Introduction to Volume 9
 

The essential, definitive record of the Lewis and Clark expedition is contained in the journals and observations of the two captains, "the writingest explorers of their time," in the words of Donald Jackson.  [1] If no one else associated with the enterprise had written a word we would still have a marvelous narrative replete with geographic, zoological, botanical, and ethnographic information. In fact, however, at least four other members of the party did set down their own daily accounts. This edition brings them together with those of their commanders for the first time.

President Thomas Jefferson did not order the actual keeping of separate journals by anyone other than the captains. In his final instructions to Lewis, however, he did suggest that "several copies of these as well as of your other notes should be made at leisure times, & put into the care of the most trust-worthy of your attendants, to guard, by multiplying them, against the accidental losses to which they will be exposed."  [2] All this would seem to require is that some of the "attendants" copy the captains' journals verbatim. Apparently Lewis and Clark, at an early stage, decided to do something else. On May 26, 1804, less than two weeks out from River Dubois, the captains noted that "The sergts . . . are directed each to keep a separate journal from day to day of all passing accurences, and such other observations on the country &c. as shall appear to them worthy of notice.—"  [3]

In his last communication to Jefferson from Fort Mandan in April 1805, Lewis wrote: "We have encouraged our men to keep journals, and seven of them do so, to whom in this respect we give every assistance in our power."  [4] Lewis had a sense of history; in departing westward from the Mandan villages he compared his little fleet of pirogues and canoes to the vessels of Captain Cook.  [5] The significance of his enterprise warranted as complete a record as possible. It might be too much to ask any enlisted men to copy their officers' voluminous journals, but those so inclined could be encouraged to add their bit to the record.

At least some of the men who went with Lewis and Clark seem to have shared that sense of history. They were volunteers, after all, and although some of them no doubt simply hoped to escape from irksome military discipline or to find good beaver streams, others evidently knew very well that this was the chance of a lifetime, that they were involved in something that would survive them, something greater than their individual contribution. The combination of that sense of history with a degree of literacy and considerable diligence made a few of them journal keepers.

To appreciate the work of these men, let us remember the conditions under which they wrote. Most days of the voyage involved hard physical labor, working canoes upstream, loading and unloading bulky equipment, hunting and butchering, tanning leather, making moccasins, cooking, chopping and shaping wood, caring for horses and searching for strays, mounting guard, portaging around falls and rapids, all of it while exposed to every kind of weather and to the attacks of insects and grizzly bears, with the constant danger of physical injury from accidents. At the end of such a day, perhaps while others were dancing to Pierre Cruzatte's fiddle, a journal keeper would have to write by the light of a campfire in notebooks somehow kept safe from the elements. According to Lewis, seven of the thirty-odd men had the perseverance and the sense of the destiny to try.

They wrote under the same conditions as the captains, and like them wrote not only for themselves. It seems probable that they examined each other's journals, and perhaps Lewis and Clark read them, too. We know that on July 14, 1804, having lost his notes for the previous day, Clark had "to refur to the . . . Journals of Serjeants." The enlisted men's journals were intended as part of the record; they were public documents and we cannot expect any deep psychological revelations. No one recorded explicitly, for example, his opinion of Lewis or Clark or Sacagawea.

Literacy was the first requirement. It is probable that some of the men could not even write their own names. Historians have expressed considerable humor over Clark's awkward grammar and his versatility as a speller, but he was little worse than many contemporaries who like him were men of affairs, government officials, and army officers. Comparison of Clark's journal with those of the enlisted men should keep us from laughing too much at Clark. Nor should we be overly amused at the enlisted men, for none of their journals suggests stupidity or dullness. They tried to the best of their ability to record an extraordinary experience.

Sergeants in the army had to be literate, since they kept records for their companies, and it is not too surprising that three of the four enlisted men's journals that we now have are those of sergeants. John Ordway and Charles Floyd held that rank from the start of the trip, and Patrick Gass was promoted some three months out to fill the place of the deceased Floyd. Joseph Whitehouse is the only private whose journal we now have. Ordway's spelling and grammar are, if anything, better than Clark's. We cannot judge Gass's performance for we do not have his original writing. Floyd and Whitehouse apparently struggled with writing, but there is rarely doubt about what they meant.

