently piloted through the Falls around noon. But Rodney, who had encountered Lewis in Pittsburgh and Wheeling, and even enjoyed watermelon with him on the keelboat in the latter town, had more to report. "I am informed he will be detained here all next [week]," he noted.
Why had the expected "few days" before the Corps pushed off from the Falls, as reported in the newspaper, become at least a week? Had something happened? Whatever the reason for the delay - more time to review the recruits?; more time for William to wrap up his affairs?; damage to the boat in going through the Falls? - the news was abroad in Louisville by Saturday evening when Rodney most likely made his journal entry. Given the captains' sense of urgency, it would seem that the reason for the delay was unavoidable. This is especially true given the fact that the delay extended to not one week but almost two! The Nine Young Men from Kentucky were all enlisted by October 20. William Clark was at the Jefferson County courthouse on October 26, the day they finally did leave, filing a power of attorney and a deed. His failure to do so earlier was apparently an oversight, and only remembered just before leaving. Are we correct to theorize that something happened to the boat in going through the Falls? There appears to be no other valid reason for the delay. When Thomas Rodney had his boat piloted through the Falls on October 18, he describes a harrowing trip, with catastrophe just a rock away! In fact, Rodney's boat had a shallower draft that Lewis's keelboat and should have passed over the rapids easier than the larger and heavier Discovery.
Perhaps we'll never know. While waiting to leave, Clark and Lewis visited family and friends (Lewis had a number of Meriwether relatives living near Louisville), finished evaluating men and enlisting the "Nine," and making other preparations. Their base camp is believed to have been the Clark farm in Clarksville and from it they went back and forth between there and Louisville. They probably were at William and Lucy Clark Croghans' Locust Grove estate as well as Jonathan Clark's Trough Spring plantation. On the evening of October 17, Lewis and Clark enjoyed a glass of wine aboard Rodney's boat tied up at the Louisville waterfront.
On October 24, Jonathan came into Louisville from his place and then crossed over the river to Clarksville. He recorded in his diary that he spent the night at William's. Had the captains planned to leave that day? If so, there was another delay. Finally, on October 26, a rainy Wednesday, all was in readiness. William had returned from the Jefferson County courthouse by afternoon, good byes were said, and men were boarded. One can imagine the scene. There must have been tearful farewells, hugs, waves, and cheers. The explorers' families and friends and others seeing them off didn't know if they would ever see them again. These intrepid twelve were going to venture into a wilderness full of hardship and danger. Jonathan went with them as far as his son-in-law's farm about ten miles downstream, at present Lake Dreamland in western Louisville. "Capt. Lewis and Capt. Wm. Clark sot [set] of[f] on a Western tour," he recorded, "[I] went in their boat to Mr. Temple's."
A report made its way from Louisville to Lexington, where the Kentucky Gazette again carried the news.
The report then went on to speculate where the explorers were going - the upper Mississippi River and later the Missouri?; how many men were going; and the technological wonder of Lewis's iron frame boat - doomed to failure above the Great Falls of the Missouri almost two years hence.
Thus the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery had formed at the Falls of the Ohio and then pushed off down the Ohio on a journey that would eventually take them to the Pacific and back. What the next two or three years held for them they didn't know. Adventure, hardship, and danger - of that they were sure. Glory, land, and other rewards - of that they hoped.
The first Kentucky hamlet below Louisville was West Point, John Shields' home. Perhaps he joined the group there after a last visit home or went ashore to give his wife a final kiss good bye. West Point's young ladies apparently made a lasting impression on Lewis. Almost a month later, while visiting Cape Girardeau on the Mississippi River, Lewis noted in his journal that a very pretty girl there was "much the most descent looking feemale I have seen since I left the settlement in Kentuckey a little below Louisville." That "settlement" almost certainly was West Point.
Averaging about twenty miles a day, the explorers made their way down the Ohio to the Mississippi. There, when they turned northward up the Father of Waters, the young Corps would end its Kentucky portion of the journey for almost three years. The boats sailed past - and perhaps stopped at - a little settlement at the Yellow Banks, the future Owensboro; Henderson at the Red Banks; Lusk's Ferry in present Livingston County; and the confluences of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers with the Ohio, where Smithland and Paducah, respectively, would eventually be founded. The Clark family owned a large tract of land where the future Paducah would be established, and William Clark returned twenty-four years later to found the town.
