To the Mississippi

Figure 10

Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers

To see labels, point to the image.

interactive map of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers

Victor Collot, A Journey in North America (1796)
Courtesy East Tennesee State University

The Ohio meets the Mississippi near Fort Massac.

Information is almost nonexistent for the Corps' trip from the Falls to Fort Massac. Jonathan Clark mentions parting with the explorers at his son-in-law's farm in present west Louisville, and Lewis records stopping at the first Kentucky settlement below Louisville.25 That settlement might have been West Point, at the mouth of Salt River, where John Shields lived. The Ohio was still low, and its channels meandered from one side of the river to the other, leading the boats past islands, rocks, and sandbars. With the additional manpower of the "Nine Young Men" and York, progress was steady. The scenery must have been beautiful that time of year, with fall colors splashed across the forests lining the banks. The Corps probably took advantage of any settlements they encountered. Contemporary accounts describe the Kentucky side as dotted with farms and small settlements, and the Indiana side as wilderness and Indian country. Yellow Banks (now Owensboro) and Henderson (also known as Red Banks), where a Clark family friend lived, might have been stops. The boats passed the mouths of many creeks and rivers, the Salt, Blue, Wabash, Green, Tradewater, Cumberland, and Tennessee among them. This was familiar territory for some, if not most, of the men. William Clark, and almost certainly York, had boated down the Ohio several times.

On November 11, the little flotilla arrived at Fort Massac. Here, Lewis had arranged to rendezvous with a detachment of soldiers from South West Point, Tennessee. When they were not there, Lewis and Clark hired a civilian to go get them. That person was George Drouillard. Of Shawnee and French-Canadian parentage, Drouillard became one of the most important members of the Corps of Discovery. Having lived at Massac Village west of the fort, as well as across the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, Drouillard was added to the Corps as an interpreter and hunter. He did important service as both. If the captains had an important or dangerous mission, Drouillard almost invariably was called on to help achieve it.

Other recruits were also acquired at Fort Massac. More manpower was needed for the upcoming segment of the journey. Not only were some or all of the temporary crew who had helped bring the boats down the Ohio turning back at Massac, but once the Corps entered the Mississippi it would be sailing against the current. Clark stated that "we Calld for a detachment of 14 men from that garrison" to accompany us as far as Kaskaskees & How many of these soldiers joined the permanent party isn't known. At least two and perhaps more were drawn from Massac.26

At Fort Massac on November 11, Lewis briefly began keeping his journal again. Two days after arriving at the post, the explorers left for the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi–just a short distance away. On the evening of November 14, the Corps arrived there. The explorers spent five days at the confluence, investigating the area, visiting residents both red and white, and beginning their scientific endeavors. On November 20, the Corps began ascending the Mississippi River.27

The first major stretch of the Corps of Discovery's journey had been accomplished. Some 1,000 miles and two and one-half months lay behind them. In mid-November of 1803 the explorers were only on the threshold of their adventure. Some 8,000 miles and three years still lay ahead for them. The vast country up the Missouri and west of the Rockies still beckoned. But before then these dauntless men still faced completing the formation of the Corps and their first winter encampment.

Much had been accomplished on this important stretch of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From the barge being built at Pittsburgh, to Lewis and Clark meeting to form one of the most famous partnerships in history, to the recruitment and enlistment of the Corps of Discovery's crucial foundation, this American odyssey had been successfully launched toward success and fame on the waters of the Ohio River.


25. Moulton, 2:108. Lewis noted in his journal for November 23, 1803, while at Louis Lorimier's at Cape Girardeau, that a very pretty girl there was "much the most descent looking feemale I have seen since I left the settlement in Kentuckey a little below Louisville."

26. Holmberg, 60, 66-67n, 69n. South West Point was on the Tennessee River at Kingston, west of Knoxville. Why Lewis had requested troops from a post in that area when he would be passing two others on the way west was apparently a result of what he intended his original route to be—through Tennessee to Nashville and then down the Cumberland River to the Ohio. He states as much in his April 20, 1803, letter to Jefferson (see Jackson, 1:38). Lewis's plan was to have a keelboat built at Nashville and man it with a detachment from the garrison at South West Point. Having the keelboat built at Nashville changed to having it built at Pittsburgh, but the plan to detail men from South West Point remained.

The two Fort Massac soldiers indicated by records to have joined the permanent party were Joseph Whitehouse and John Newman. Whitehouse accompanied the Corps on the entire Expedition but Newman did not, being court-martialed in the fall of 1804 and sent back from Fort Mandan with the temporary party and keelboat in the spring of 1805. See Holmberg, 67n and 69n for further speculation regarding this detachment.

27. Moulton, 2:85-95; Holmberg, 60-61, 67-69n.