Selecting and Training the Hunters

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Figure 13

George Drouillard

george drewyer

This de-piction of Drouillard–the cap-tains often spelled it phonetically as Drewyer–presents him as he might have appear-ed early in the expedi-tion, wearing clothing typical of a woodland hunter. He was about 27 years old when he signed on as a civilian interpreter and hunter.

Drouillard's EarA bright silk scarf keeps his long black hair out of his eyes. A rough, bloodstained linen smock is worn to protect his good shirt, which is printed with a "window pane" checkered pattern. His blue trade-cloth leggings are trimmed in red ribbon, as are his woodland-style moccasins. The bands below his knees holding his leggings in place are decorated with trade beads. The slitting of his earlobes to accommodate numerous earrings was often seen among the Shawnees.

He is armed with a Kentucky rifle. His hunting bag, partially visible behind the turkey's wing, is of buffalo hide. The few written descriptions of him mention his long, straight black hair. He was a tall man. One writer alluded to his legs being tattooed from the waist to his feet, a practice common among the early Illinois tribes, and especially the Shawnees and Delawares who had banded together in two large villages in the vicinity of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Slung over his shoulder–perhaps on a tug or hoppus,2–is one of the many wild turkeys3 that he bagged around Camp Dubois.

School for Hunters

As of the moment when preparations were complete and the expedition was under way, Lewis himself still had not said whether his desire to engage one or more highly qualified hunters had been satisfied. By the time the Corps began to take shape at Camp Dubois in the winter of 1803-04, the only recourse had been to train up some of the enlistees to fill those roles, with the captains as their coaches and mentors, and perhaps with the field coaching of George Drewyer.1 The "curriculum" covered marksmanship, field dressing and butchering, distinctions among wildlife species, geographical and seasonal factors, and woodsmanship. It began with Captain Clark's assessment of the recruits' rifle and hunting skills, and led to methodical improvements.

Taking aim

On December 12, 1803, the day they arrived at the site of their first winter's camp on Wood's River, Clark sent some hunters out "to examine the Countrey in Deferent derections." They returned with a few turkeys and opossums plus the intelligence that "the Countrey was butifull and had great appearance of Gaim."

The first priority was to clear land and cut logs for the walls of their huts. For the time being they could purchase vegetables, grain and meat from the nearby farmers and Indians, so the need to hunt wasn't particularly urgent. On the fifteenth the hunters killed Some grouse. Six days later Clark mentioned the names of two of his hunters for the first time: "Send out Shields & Floyd to hunt to day, they Kill 7 Turkeys verry fat." George Drew-yer began proving his ability as a hunter almost as soon as he arrived from South West Point, Tennessee. On December 23 he "Came home…after a"–Clark wrote "long," then crossed it out–"hunt, he Killed three Deer, & left them in the woods" to be retrieved later. On the twenty-fourth he shot three more deer and five turkeys. The number of deer he brought down was proof of his marksmanship and gun handling as well as his skill as a woodsman, specifically his ability to recognize which deer was in charge of the herd, shoot that one first, then the order in which he should shoot the animals in a herd so as to take down the leader first.

The recruits spent part of New Years Day of 1804 in what was then a favorite holiday pastime for frontiersmen and farmers, several of whom "Come from the Countrey to See us & Shoot with the men,…I put up a Dollar to be Shot for," Clark added, "the two best Shots to win Gibson best the Countrey people won the dollar."

Now Clark knew what he had to work with, and where to begin, to make good hunters out of good soldiers.

 

Figure 14

Shooting for the Beef, (1850)

George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879)

bingham oil of a 19th century shooting contest

Oil on canvas, 33½ x 49-3/8 inches, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 40.342

Target shooting contests were an important part of American frontier life from the late 17th century until the end of the 19th. Daniel Boone in his boyhood would often compete (and invariably win) merely for the privilege of prying all the losers' bullets out of the target to re-mold for his own use. Competition was also an important part of Lewis and Clark's plans to hone the marksmanship of the Corps' most promising hunters. A cow was a highly valued prize among frontier farmers, but Clark's more modest trophies were suitable to the time and place.7

From the 1820s until mid-century, as the western frontier moved rapidly up the lower Missouri River, artist George Bingham recorded its passing history, painting scenes of the ordinary social and political activities of plain people, reflecting their egalitarianism, adventurousness, and roistering vitality.8