On November 11, the party arrived at Fort Massac, the major army post on the lower Ohio. Lewis and Clark had both been there before. Located on a strategic site on the Illinois side of the Ohio, it was located just downstream from present Paducah. It was here that the captains expected a contingent of U.S. soldiers from Tennessee to join them. The soldiers were still in Tennessee, but George Drouillard was there. Believed to have been born in Ohio, his mother Shawnee and his father French Canadian, George had been raised on the frontier. Famous Kentucky frontiersman Simon Kenton stated that Peter Drouillard (George's father) and his family lived with him in Mason County for a time. Like many traders of the time, Peter Drouillard had a white as well as an Indian family. George was primarily raised among the Shawnee, but it is certainly possible that he lived with his father's white family at times, including during their Kentucky residence. George certainly traveled in the Ohio Valley and would have been in Kentucky any number of times. Thus, he too has a claim as a "young man from Kentucky." By 1803 George called the Cape Girardeau district of Missouri home. Many Shawnee, French, and some French Canadians had settled there. He also lived at Massac Village, just west of Fort Massac, and worked as an interpreter and hunter for the army. The day they arrived, the captains hired George as an interpreter and dispatched him to Tennessee as a courier to learn about the party of soldiers that should have met them at Massac. The Tennessee River may have been their route to the Ohio. If so, Drouillard probably paddled up it across Kentucky's western end and into Tennessee. On December 22, he arrived at the Corps' winter camp in Illinois opposite the mouth of the Missouri with the men. Three days later, George Drouillard officially signed on with the Corps, undoubtedly one of the best Christmas presents Lewis and Clark ever received. During the expedition he proved himself one of its most valuable members.
After two days at Fort Massac, the explorers continued on to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi. There they spent almost a week inspecting the area, taking astronomical readings, surveying, and taking a little trip down to old Fort Jefferson. Built under the direction of George Rogers Clark in 1780 at the mouth of Mayfield Creek as the young United States' farthestmost outpost, the fort proved too isolated and vulnerable to Indian attack. It was abandoned the following year.
On November 20, the Corps of Discovery began their ascent of the Mississippi and left Kentucky behind, not to return for almost three years. But a Kentucky connection and influence continued. The saying that you might take the boy out of Kentucky but you can't take Kentucky out of the boy is true for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Both at Fort Massac and at the U. S. post at Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River, Lewis and Clark recruited soldiers for the journey. Five of these men (Hugh McNeal, William Werner, Joseph Whitehouse, Alexander H. Willard, and Richard Windsor) are believed to have been Kentuckians. Together with Clark, York, Floyd, Pryor, Colter, and the Field Brothers, these other Kentuckians applied the talents and skills they had learned in Kentucky on the expedition. Kentucky had helped make these men who they were and prepare them for this epic adventure. With half of the men being Kentuckians or having Kentucky connections, the Corps definitely had a Kentucky flavor and imprint.
It isn't the purpose of this article to relate the history of the expedition across the American West. There are many sources to learn the details of the Corps' journey. Highlights include the winter at Camp Dubois where the men began to be molded into a unit and family; setting off up the Missouri River on May 14, 1804; and the exhausting work of taking the boats up the Missouri. Sailing, rowing, poling, and pulling were all employed. Hunters were sent out almost everyday in order to supply the men with the meat they needed to sustain them. Remember how much meat each man ate every day. The Kentuckians and George Drouillard were the primary hunters. Without their skill the explorers would not have been able to keep putting one foot in front of the other day after day as they journeyed to the Pacific.
