The "housewife," or sewing kit, which George Shannon reportedly carried on the
Lewis and Clark expedition. Leather; dyed red on the outside, green on the inside.
Dimensions, 7-1/2 by 15 3/8 inches (open).
Collection of the Oregon Historical Society, No. 4014.1
When the Corps of Discovery left the Mandan villages on the 18th of August, 1806, en route home, they had two distinguished passengers in the red pirogue—the Mandan chief, Sheheke , also known as "Big White," and his wife, Yellow Corn. They had accepted the captains' invitation to accompany them to the United States to visit President Jefferson. In the fall of 1807, Nathaniel Pryor, now with the rank of ensign, was in command of the party of soldiers responsible for escorting the Mandan chief and his wife home. That party included George Shannon. Unfortunately, they were stopped by a band of Arikara warriors, and a running battle ensued. One of the three Americans wounded that day, some 1,300 miles up the Missouri River, was twenty-two-year-old George Shannon.
On October 11, more than four weeks after suffering his wound, Shannon reached Bernard B. Farrar, a St. Louis physician, who signed an affidavit describing the patient's condition: "I found one of his legs in a state of gangrene caused by a ball having passed through it, and that to save his life I was under the necessity of amputating the limb above the knee, the loss of which constitutes in my opinion the first grade of disability." In view of his disability, and in accordance with the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution,2 Shannon had the right to petition Congress for a pension. With Clark's help he won his case in 1814, seven years after the battle, receiving only eight dollars per month.
Three years later Clark wrote a letter to Henry Clay, the speaker of the House of Representatives, in support of Shannon's petition for an increase, calling him "one of the most active and useful men" under his command on the expedition to the Pacific. Clark asserted that he himself, as agent for the government, had hired Shannon in 1807 "to accompany and assist the Mandan Chief on his return to his Nation,...for which he was to receive Twenty five Dollars per Month." As to the amount of the pension, he concluded, "I conceive Mr. Shannon justly entitled to, at least one half of the Salary he was receiving from the government, at the time this misfortune befell him, which has occasioned his disability."3 At last, by another act of Congress in 1817, following almost ten years of struggle for fair treatment, his pension was increased to comparatively munificent twelve dollars per month. In March of 1822 Congress denied his petition for 640 acres of land as further compensation for his injury.
1. Photograph from Olin D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804–1904 (2 vols., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 1:119.
2. "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom...to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
3. Robert E. Lange, "Private George Shannon: The Expedition's Youngest Member, 1784 or 1787–1836," We Proceeded On, Vol. 8, No. 3 (August, 1982).
Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program.