John Boley

(dates of birth and death unknown)
Private, U.S. Army

Repeat Explorer

For John Boley, assigned to the return party, the Corps' 1804 travels apparently whetted an appetite for frontier exploration.

Boley was one of the expedition's solid journeymen members. At Camp Dubois in early March 1804, Lewis and Clark disciplined him along with Colter, Weiser, and Robinson because all four had used "hunting or other business [as] a pretext to cover their design of visiting a neighbouring whiskey shop." Lewis made examples of them in his Detachment Orders for March 3, restricting them to camp for ten days1 After that, Boley had no further disciplinary problems, nor did his name appear except on listings of mess assignment and return party members.

After reaching St. Louis on the keelboat—May 20, 1805—he volunteered for Zebulon Pike's expedition that was to leave, by keelboat, on August 9 to reconnoiter the upper Mississippi River and its headwaters. Pike and his men returned to St. Louis on April 30 the following year.

On July 15, 1806, Pike was headed west again, with Boley in his command. This group escorted some Osage Indians ransomed from the Potawatomis back to their home near Lake of the Ozarks, along with Pawnee, Oto and other Osage leaders returning from a visit to President Jefferson. After that, a smaller group under Pike was to explore the Arkansas River, locate the Red River's headwaters, and try to speak with the Comanches on the Plains.2 The notorious Gen. James Wilkinson initiated the exploration of the Southwest without Jefferson's or Congress's prior approval, and sent his son, Lt. James Biddle Wilkinson, as part of the military escort that was to return after reaching the Arkansas. Boley was part of the junior Wilkinson's group, and is said to have been among three deserters on the homeward leg.

Boley was last heard of in 1823, living in Missouri with his wife.

1. Moulton, ed., Journals, 2:179.

2. Bob Moore, "Zebulon Pike: Hard-Luck Explorer."

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program