The members of the Corps were diplomats to the many American Indians they encountered. Lewis and Clark were ordered to tell these still very free and often powerful native tribes that they were now the children of the "Great White Father" - the U. S. President - and should do as the captains and other Americans asked them to do. Councils were held and presents distributed. There were some tense moments but there was only one incident of bloodshed - and that in self defense - a remarkable record given the thousands of encounters the Corps' members had with the Indians as a group and individually. This is a testament to the explorers' diplomatic skills and to the good will of the native peoples. The message the captains carried met with varying degrees of success. It was the trade goods and men themselves - rather than the message - that were of interest. Some of the tribes had never seen a white man before. Even more had never seen a black man, and York was a sensation. His blackness (described as being as "black as a bear"), great size, strength, and agility amazed the Indians. Because he was unique, many Indians believed York had tremendous spiritual power. The Arikaras named him "Big Medison."
Imagine how this must have felt to York! Here was someone who had been told his whole life that he was inferior to white people, fated to be their property and serve them. Then, on the expedition, while never completely escaping his slave status, he was treated basically as an equal. The daily hardship and danger of the expedition was a great equalizer. The men had to depend on and trust one another and York proved he could do everything the other men did. Now, among these native peoples, York was not only equal to white men but superior to them! What a revelation that must have been. And how hard to return to being a slave when the expedition returned east to "civilization."
On August 20, 1804, tragedy struck. On that date the Corps suffered its only fatality. Sergeant Charles Floyd had been sick. He rallied briefly and then fell desperately ill on August 19. William Clark and York were particularly attentive to him. Doctors today believe that Floyd's appendix had ruptured. There was nothing that even the best doctors of the day could have done for him. In the early afternoon of August 20 Floyd died, the first American soldier to die in the service of his country west of the Mississippi. Before he passed away, he said to Clark, "I am going away. I want you to write me a letter." The letter made it home to the Floyd family, something the young man from Kentucky was fated not to do. Patrick Gass, who was appointed sergeant to replace Floyd, noted in his journal that Floyd was the "first man who had fallen in this important expedition." He was buried on a bluff named in his honor overlooking the Missouri at present Sioux City, Iowa. Where a cedar post marked his grave almost two hundred years, a beautiful stone obelisk has marked it for the past century. Ironically, this "young man of much merit," who died early in the journey, has a larger monument than any other member of the Corps, including Lewis and Clark. Remarkably, Charles Floyd would be the only member of the expedition to die. This is a testament to the leadership, skill, and good fortune of the Corps' leaders and men, and of the good will of the native peoples.
By late October the Corps of Discovery was as far as it could go before winter set in. Their hosts for the winter were the Mandan Indians. Near present Washburn, North Dakota, north of Bismarck, the explorers spent a very cold but enjoyable winter. The temperature dipped as low as forty degrees below zero, but the men had to brave the elements to hunt and carry out other duties. The Mandans visited Fort Mandan, as the little fortification had been christened, and the Americans visited the Mandans.
It was here that Lewis and Clark met the young Shoshone woman Sacagawea. She had been captured in the Three Forks area of the Missouri about four years earlier by a Hidatsa Indian raiding party and taken eastward to their villages just north of the Mandans. Married to French Canadian trader Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea gave birth to her first child in February 1805. The captains knew they needed horses from the Shoshone to get across the Rocky Mountains. When they met Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife the two leaders knew they would provide a vital communication link. Sacagawea was not the woman pointing the way west, guiding the explorers to the Pacific, as is often depicted. The young mother, only about sixteen in 1805, didn't remember how she had gotten to the Hidatsa and Mandan villages. But, in addition to serving as an interpreter, the Corps' leaders hoped she would recognize some landmarks in her homeland, be a sign of peace to other tribes they encountered, and as a woman with a child (her infant son Jean Baptiste, affectionately known by his Shoshone name Pompey or Pomp) a universal sign of peace. Sacagawea accomplished all of these and earned her place as an important member - albeit unofficial member like York - of the Corps of Discovery. Her husband was hired by the captains, and Sacagawea, again like York, received no official compensation.
On April 7, 1805, the Corps set off up the Missouri once again. The keelboat, packed with reports, journals, letters home, and specimens returned down the Missouri to St. Louis, where its precious cargo was sent east to Kentucky and Washington. Kentuckians were among the first to examine and marvel over these western "souvenirs."
