The Partnership Begins

Figure 4

The "Falls" of the Ohio River

Historic lithograph of the Falls of the Ohio River

Victor Collot, A Journey in North America (1796)
Courtest East Tennessee State Universitey

Figure 5

The Clarks' Home in Jefferson County, Kentucky

Photograph of an old two-story house

Courtesy the Filson Historical Society, Louisville

The Clark home known as "Mulberry Hill," built under the supervision of Jonathan and George, William's older brothers in 1783-84, by slaves who included Old York, the father of William Clark's personal slave, who was also called York. The rest of the Clark family, including 14-year-old William, arrived here in March of 1785. In 1799 William inherited the house from his father, and in 1803 sold it to Jonathan. It remained in the Clark family until its collapse in the early 1900s. This photo was taken about 1890.

Figure 6

Lewis's "Leather Boat" Makes News

The Kentucky Gazette, Lexington, November 1, 1803

newspaper clipping

Courtesy the Filson Historical Society, Louisville

The second sentence refers to Lewis's "experiment," the 30-foot-long iron-framed, hide-covered collapsible boat Lewis himself had designed, and the construction of which he had personally supervised at Harpers Ferry the previous spring. It was a matter of great pride and high expectations.

Lewis's account of making his way downriver over the seemingly endless riffles and visits to towns soon ended. He described a visit to Grave Creek Mound, a major Indian burial mound below Wheeling, as well as a stop at Marietta. But four days after leaving Marietta and having routinely recorded towns visited, river conditions, and distances traveled until then, Lewis abruptly discontinued his Eastern Journal. The last entry is dated September 18.

Why he stopped keeping the journal isn't known. From September 18 until the November 11 arrival at Fort Massac on the lower Ohio, there is a gap. It is most unfortunate that there is not a daily log of what happened during this interim. Much must be pieced together from other sources, some must be deduced from evidence, and some facts remain a mystery. Information regarding Lewis's visits at Maysville and Cincinnati; his stop at Big Bone Lick for fossil specimens for President Jefferson;

His arrival at Louisville and meeting with Clark; his estimate of the men Clark had recruited; the Corps' thirteen-day stay at the Falls of the Ohio and why it was delayed there that long; the departure from Clarksville; and the other towns the explorers visited between the Falls and Fort Massac–all remains fragmentary or unknown to this day. So much more would be known if Lewis had maintained his journal or if Clark had begun a journal upon leaving the Falls. This foreshadowed Lewis's journal keeping practices on the expedition–gaps for weeks and months at a time–but was uncharacteristic of Clark, who rather faithfully kept a journal or memorandum book while on trips. If he did keep a journal or any notes of the trip down the Ohio they have never been found nor their existence even hinted at.

What we do know after September 18 is that the lower on the Ohio that Lewis descended, the more navigable the river became, even if still very low. About September 24, Lewis arrived at Maysville and on the 28th he reached Cincinnati. He spent a week at the future Queen City, resting the men, visiting old friends, learning about and viewing animal bones and fossils from Big Bone Lick courtesy of Dr. William Goforth, and writing to Jefferson and Clark. On October 1, he dispatched the boats to Big Bone Lick, and then followed himself three days later via land. Lewis noted in his letter of October 3 to the President that the low water would require the keelboat three days to travel the fifty-three river miles to the lick, while he would spend less than a day going the seventeen land miles. Several days were apparently spent at Big Bone Lick in collecting specimens for Jefferson. Unfortunately, they never made it to him. The following year, sitting in crates on a boat at the Natchez dock, they sank in the Mississippi River.23


As the days grew shorter and cooler, William Clark must have worn a path to the Louisville landing. He probably had received Lewis's letter of September 28, predicting his arrival before the letter's, about October 6 or so. The keelboat could be expected to heave into site at any moment. Since receiving his friend's invitation on July 17, Clark had devoted his time, energy, and abilities to preparing for the expedition. Lewis's delay in reaching Louisville probably only served to heighten not only Clark's, but also the recruits' and area residents' anticipation. Finally, on October 14, Lewis arrived! Clark, who had spent most of the summer in Louisville preparing for the expedition, almost certainly was there to greet his partner in discovery. A study of their correspondence that summer clearly establishes their intention to meet in Louisville. It is scarcely credible to think that he would not have been keeping a close watch upstream and at the landing for his friend. Eminent Lewis and Clark historian Donald Jackson believed so, writing in Thomas Jefferson and the Stony Mountains that "Clark met Lewis joyfully at Louisville."24


23. Jackson, 1:126-132.

24. Donald Jackson, Thomas Jefferson & the Stony Mountains: Exploring the West from Monticello (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 145. There is confusion regarding where Lewis and Clark met to actually form their famous partnership. Was it Louisville or Clarksville? The great weight of evidence places the meeting in Louisville. It was in Louisville that Clark was spending much of his time preparing and recruiting for the expedition and wrapping up his affairs. His family and friends lived in and around Louisville and he spent time with them as well. Their correspondence clearly states their intention to join forces in Louisville. How is it then that Clarksville is sometimes cited as the meeting place? The basis for it seems to be a geographical error made by Roy Appleman in his Lewis Clark: Historic Places Associated with their Transcontinental Exploration (1804-1806). Appleman placed Louisville at the foot of the Falls of the Ohio, directly across the river from Clarksville, instead of at the head of the Falls where it actually was in 1803 (later growth resulted in it stretching downstream to well below the Falls). When Lewis reached the Falls, Appleman assumed he went through the Falls in order to reach either town. Since Clark had moved across the river to Clarksville earlier in 1803, Appleman believed it was a simple matter of Lewis's taking a right to Clarksville instead of a left to Louisville and then going in search of his partner (see Appleman, 52). Later writers, including Stephen Ambrose, have relied on Appleman as their source for the explorers' meeting and this error continues to be perpetuated today.