At the Falls

Figure 7

Historic Louisville, Kentucky and Clarksville, Ohio

Historic map of Louisville, Kentucky and Clarksville, Indiana

For more details, see the next page, Over the Falls.

Figure 8

Late Breaking News

Newspaper clipping

News item in the Kentucky Gazette, Lexington, Saturday, November 8, 1803.

The October 29 issue of the Farmer's Library carried news of the departure that was picked up by the Kentucky Gazette. "LOUISVILLE–Capt. Clark and Mr. Lewis left this place on Wednesday last [October 26], on their expedition to the Westward," it reported. The article then speculated about their ultimate destination possibly being the Missouri River, the final size of the party, and the innovative iron frame boat.22

The October 15 edition of the Louisville Farmer's Library newspaper reported Lewis's arrival the day before. The report was reprinted by the Lexington Kentucky Gazette and it is this source that survives today: "LOUISVILLE–Captain Lewis arrived at this port on [October 14] . . . he and captain Clark will start in a few days on their expedition to the Westward." More than "a few days" passed, however, before the foundation of the Corps began their journey west. It wasn't until October 26, thirteen days after Lewis's arrival, that they left.16

Why the delay? A few days became a week and a week became almost two weeks. Did something happen to the keelboat in going through the Falls? Thomas Rodney went through the Falls three days after Lewis and Clark in a bateau with less than half that boat's draft. He described a terrifying trip through the churning, rock-strewn channel–even with James Patten, the Falls' most experienced pilot, guiding the craft.17 Did William Clark perhaps suffer a bout of illness? Soon after leaving, Clark fell ill not once, but twice. It's possible, but he doesn't reference his illness on the Ohio and Mississippi as being relapses of an earlier malady.18 Perhaps more time to evaluate and enlist the recruits? That's unlikely. Clark had enlisted three of "the best woodsmen & Hunters, of young men in this part of the Countrey" by the time Lewis arrived, and the other "Nine Young Men from Kentucky" were enlisted from October 15 to October 20.19 Was the delay another of Lewis's emerging trends of procrastinating or staying somewhere longer than he stated he intended? Maybe one day we'll know.

While at the Falls of the Ohio, Lewis and Clark are known to have spent their time enlisting the other six members of the "Nine Young Men," making other preparations, and visiting.

From their base at Clarksville, the captains went back and forth between the Clark farm and Louisville. On the evening of October 17 they visited Rodney on his boat tied up at the Louisville waterfront and enjoyed a glass of wine with him.20 They most likely ventured out to Jonathan Clark's Trough Spring estate and to Locust Grove, home of Clark sister and brother-in-law, Lucy and William Croghan.

October 24 might have been planned as the day of departure for the nucleus of the Corps. If so, something happened to delay the explorers another two days. On the 24th, Jonathan went into Louisville and then on to Clarksville. He spent the night there with William Clark but then went back across the river to Louisville and spent the night of the 25th there. On the 26th, William was in Louisville at the Jefferson County Court House to file legal papers. Perhaps the Clark brothers–and maybe Lewis–left Louisville together for the lower landing at the foot of the Falls and then across the river to Clarksville on that famous day. By mid-afternoon it was time to leave. Keelboat and pirogue loaded, the men aboard, and final good byes said, the initial personnel of what was eventually to be called the Corps of Discovery pushed off down the Ohio on their journey to the Pacific. Tears undoubtedly were shed and arms frantically waved in farewell. Jonathan wasn't quite ready to part with his brother. He boarded the keelboat and went about ten miles downstream with the Corps as they "set off on a western tour."21

Pending the actual transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France to the United States, Lewis's real destination was still officially a secret, which accounts for the information that their primary objective is to explore the upper Mississippi River. Lewis's "iron boat" remains an object of exceptional interest. By this point it has become clear that the handling of the keelboat–or "barge" as Lewis called it–and its cargo was going to require much more manpower than originally had been thought. Congressional approval had been voted for a budget of $2,500 for a party of "an intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men."


16. Kentucky Gazette, November 1 and 8, 1803. No issues of the Farmer's Library from those dates are known to be extant. During that time period the Farmer's Library was published on Saturdays which corresponds to the date of the reports picked up by the Gazette. Both papers were weeklies, as were most newspapers at that time.

17. Smith and Swick, pp. 124-25. James Patten was one of Louisville's original settlers. He was also the former father-in-law of Nathaniel Hale Pryor. His daughter Peggy married Pryor in 1798 but is believed to have been dead by the fall of 1803.

18. James J. Holmberg, editor, Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark, with a Foreword by James P. Ronda (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 60, 64-65n.

19. Jackson, 1:117.

20. Smith and Swick, p. 124.

21. Jonathan Clark Diary, October 24-26, 1803, The Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Ky.; William Clark Power of Attorney, Jonathan Clark Papers—Temple Bodley Collection, The Filson Historical Society; Holmberg, 64n.

22. Kentucky Gazette, November 8, 1803. The article, datelined Louisville, October 29, concluded with the unattributed report that "about 60 men will compose the party."