Before the explorers lay the unknown, where no white men were known to have gone before. Would they encounter some of the fantastic things it was believed existed in the West? Would they prove once and for all whether the fabled Northwest Passage really existed? This little party of thirty-three explorers was poised on the edge of destiny. William Clark perhaps put it best in a letter to his brother Jonathan. "When I Shall have the pleasure of Seeing you again is unecrtain," he wrote. "The country before me is extencv and unexplored." They were disappearing into an unknown wilderness, not to be heard from for more than a year. When they reemerged it was as if they had risen from the dead. Almost everyone believed they had been either perished at the hands of Indians or the elements or been captured by the Spanish and sent to the silver mines of Mexico. Newspaper accounts had reported these fates.
Their greatest adventures lay ahead of them. Working the two pirogues and six dugout canoes up the Missouri continued to be exhausting work. They encountered grizzly bears and quickly learned to respect these ferocious "monsters." Meriwether Lewis confessed that be would rather fight two Indians than one grizzly. Two weeks were spent portaging the dugouts around the Great Falls of the Missouri - five separate waterfalls over a ten mile stretch of the river. Two more weeks were spent in recuperating from the ordeal. Clark, Sacagawea, Charbonneau, and little Jean Baptiste were almost swept away in a flash flood. Only Clark's quick action saved them. Lewis's faithful dog Seaman saved the explorers from a buffalo that rampaged through camp one night by charging and barking at the shaggy beast and diverting him from his course.
By mid-August the Corps had ascended the Missouri to the Jefferson River and then the Beaverhead. They were penetrating the Rocky Mountains and in search of the Shoshone. The season was advancing and the nights growing cold enough to freeze the water in their buckets. Lewis, with an advance party of three men, made contact with a band led by Cameahwait. Fortune was smiling on these adventurers, as it often seemed to do, for the chief was Sacagawea's brother! Instant rapport was established between the two groups and the explorers got the horses they needed to cross the mountains.
Guided by a Shoshone the Americans called Old Toby, the Corps made its way across the Bitterroot Mountains. This was the hardest part of the journey. The weather was miserable, cold, and snowy. The terrain was rugged, with what passed for a trail going up and down mountains and hugging their sides. Horses tumbled down them. The men were dizzy and weak from hunger and reduced to eating roots and some of their horses. But they kept moving westward along a Nez Perce Indian path later named the Lolo Trail. When they encountered the Nez Perce the explorers were in their worst shape of the expedition. The Nez Perce treated them with hospitality and kindness. From a diet based on meat, to near starvation rations crossing the mountains, the explorers' systems received a shock when they gorged themselves on the fish and camas roots that formed the basis of the Nez Perces' diet. They were quite sick until their digestive systems adapted to the dietary change.
Leaving their horses with the Nez Perce, five dugout canoes were made for the rush to the Pacific. Everyone was eager and anxious to reach their goal. Down the Clearwater to the Snake and the Snake to the Columbia the Corps' sailed. With the current at their backs instead of challenging their progress, the miles passed quickly. As they descended the Columbia more and more Indians were encountered. These Indians were quite different than the Missouri River, Plains, and Rocky Mountain Indians. They looked different, had different cultures, and failed to be as impressed by the white men and even the black man, especially the closer the party got to the ocean.
On November 15, the Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific, that long sought for objective. One can imagine how they must have felt. William Clark, who had a knack not only for creative spelling but for saying a lot with just a few words, recorded their feelings a week earlier when they mistakenly believed they spied the Pacific in the distance. "Ocian in view. O! the joy," he wrote. On the 15th they really did reach the ocean. They had done it!
But now that they had reached the Pacific they had to decide where they were going to spend the winter. Any hope to return across the mountains before winter set in was disappointed by the deep snows they knew already blanketed the Bitterroots' passes and trails. Somewhere along the Columbia would be the Corps' winter quarters. But where? Lewis and Clark put it to the men and woman. Everyone, including York and Sacagawea cast their vote for where they wanted to establish their winter quarters. Although Lewis and Clark could have rejected the choice if they believed it wrong, the fact that they allowed this democratic process to take place shows them to be exceptional leaders. They were all in this together, and better to be miserable where the majority had decided to stay rather than just the officers. Also, the fact that York and Sacagawea were allowed to voice their opinion demonstrates the "all for one and one for all" nature of the expedition. In the time since setting out from the Falls of the Ohio two years earlier; up the Missouri in 1804; and to the Missouri's source, across the Rockies, and down the Columbia River system to the ocean in 1805, this diverse group of different races, and cultures had bonded. They had formed a family dedicated to each other and to accomplishing their mission.