There must have been some serious target practice after that lesson was learned. On January 16 "the Party made up a Shooting match, with the Country people for a pr. [pair of] Leagens, Reuben Fields made the best Shot, next one Wist4 & the 3 & 4 was Shields [and] R. F[razer?]." That little triumph must have inspired even more serious practice, for when the first Detachment Orders were issued on February 20, it was apparently necessary to direct that "The practicing party will in futer discharge only one round each per. day, which will be done under the direction of Sergt. Ordway, all at the same target and at the distance of fifty yards off hand. The prize of a gill of extra whiskey will be received by the person who makes the best show at each time of practice." That "practicing party" probably included the four winners of the January 16 competition. Drewyer would not have taken part because he was a civilian employee, although he may have done some coaching.

More competitions took place as the date of departure approached. On April 15 there was "some Shooting at a mark," and again on the 19th the "men Shoot at a mark." On May 4 there was "much Shooting," and on May 6 "Several of the Countrey peope In Camp Shooting with the party[.] all get beet and Lose their money." (Clark didn't say who lost their money, but one is inclined to surmise that this time it was those "Countrey people.")

It sometimes helped for others to observe their best marksmen in action, especially Indians, whose guns, if any, were cheap trade muskets of unreliable accuracy. On 24 January 1806, near Fort Clatsop, Lewis wrote: "The Indians witnissed Drewyer's shooting some of those Elk which has given them a very exalted opinion of us as marksmen and the superior excellence of our rifles compared with their guns."5 Always on guard, Lewis pondered, "this may probably be of service to us, as it will deter them from any acts of hostility if they have ever meditated any such."

Good physical conditioning was essential to a hunter's stamina and effective work. Thus at Camp Chopunnish in 8 June 1806, the captains ordered foot-races to be run between the Nez Perce and the men of the Corps. "The Indians are very active," observed Lewis. "One of them proved as fleet as Drewer and R. Fields, our swiftest runners. When the racing was over the men divided themselves into two parties and played prison base,6 by way of exercise which we wish the men to take previously to entering the mountain; in short those who are not hunters have had so little do do that they are geting reather lazy and slouthfull."

The captains' standards

William Clark was well qualified to set the standards for the Corps' hunters. He had served under General Anthony Wayne as the lieutenant in charge of the Chosen Rifle Company of sharpshooters in the Fourth Sub-Legion, at Fort Greenville in west-central Ohio. It was to Clark's command that Wayne had transferred Meriwether Lewis after his court-martial in November of 1795—a clear indication that the twenty-one-year-old ensign had already established a reputation as an expert marksman.

In a conversation with editor Nicholas Biddle in the spring of 1810, Clark recalled an unusual incident that dramatized the 500-year gap which separated Euro-American technology from some western Indian cultures at the time. About 24 August 1805 the chief of a band of Wenatchees had crossed the Bitterroot Mountains to visit the Shoshones while the white travelers were still with them. Biddle's transcript of Clark's account continued:

He was astonished & pleased to see White People. The Indians who had seen us had described to him ourselves the effects of our gun—which he was anxious to see. He sent a young man for a beaver (there was one brought up) & asked if I would show them upon beaver. I made Collins take beaver about 40 or 50 [feet? yards? paces?] hold him up by the tail, & I shot him in head. Chief ran up to Beaver & astonished to see hole. He wished to know if it was the noise that had killed beaver—looked at the gun, looked at me, at the party & then brought up his mule & wanted me to accept of it which I declined, but rode him to the village at the chief's particular request. He came cautiously & slowly at first towards us.9

Surely Clark only intended to impress the man, not to fool him. Nevertheless, the captain must have enjoyed relating this anecdote back home. It did not find a place in Biddle's edition of the captains' journals.

Later, however, Clark elaborated on a similar experience he had among the Walulas at the mouth of the Snake ("Lewis's") River, which he had mentioned in his journal entry for 19 October 1805. Again, the result was entirely unintentional. Biddle's paraphrase was a combination of Clark's original notes and his verbal remarks. He had walked around the last, long rapid on the Snake ("Lewis's") River, and sat down on a rock to await Lewis's arrival with the canoes. A crane flew overhead; Clark shot it for his supper. At that moment he noticed a few Indians on the other side of the river running toward nearby houses apparently in fear, so he took a small canoe that had just come through the rapids and, accompanied by Drewyer and the two Field brothers, crossed the river to assure the residents that the white strangers' intentions were peaceful. On the way, Clark downed a duck on the wing. Biddle paraphrased what happened next.