We have four enlisted men's journals, in one form or another. Lewis indicated that seven men were keeping journals, and the discrepancy requires some notice, although few hard conclusions can be made. Since the other sergeants were expected to keep journals, one would assume that Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor would also do so, but no document demonstrating this has come to light. Pryor served later on as an army officer and an Indian agent, but other men filled those posts on the frontier who could barely sign their names. On August 12, 1806, Clark noted that Pryor had left behind saddlebags containing his "papers," but Pryor had just returned from being separated from the main party, and the papers could have consisted only of letters he was supposed to deliver to a Canadian trader, and perhaps a journal of his separate trip, which began barely three weeks before. In any case, Pryor went back and recovered the saddlebags, so the papers, whatever they were, were not then lost. There is simply no clear evidence to show that Pryor was one of the seven journal keepers mentioned by Lewis.

It is fairly certain that one private besides Whitehouse kept some sort of journal, because Robert Frazer announced his intention to publish by issuing a prospectus soliciting subscribers barely a month after the party returned to St. Louis, promising "An accurate description of the Missouri and its several branches; of the mountains separating the Eastern from the Western waters; of the Columbia river and the Bay it forms on the Pacific Ocean; of the face of the Country in general; of the several Tribes of Indians on the Missouri and Columbia rivers . . . ," and with all this "a variety of Curious and interesting occurrences during a voyage of two years four months and nine days." The account, Frazer made clear, was "Published by Permission of Captn. Meriwether Lewis."  [6] If the journal was anything like what Frazer promised, that it was never published is a great pity. Given the importance of the expedition this is surprising, especially since Patrick Gass was able to secure publication of his work the next year and since there were six further editions of his book in six years. Clearly it was not lack of public interest in Lewis and Clark's discoveries that held Frazer's work back. Whatever the problem was, Frazer passed from view and so did his journal; we have no clue as to its fate.

In April 1805, when Lewis wrote that seven men were keeping journals, Floyd was already dead. If we accept Pryor and Frazer as journal keepers, along with Gass, Ordway, and Whitehouse, we still have two others to account for. It is possible that Lewis counted Floyd, whose journal was sent back from Fort Mandan, even though his record had ceased the previous August. There is a possibility that Private Alexander Willard kept a journal, and with Willard and Floyd we would have Lewis's seven journal keepers.  [7] One way or another a considerable part of the record appears to be lost, perhaps forever.

The journals that remain belong with those of Lewis and Clark, supporting them to the best of their ability as they did during the voyage. After the return Lewis evaluated his men, each according to his individual merits, and then wrote of them all: "the Ample support which they gave me under every difficulty; the manly firmness which they evinced on every necessary occasion; and the patience and fortitude with which they submitted to, and bore, the fatigues and painful sufferings incident to my late tour to the Pacific Ocean, entitles them to my warmest approbation and thanks."  [8]

JOHN ORDWAY

Sergeant John Ordway clearly made an important contribution to the success of the expedition, and he has left us in many ways the fullest of the enlisted men's records. Yet we know frustratingly little about him. Virtually every mention of him in the captains' journals refers simply to his performance of some duty, with no other comment. There could be no better evidence that he did his job well. Born in New Hampshire in about 1775, apparently he had some of the qualities often attributed to New Englanders, including steadiness, diligence, and dependability. He was serving in Captain Russell Bissell's company of the First Infantry Regiment when he joined Lewis and Clark, and the captains apparently made him a sergeant before any of the others who held that rank with the Corps of Discovery. He was left in charge at Camp Dubois on various occasions when the two officers had to be absent.  [9] In other words, he was the "top sergeant" of the outfit, expected to preserve discipline and see that things ran smoothly. He probably had a regular army way of doing things that pleased Lewis and Clark but perhaps did not sit too well with some of the newly enlisted frontiersmen. At any rate, on returning to Camp Dubois on one occasion, the captains reprimanded Reubin Field and John Shields for disobeying Ordway who, Lewis noted, "has during their necessary absence been charged with the execution of their orders; acting from those orders expressly, and not from his own capriece, and who, is in all respects accountable to us for the faithfull observance of the same."  [10] That Ordway continued as a sergeant indicates that his performance was satisfactory.