The winter of 1805-1806 at Fort Clatsop, the little fortification they built near present Astoria, Oregon, was miserable. Journal entries for the four months there record rain, rain, and more rain. Relations with the neighboring Indians were not very friendly and sometimes tense. The Corps' trade goods were almost gone and what they had were of little interest to the Indians. Even a large black man failed to stir interest - they had seen black sailors on the ships that visited the coast. The explorers were tired and homesick. The weather and generally gloomy nature of the place and their spirits resulted in the captains ordering their return to the eastward more than a month too early. For some six weeks the explorers stayed with the Nez Perce waiting for the snow to sufficiently melt in the Bitterroots.
Once back across the mountains the captains split up. Wanting to maximize their exploring opportunities for President Jefferson, Lewis took the most direct route eastward to the Great Falls. Clark retraced part of their 1805 route back to the Three Forks. From there part of his party rejoined Lewis's men at the Great Falls while Clark went overland to the Yellowstone River. The major events of Clark's group's trip was having their horses stolen by Crow Indians and Clark carving his name on a rock formation near present Billings, Montana. He named it Pompeys Pillar, in honor of Sacagawea's little boy. That carved signature and date - today protected with bulletproof glass and security cameras - may well be the only remaining evidence of Lewis and Clark's passing through the West.
Lewis had quite a different experience. After reaching the Great Falls he took three men, the Field Brothers and George Drouillard, north to explore along the Marias and Two Medicine Rivers. On July 26, while riding along the Two Medicine, they encountered a group of eight young Blackfeet braves. They camped together at the Indians' insistence and the next morning at daybreak the Blackfeet tried to steal the Americans' guns and horses. What were Lewis and his men to do? They had to fight back. Reubin Field knifed and killed one Indian and Lewis shot and wounded (and is believed to have killed) a second. The men reclaimed their weapons, jumped on their horses and rode until they reached the Missouri. They had no sooner reached the river when their party from the falls arrived. The Blackfeet were the sworn enemies of American fur trappers for years afterward. Many believe that this incident was one of the major reasons for their hostility. If so, exacted their revenge on at least two members of the Corps a few years later.
Captain Lewis's misadventures weren't over. In one of the few examples of questionable judgement by either captain on the expedition, Lewis chose a poor hunting partner. On August 11, he and Pierre Cruzatte, blind in one eye and near-sighted in the other, ventured into a willow grove in search of elk. By this time all the men were in animal skins. Seeing a brown object moving through the willows, the poor-sighted Cruzatte took aim and fired. But his elk was actually his captain! The ball passed through one buttock and deeply creased the other. Fortunately, no bone or artery was damaged. But Lewis spent a painful month recovering from the wound.
On August 12, Lewis and Clark reunited below the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone. They proceeded to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages where they said good bye to Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and little Jean Baptiste. The Corps also said good bye to Kentuckian John Colter. He loved the mountains so much that he again faced west and returned to the Yellowstone country and Rocky Mountains with two American trappers going there.
The rest of the party continued downriver, pushing to get home as quickly as possible. Making ten or twelve miles a day going upstream against the Missouri's current in 1804 had been a good day. Now, with that current at their backs, helping them advance instead of hindering them, they made as much as seventy miles a day. The miles sped by. On the lower Missouri they began encountering traders coming upriver. They were treated to whiskey and tobacco - their supply being exhausted. They heard the latest news, including Jefferson's reelection and that almost everyone had given them up for dead.
