Introduction to Volume 11

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 who could barely sign their names filled those posts on the frontier. 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]

Of Joseph Whitehouse we know even less than about Ordway, Gass, and Floyd, less indeed than we know even about some expedition members who kept no journals. He said he was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, in about 1775; his family moved to Kentucky in 1784. He first enlisted in the regular army in 1798 and ended a standard five-year enlistment in 1803, having served in Daniel Bissell's company of the First Infantry. [9] He evidently reenlisted since, like Ordway and Gass, he was serving in Captain Russell Bissell's company of the First Infantry at Kaskaskia when he joined Lewis, probably in November 1803. In the introduction to the fair copy of his journal he said that "I was led at an early period of my life to enter into the Army of the United States, by views I had to acquire military knowledge, & to be acquainted with the Country in which I was born." We may take this to mean that, like many young men, he joined up for adventure and travel. He claims that during his service at Kaskaskia he conversed with traders doing business with the Missouri River tribes and began thinking "that there might be a practicability of penetrating across the Continent of North America, to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Missouri River." If this is an accurate account of his thoughts, then it may be that when Captain Bissell was ordered to furnish men for the Corps of Discovery he picked Whitehouse, knowing that he was interested in such an enterprise. Whitehouse did not say that he volunteered; he thought that he was "fortunate in being chosen" as one of the party, "which contributed much to quicken the execution of my favorite project, and of satisfying my own ambition." The words may be those of Whitehouse's scribe or editor, but there is no reason to assume that a humble private was incapable of dreams and ambitions like those nourished by Meriwether Lewis for years before the expedition.

On December 26, 1803, Clark refers to him as "Corpl. White house," perhaps an error since nowhere else during the expedition does he appear with this rank. Sometime in April 1804, Clark notes that "Wh[itehouse] wishes to return," which can be interpreted in at least two ways. Either Whitehouse was dissatisfied and wanted to return to his old company at Kaskaskia, or he was one of the expedition members expelled for misconduct at Camp Dubois, who were then allowed to return to the party after expressing repentance. [10] At any rate, Whitehouse did not choose to leave the expedition and was one of those chosen for the permanent party.

There was little else about Whitehouse's service with the Corps of Discovery that was remarkable. On May 17, 1804, he was one of the members of a court-martial trying William Werner and Hugh Hall for disobedience. He was almost bitten by a rattlesnake on July 11, 1805, and was nearly killed in a canoe accident a month later. He took his discharge soon after the return to St. Louis and received $166.66⅔ in pay and a land grant which he promptly sold to his comrade George Drouillard. Civilian life apparently presented difficulties not encountered in a trek to the Pacific; Whitehouse was arrested for debt in Missouri in 1807, and he reenlisted in the army in December of that year. He was stationed on the western frontier, serving at Fort Osage in 1808; he was there when he again reenlisted in 1812. In the War of 1812 he served on the Canadian border and was in combat in the Niagara Falls area in 1814. In August 1813 he was reduced in rank from corporal to private. He may have been one of those old soldiers who are at their best on active service but get into trouble on garrison duty. In 1816 he served for a time in the Corps of Artillery, reenlisted, and then deserted in February 1817. Clark could learn nothing of him in the 1820s. Descriptions in his service records indicate that he was five feet, ten inches tall, had light brown hair, a fair complexion and hazel eyes, and was a skin dresser by trade. [11]

Whitehouse's journal begins with the official start of the expedition on May 14, 1804; what we have of the original runs to November 6, 1805, but a paraphrased version continues to April 2, 1806. [12] Whitehouse tells us that "In this Voyage I furnished myself with books, and also got from captains Lewis and Clark, every information that lay in their power, in order to compleat and make my journal correct (p. 6)." This statement not only indicates some intellectual curiosity on Whitehouse's part but may suggest that his journal originally ran to the end of the expedition and was "compleat" in that sense. Whitehouse also notes that Clark kept his journal for him "when I was on a fatigue party." That statement provides one of the few insights into the relations between the captains and their men, and Whitehouse has more to say on that subject. These words, written when he was no longer under their command, praise "the manly, and soldier-like behavior; and enterprizing abilities; of both Captain Lewis, and Captain Clark . . . and the humanity shown at all times by them, to those under their command, on this perilous and important Voyage of discovery."