Since Ordway, like the other members of the Corps, was a volunteer, we might assume that he had a sense of adventure and wanted to do something more than serve out his enlistment. More insight into his character can be gained from some family letters written before he left on the voyage of discovery. In September 1803 he wrote to his brother Stephen of his homesickness, denying a rumor that he had become engaged, and asking his brother to present his compliments to a young lady named Betsey Crosby, saying, "the probability is, that if She remains in a State of celibacy till my return I may perhaps join hands with hir yet."  [11] Miss Crosby apparently found Ordway's promises too indefinite, or the state of celibacy too irksome, and married someone else. Ordway probably joined the Corps of Discovery when the captains passed Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he was stationed, in November 1803. In April 1804 he wrote to his "Honored Parence" telling them of his new enlistment: "I am now on an expidition to the westward, with Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clark. . . . We are to ascend the Missouri River with a boat as far as it is navigable and then to go by land, to the western ocean, if nothing prevents, &c." He also told them that "I am So happy as to be one of them pick'd men from the armey, and I and all the party are if we live to Return, to Receive our Discharge when ever we return again toe the united States if we chuse it." He expected to be gone eighteen months to two years and to receive a "great Reward," of "15 dollars pr. month and at least 400 ackers of first Rate land, and if we make Great Discoveries as we expect, the united States, has promised to make us Great Rewards more than we are promised, &c."  [12]

Ordway was the most faithful of all the party's journal keepers; even Clark missed a few days, but the sergeant has an entry for every day from May 14, 1804, when the Corps left River Dubois, to September 23, 1806, when they returned to St. Louis— 863 days in all. He perhaps waited a day or two to fill in entries in especially trying times, but he cannot have waited long. Even during the most difficult periods, such as the journey over the Lolo Trail in September 1805, his entries are fair-sized paragraphs. During the uneventful days at Fort Mandan and Fort Clatsop, he contented himself with a few lines. His grammar, spelling, and vocabulary are at least as good as Clark's.

Ordway did not record the detailed courses and distances of each day's journey, as the captains did, nor the wealth of scientific data; the events of each day were his primary concern, yet he shows evidence of curiosity and an interest in the things and people around him. On May 5, 1805, he noted that the grizzly "bair" killed that day was one "which the natives and the french tradors call white but all of the kind that we have seen is of a light brown only owing to the climate as we suppose." The captains have no such thoughts about the animal's color that day, although they give a more detailed description. While among the Flathead Indians on September 5, 1805, Ordway observed, "these natives have the Stranges language of any we have ever yet seen. they appear to us as though they had an Impedement in their Speech or brogue on their tongue. we think perhaps that they are the welch Indians, &. C." Clark, the only one of the officers keeping a journal at this point, said only that the Flathead (Salish) tongue "is a gugling kind of language Spoken much thro the Throught." Ordway also reconsidered the old legend of the elusive Welsh Indians when he was among the Flatheads.

On July 16, 1805, Lewis and Clark both tell us that they sent a man back for an axe forgotten at their previous night's camp, their standard procedure when such a lapse occurred. They do not mention the man's name, and it is to Ordway's honesty that we owe the knowledge that he was the culprit. On the return journey, when Clark and Lewis made separate explorations, Clark sent Ordway with nine other men in canoes down the Missouri from the Three Forks to the Great Falls. The sergeant was on his own and provides the only record of this part of the expedition from July 13 to July 19, 1806, when he joined the party under Sergeant Gass that Lewis had left at the Great Falls. Ordway then promptly recorded the events of Lewis's party when they were separated from Clark, and after meeting Lewis on July 28 he described the tragic events of the captain's party. Describing Reubin Field's killing of a Blackfeet Indian on July 27 he became almost poetic: "he drew but one breath    the wind of his breath followed the knife & he fell dead."