On September 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery arrived in St. Louis. They had returned! Welcomed as the heroes they were, the explorers were celebrities. But business still had to be done. Foremost was getting word out to the country that the Lewis and Clark Expedition had successfully completed their mission. The captains knew that a letter from William home to Kentucky would be published in a newspaper and circulate word of their triumphant return much more quickly than a letter from Lewis all the way to Jefferson in Washington. Therefore, they collaborated on a letter to Jonathan Clark giving an overview of the expedition since setting out into the unknown from Fort Mandan in the spring of 1805. Sergeant Gass and probably a few companions were dispatched with it to Louisville. In the fall of 1806 Louisville didn't have a paper being actively published, so Jonathan sent the letter to Frankfort. There the letter arrived on October 9. Word had actually raced ahead of William's letter. The October 2 edition of The Palladium (a weekly) had printed a "stop the presses" report that Lewis and Clark had returned to St. Louis. In the subsequent October 9 issue, the Palladium had William's September 23 letter in hand and printed it in full with congratulations to them and their brave followers. Both these accounts were reprinted in papers across the country. The October 2 report served as news of their return and the October 9 article as the first detailed printed report of the Corps' successful return. The Western World, published in the same shop as The Palladium, was not about to be journalistically trumped by its competitor. In its October 11 edition, the Western World not only reprinted William's September 23 letter (citing the Palladium) but printed the toasts from a dinner held in Lewis and Clark's and the Corps' honor on September 25, in St. Louis.
As word of the explorers' return traveled eastward, the captains and men were wrapping up business in St. Louis. Expedition papers and specimens were packed and shipped eastward to Kentucky and Washington. The men were officially discharged on October 10. By late October the captains were ready to go eastward themselves, to Kentucky and Virginia and Washington - to go home.
In carrying Clark's letter to Louisville in September, Gass traveled to Vincennes and then presumably due east to the Falls. He then apparently returned to Vincennes to await Lewis and Clark and party as they made their triumphal way east. Lewis and Clark stated they planned to go to Louisville by way of Vincennes. They did go to Vincennes but the route they took from there is uncertain. Did they continue eastward along the road to Louisville? If they did, Gass somehow missed them, which is hard to believe. One possibility is that the captains changed their route. A hint that they might have done just that is in a letter written by expedition veteran Robert Frazer. Writing in April 1807 from Henderson County, Kentucky, he mentioned passing through Henderson while going east previously. That earlier trip almost certainly was with Lewis and Clark in the fall of 1806. Additional evidence is provided by Gass. He recollected to his biographer that Lewis and Clark had changed their route. Did the partners in discovery travel to Vincennes and then go south to the Ohio River and Henderson? If so, the captains, York, other expedition veterans, and two Indian delegations would have then traveled northeastward along the river through Owensboro, Hardinsburg, and other towns to Louisville. It is a little Lewis and Clark history mystery that maybe one day will be solved.
On November 5, they arrived in Louisville. One can imagine the greeting they received! Clark and York and others were home again. The day they arrived, William went shopping on Main Street, arranging for the wardrobe he'd need there and in the East. He knew that many a celebration awaiting him as he made his way to Washington. Just had he'd done in 1805 with his Fort Mandan shipment of souvenirs, William had gifts for family and friends. One of these gifts was a large bighorn sheep horn. Given to his sister Fanny Fitzhugh, it descended in her family until given to The Filson Historical Society in 1929.
On November 8, a welcome home celebration was held for Lewis and Clark by William and Lucy Clark Croghan at their home Locust Grove. Appearing today as it did two hundred years ago, Locust Grove is a nationally important Lewis and Clark site. It is the only known surviving Lewis and Clark-related structure west of the Appalachians. It, like the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana, and Big Bone Lick State Park, is a certified site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
A few days later, Lewis continued eastward with some of the men and the Mandan and Osage Indian delegations. On November 13, they rode into Frankfort. There they split up. Leaving Frankfort on November 15, Lewis and the Mandan delegation took the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap to Virginia and then Washington. Pierre Chouteau, the Indian agent for the Osage, and his charges continued on to Lexington. From there it is not known what route they took. The most likely route may have been along the Midland Trail to the Kanawha River, through the mountains, and on to Washington. A month later, probably on December 15, William Clark, and undoubtedly York, left Louisville for Washington. They traveled to Danville so William could visit some of his nephews in school there and then took the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap to Virginia and then Washington. The captains reunited there in mid-January 1807. Lewis and Clark were of course treated as the heroes they were. A grateful government and country wanted to make sure that its most famous explorers received the accolades and rewards they so justly deserved.