It has been suggested that Whitehouse gave up writing his journal because writing was too much of a burden for a man of his limited education. Yet if we examine his work we find that his entries become fuller and more informative with time, as he got into the rhythm of his task and understood better what he was about. At Fort Mandan and Fort Clatsop, when less was happening and there were no new sights, his entries become briefer, and gaps appear, but when there were new and varied experiences to report and new country to describe, Whitehouse would give it a try, in spite of weather, fatigue, grammar, or spelling.

Whitehouse's original journal, as we now have it, consists of a single volume of three parts bound in animal skin, running from May 14, 1804, to November 6, 1805. It was once thought that he ceased writing on that last date, but we now know that this is certainly not the case. On his deathbed, Whitehouse gave the original journal to his Catholic confessor, Canon di Vivaldi; this may have been around 1860. Later, Gertrude Haley of San Francisco loaned the priest money, and he gave her the journal in return. It passed into various hands, including those of the New York Historical Society. Haley regained possession and tried to sell it to the Library of Congress, which would not pay her asking price. Finally, Dodd, Mead and Company purchased it for the use of Reuben Gold Thwaites in his edition of the expedition journals. [13]

Seeing Whitehouse's difficulties with the language, Thwaites and others assumed that he had simply grown weary of writing in November 1805 and stopped. That notion was exploded by another of the fortuitous discoveries that mark the entire history of the Lewis and Clark journals. In February 1966, Professor George White, a geologist from the University of Illinois–Urbana, visited Philadelphia and in a bookstore was shown the manuscript of a journal by Joseph Whitehouse. Returning home, he told his university colleague Donald Jackson, editor of the Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who in turn informed the Newberry Library of Chicago, then and now holder of the original journal. The Newberry obtained the new find and Jackson was able to examine it. It was a single notebook, written by someone other than Whitehouse himself, running from May 14, 1804, to April 2, 1806. Just before the March 23, 1806, entry there is a heading, "Volume 2nd"; this would seem to indicate that there was a good deal more to come, and that Whitehouse may have completed his journal to September 23, 1806. This paraphrased version fills in some gaps in the original as we now have it. [14]

Jackson finally concluded that the new find, interesting as it was, did not provide enough new information to justify publication on its own. [15] It does, however, extend Whitehouse's record of the expedition by several months, and appears here so that this edition may be as complete as possible.

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. (back)
2. Jefferson's Instructions to Lewis [June 20, 1803], ibid., 1:62. (back)
3. See the Orderly Book entry for May 26, 1804. (back)
4. Lewis to Jefferson, April 7, 1805, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:232. (back)
5. See Lewis's journal entry for April 7, 1805. (back)
6. The Robert Frazer Prospectus [October 1806], Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:345–46. (back)
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. (back)
8. Lewis to Henry Dearborn, January 15, 1807, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:369. (back)
9. Joan M. Corbett to Donald Jackson, July 2, 1970, in Donald Jackson's Whitehouse file, based on Corbett's research in RG 94 and RG 98 in the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (back)
10. See the undated entry; Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 244–45. (back)
11. Ibid., 242–64; 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), 55–56; Clark's List of Expedition Members [ca. 1825–28], Jackson, ed., Letters, 2;639; Corbett to Jackson, July 2, 1970, Whitehouse file. Jackson notes that Whitehouse's being a skin-dresser would explain "the many notations in his journal to the effect that he was busy making and repairing the men's clothing." Jackson to Corbett, July 6, 1970, ibid. (back)
12. An additional entry, predating the start of the expedition, is found in Whitehouse's fair copy. This entry, dated November 17, 1803 (see notes under Whitehouse's entry of May 14, 1804), is not found in any other enlisted man's journal. It provides a more detailed description of St. Louis than any previous journal keeper but is also notable for its misinformation. The main party did not leave St. Louis on the date given; they were still at the mouth of the Ohio and did not reach the town until December 11, 1803. Whitehouse himself was apparently not with the party on November 17, but with Captain Bissell's company and stationed at Kaskaskia, Illinois. His official date of entry into the Corps of Discovery was January 1, 1804, but he may have reached River Dubois earlier. Whitehouse's scribe must have added this entry based on information from Whitehouse, and it somehow became garbled. (back)
13. Cutright, History of the Lewis and Clark Journals, 114–15. The story as Thwaites obtained it from Haley may be a bit confused. (back)
14. Ibid., 247; see also Appendix B and Appendix C, for further description. (back)
15. Cutright, History of the Lewis and Clark Journals, 248. (back)