Ordway did not choose any more than did the other journal keepers to provide much information about the day-to-day personal relationships within the party. The nature of his office surely caused special strains and frustrations, but he said nothing of this; there is no hint of the incidents of disobedience at Camp Dubois, which occurred before he began his journal. We would like to know how the top sergeant of the Corps of Discovery evaluated the men who served with him, and the two men who commanded him, but the New Hampshireman maintained his discretion. Like the captains he was writing a public document, not a private record of emotions. Even the desertion of Moses Reed, which aroused Floyd's indignation, is reported by Ordway in the most matter-of-fact way, on August 6, 1804.

Ordway's life following the return to St. Louis is nearly as obscure as it was before. He accompanied Lewis and a party of Indians to Washington, D.C., in late 1806, took his discharge from the army, and returned to New Hampshire. In 1809 he settled in Missouri, where he married and became prosperous, acquiring "two plantations under good cultivation peach and apple orchards, good buildings &c &c." He did not enjoy them for long, however, for both he and his wife were dead by 1817.  [13]

Ordway's journal is in three notebooks. The first, handstitched sheets covered by loose boards, apparently started out as the Orderly Book of the Corps, which the sergeant would have kept as part of his duties, and became his journal on May 14, 1804, when the expedition set out. This book lasted him until the end of September 1805. The next day, October 1, at the Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River in Idaho, he commenced writing in a notebook bound in stiff boards and covered with marbled paper that lasted until May 15, 1806, when he was back on the Clearwater some miles upstream at Camp Chopunnish. A collection of uncovered sheets then served him until September 23, 1806, when he closed: "the party all considerable much rejoiced that we have the Expedition Completed and now we look for boarding in Town and wait for our Settlement an then we entend to return to our native homes to See our parents once more as we have been so long from them.—    finis."

Ordway turned his journal over to the captains in return for $300. It was among the papers that Clark provided Nicholas Biddle for use in preparing his history of the expedition. Biddle found it very useful and judged it much better than Gass's journal, which he also examined, probably in its printed form. Indeed he was so fond of it that he never returned it to Clark, as he was supposed to, nor did he turn it over to the American Philosophical Society with other expedition documents in 1816, as Jefferson wished. His grandsons found it among his papers in 1913, and it was edited by Milo Milton Quaife for publication with Lewis and Clark's Eastern Journal by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.  [14] It now appears together with the other expedition journals for the first time.

CHARLES FLOYD

Sergeant Charles Floyd, according to Lewis, was "a young man of much merit."  [15] We do not know a great deal more about him. He has the tragic fame of being the only man of the party to die on the expedition, and an impressive monument rises over his remains at Sioux City, Iowa, near the place where he died. Born in 1782, he was one of the "nine young men from Kentucky" who joined Lewis at the Falls of the Ohio. He may have been a relative of Clark; at any rate, on hearing of his death his brother Nathaniel wrote to their sister Nancy that "he was well cared for as Clark was there." We do know that he was a cousin of Sergeant Pryor. Although he enlisted from civilian life, the captains made him a sergeant over men who were older, had much more frontier experience, and had served in the regular army. This elevation must have reflected his education, his character, and perhaps his family connections. Writing shortly after the sergeant's death, Clark said that Floyd "had at All times given us proofs of his impatiality Sincurity to ourselves and good will to Serve his Countrey."  [16] There is little mention of Floyd in the captains' journals, which is probably an indication that he did his duty efficiently and caused no trouble. Starting with the official beginning of the expedition on May 14, 1804, he kept his journal faithfully until two days before his death on August 20, 1804, although he must have been feeling the effects of his illness well before then.  [17]

Floyd kept his journal in a small notebook with marbled paper over the covers, in which there are also a few notes by Clark. He had filled most of it by the time of his death. The captains of course preserved it during the winter at Fort Mandan and apparently sent it back to his relatives in Kentucky with the returning party in the spring of 1805. In 1893 Reuben Gold Thwaites discovered it among the papers of Lyman Draper, former head of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Draper, an assiduous collector of historical documents, had acquired a large number of Clark's papers from the captain's nephew, John Croghan, and had also corresponded with Floyd's sister, Mary Lee Walton. He kept no records of his own acquisitions, and the exact source of this find is unknown. It remains in the Draper Collection in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison.

