Friday, May 13, 2011

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

"On Monday, 14 of May, 1804, we left our establishment at the mouth of the River du Bois, or Wood River, a small river which falls into the Mississippi, on the east side, a mile below the Missouri"
As it was first organized, the party consisted of twenty-nine members, — the two officers, nine young Kentuckians, fourteen soldiers of the regular army who had volunteered to accompany the expedition, two French watermen, an interpreter and hunter, and a negro servant of Captain Clark. At St. Louis there were sixteen additional recruits, — an Indian hunter and interpreter, and fifteen boatmen, who were to go as far as the villages of the Mandan Nation. This brought the total to forty-five.

A broadly inclusive statement must suffice to characterize the non-commissioned men. They were brave, sturdy, able; amenable to discipline, yet full of original resource; ideal subordinates, yet almost every one fitted by nature for command, if occasion should arise. They proved themselves equal to all emergencies. At least five of these men kept journals, and no better index to their character need be asked than that afforded by the manuscript records. If ever there was temptation to color and adorn a narrative with the stuff that makes travelers' tales attractive, it was here; yet in none of the journals is there to be found a departure from plain, simple truth-telling. Their matter-of-fact tone would render them almost commonplace, if the reader did not take pains to remember what it all meant. Nowhere is there anything like posing for effect; the nearest approach to it is in the initial entry in the diary of that excellent Irishman, Private Patrick Gass, — and parts of this have been branded as apocryphal, the interpolation of an enthusiastic editor: —

Meriwether Lewis and William ClarkTitle: Lewis and Clark: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Issue 8 of The Riverside biographical series. Author: William Rheem Lighton. Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1901. Original from: Harvard University. Digitized: Jan 28, 2009, Length: 159 pages. Subjects: Lewis and Clark Expedition/ (1804-1806)

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"On Monday, 14 of May, 1804, we left our establishment at the mouth of the River du Bois, or Wood River, a small river which falls into the Mississippi, on the east side, a mile below the Missouri, and having crossed the Mississippi proceeded up the Missouri on our intended voyage of discovery, under the command of Captain Clarke. Captain Lewis was to join us in two or three days on our passage. . . . The expedition was embarked on board a batteau? and two periogues. The day was showery, and in the evening we encamped on the north bank, six miles up the river. Here we had leisure to reflect on our situation, and the nature of our engagements: and as we had all entered this service as volunteers, to consider how far we stood pledged for the success of an expedition which the government had projected; and which had been undertaken for the benefit and at the expence of the Union: of course of much interest and high expectation.

"The best authenticated accounts informed us that we were to pass through a country possessed by numerous, powerful, and warlike nations of savages, of gigantic stature, fierce, treacherous, and cruel; and particularly hostile to white men. And fame had united with tradition in opposing mountains to our course, which human enterprise and exertion would attempt in vain to pass. The determined and resolute character, however, of the corps, and the confidence which pervaded all ranks dispelled every emotion of fear and anxiety for the present; while a sense of duty, and of the honor which would attend the completion of the object of the expedition; a wish to gratify the expectations of the government, and of our fellow-citizens, with the feelings which novelty and discovery invariably inspire, seemed to insure to us ample support in our future toils, suffering, and danger."

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