There is a postscript to Kentucky's pivotal role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Both the captains and some of their men would return to Kentucky, some to live and some only to visit. What of the Nine Young Men From Kentucky? George Gibson married a Louisville girl but only lived in the area briefly before leaving for St. Louis. John Shields was living in Indiana across the river from his pre-Expedition home of West Point by mid-1807. William Bratton is believed to have married a Kentucky girl and eventually settled in Indiana. Nathaniel Pryor continued in the army and later was a trader among the Osage Indians in present-day Oklahoma. If Joseph Field returned home it wasn't for long. He was dead by October 1807, possibly killed by Indians. Reubin Field returned to Jefferson County by 1816 after living in Indiana and Missouri. George Shannon became a Kentuckian after the Expedition. In the fall of 1808 he arrived at Transylvania University with, as William put it in a letter to Jonathan, "the view of acquiring Some knowledge to fit him for an employment to get his liveing." And that he did. Shannon eventually became a lawyer, legislator, and judge. John Colter never returned home. When he finally ventured back downriver in 1810 he settled in Missouri. Charles Floyd, of course, never returned either, dying on the Expedition.
What of William Clark? He was back in Kentucky by the spring 1807. William used Jonathan Clark's home as his base for the next year. In September 1807 he supervised that scientifically important fossil dig at Big Bone Lick for President Jefferson. In June 1808 William moved with his Virginia bride Julia Hancock to St. Louis. He would return almost annually for a visit but St. Louis rather than Louisville would now be William's home.
The saddest returns were those of Meriwether Lewis and York. Their happiest days were behind them. Lewis was in Kentucky in the early months of 1808 as he traveled westward to St. Louis where he would take up his duties as governor of Upper Louisiana Territory. He would never return to Kentucky again. While traveling to Washington in 1809 he suffered a breakdown and killed himself in Tennessee. His faithful dog Seaman, still traveled by his master's side. Evidence indicates that Seaman refused to leave Lewis's grave and died watching over it.
Like Lewis, Tennessee also became York's final resting place. York was forcibly separated from his wife in June 1808 when William Clark moved to St. Louis. She was owned by someone else and her master (and consequently she) did not move there. York made his unhappiness known and asked Clark to hire him out or sell him to someone in Louisville so he could be near her. His requests were denied. York then stated his belief that he should be freed because of his "emence Services." William again disagreed but he did relent and allow York to return to Louisville for a visit. Clark became angry at York's attitude and demands. He expressed his displeasure with York, as well as plans to sell him. But he never took that final step. Ten years after the triumphant return of the expedition, York was still a slave, working as a wagon driver on the streets of Louisville. In 1832 Clark recalled that he had freed York and set him up in a freight hauling business but that he was a poor businessman, the business failed, and he died in Tennessee. There is a story that York returned to the West and lived a happy life among the Crow Indians but the best evidence supports him lying in an unmarked pauper's grave.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition is an American epic. It is a story of perseverance, dedication, service, hardship, danger, friendship, loyalty, excitement, wonder, heroism, triumph, and more. It is the story of a group of men, a woman, a baby, and a dog that came together to achieve great things and who became a family in the process. It is the story of the well-known western legacy of the expedition but also of the important eastern legacy as well, for it was in the East that the planning and recruitment for the journey took place. Key to that was Kentucky. It was in Kentucky that Lewis and Clark met and where the first permanent members of the Corps were recruited. An estimated one-half of the members of the Corps were Kentuckians. And Kentucky was traversed in 1803 and 1806 on both the westward bound and eastward bound portions of the expedition totaling some 1,000 miles, ranking it high among Lewis and Clark Trail states.
Kentucky has an important Lewis and Clark legacy. It played a crucial role in this American odyssey. Kentucky truly was the "Cradle of the Corps."