Floyd's entries are generally brief and factual; they resemble Clark's at his most laconic. His spelling and grammar are also reminiscent of Clark, and like the captain his vocabulary and phrasing suggest a man who had done some reading. In some cases it is clear that he had copied passages verbatim from Clark, in the spirit of Jefferson's instructions. It may be that much of his writing was simply a condensation of Clark's field notes, but occasionally he provides information that Clark does not. On July 9, 1804, Clark notes a spot in Doniphan County, Kansas, "where Several french men camped two years ago to hunt.—" Floyd describes it as "a prarie on the South Side whare Seveal French famileys had Setled and made Corn Some Years ago Stayed two years." The next day Clark tells us that "R. Pape" (present Cedar Creek in Doniphan County) was "called after a Spanierd who killed himself at th[e] mouth." Floyd clarifies this somewhat by noting that "it is Called after a man who by drawning his Gun out of the Boat Shot him Self."

In reporting the desertion of Private Moses Reed, Clark is entirely matter-of-fact; Floyd records details not found elsewhere and expresses the indignation that perhaps they all felt: "pon examining his nap-Sack we found that he had taken his Cloas and all His powder and Balles, and had hid them out that night and had made that an excuse to Desarte from us with out aney Jest Case." Floyd apparently had an eye for such details, which makes us regret all the more that he did not live to complete a record of the whole journey. As it is, the two captains have made it clear that he did his duty as long as he could.



 

1. Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783–1854 (2d ed., 2 vols. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 1:vii. (Return to text.)

 

2. Jefferson's Instructions to Lewis [June 20, 1803], ibid., 1:62. (Return to text.)

 

3. See the Orderly Book entry for May 26, 1804. (Return to text.)

 

4. Lewis to Jefferson, April 7, 1805, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:232. (Return to text.)

 

5. See Lewis's journal entry for April 7, 1805. (Return to text.)

 

6. The Robert Frazer Prospectus [October 1806], Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:345–46. (Return to text.)

 

7. On Willard's journal, see Olin D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804–1806 (2 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 1:124; and Robert B. Betts, " 'The writingest explorers of their time': New Estimates of the Number of Words in the Published Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," We Proceeded On 7 (August 1981): 7–8, 8 n.34. (Return to text.)

 

8. Lewis to Henry Dearborn, January 15, 1807, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:369. (Return to text.)

 

9. See Lewis's Detachment Orders for February 20, 1804. (Return to text.)

 

10. See the Detachment Orders for March 3, 1804. (Return to text.)

 

11. John Ordway to Stephen Ordway, September 5, 1803, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:120–21. (Return to text.)

 

12. John Ordway to His Parents, April 8, 1804, ibid., 1:176–77. (Return to text.)

 

13. Milo Milton Quaife, ed., The Journals of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Sergeant John Ordway Kept on the Expedition of Western Exploration, 1803–1806 (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1916), 28; Charles G. Clarke, The Men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: A Biographical Roster of the Fifty-one Members and a Composite Diary of Their Activities from All Known Sources (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1970), 40–41. (Return to text.)

 

14. Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 128–29; Nicholas Biddle to Clark, July 7, 1810, Jackson, ed., Letters, 2:551; Quaife, Journals of Lewis and Ordway, 25–26. (Return to text.)

 

15. Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:366. See also Clarke, The Men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 39. (Return to text.)

 

16. See Clark's first entry for August 20, 1804, in the Field Notes. The Codex B entry, perhaps written some time later, says much the same. (Return to text.)

 

17. On the nature of Floyd's illness see Eldon G. Chuinard, Only One Man Died: The Medical Aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1979), 238–39. (Return to text.)







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