Nor could we indeed blame them for their terrors, which were perfectly natural. They…knew we were not men, for they had seen us fall from the clouds; in fact, unperceived by them, Captain Clark had shot the white crane,10 which they had seen fall just before he appeared to their eyes; the duck which he had killed also fell close by him, and as there were a few clouds flying over at the moment, they connected the fall of the birds and his sudden appearance, and believed that he had himself dropped from the clouds; the noise of the rifle, which they had never heard before, being considered merely as the sound to announce so divine an event. This belief was strengthened when on entering the room he brought down fire from the heavens by means of his burning-glass.11

With his pipe now lit, Clark and his companions "convinced them satisfactorily that we were only mortals, and…we all smoked together in great harmony."

Near Tillamook Head on 10 December 1805 Clark shot at two ducks sitting on the water about 30 steps from him, and coincidentally blew the head off of one. The Indian onlookers plunged into the water like spaniels, retrieved the duck, and carried it into their nearby house. Clark remembered: "every man Came around examined the Duck looked at the gun the Size of the ball which was 100 to the pound and Said in their own language Clouch Musket, wake, com ma-tax Musket which is, a good Musket do not under Stand this kind of Musket."

At Fort Clatsop Clark continued to show off his prowess with his "small rifle." On 10 December 1805 he noted: "Those people [Clatsops] was Some what astonished, at three Shot I made with my little riffle [rifle] to day, a gangu of Brant Set in the little river, I Killd. 2 of them as they Set, and on my return Saw a Duck which I took the head off of, the men plunged into the water like Spaniards Dogs after those fowls."12 One day early in January he impressed some Tillamook Indians: "I Shot a raven & a gul with my Small riffle which Suppised these people a little."

Now and then Lewis demonstrated own his sharp eye and steady hand before the Indians. On 12 May 1806, at Camp Chopunnish, he made note of his own contribution to a shooting contest with the Nez Perce. He "shot at a mark with the indians, struck the mark with 2 balls. distn. 220 yds." That range, 40 rods, was standard for rifle target competition in his day.

Drewyer's marksmanship also made a strong impression on their Indian neighbors. Lewis considered the implications of the incident that occurred on 24 January 1806: "The Indians witnissed Drewyer's shooting some of those [four] Elk which has given them a very exalted opinion of us as marksmen and the superior excellence of our rifles compared with their guns; this may probably be of service to us, as it will deter them from any acts of hostility if they have ever meditated any such."

Auxiliary assignments

The captains encouraged their hunters as they wandered afield to watch for unfamiliar species of wildlife, and bring them specimens to examine for the record. Thus at Fort Clatsop in mid-February of 1806, George Shannon and François Labiche brought Lewis a California condor they had observed and wounded. The following May, at Camp Chopunnish, François Labiche presented the captains with a new squirrel he had seen and shot, later identified as a Columbian ground squirrel.

En route home both captains conscientiously collected specimens of bighorn sheep. They had already sent skins and skeletons of the pronghorn, plus mule deer antlers, ears, and tail, back to Jefferson from Fort Mandan, but on 28 August 1806, in the vicinity of the Big Bend of the Missouri, Clark "Sent out Reubin & Joseph Field to hunt for the Mule deer or the antilope neither of which we have either the Skins or Scellitens of."13 Accurate marksmanship would have been the primary qualification for this kind of shooting, in order to acquire specimens with as little damage as possible to hides and bones.

Training and practice, or luck?

On any given day there might have been from two to twelve or more hunters threading their individual ways through woods and underbrush from before dawn until after sunset, sometimes within clear view of one another, sometimes not. It speaks well of their overall skill and self-discipline as gun-toting woodsmen that there was only one friendly-fire casualty, and only one other reported close call worth mentioning. On 25 August 1805 Lewis wrote, "Frazier fired his musquet at some ducks in a little pond at the distance of about 60 yards from me; the ball rebounded from the water and pased within a very few feet of me." Injuries suffered in the process of field dressing and butchering game were inevitable but remarkably rare. Alex Willard cut one of his knees with his tomahawk while butchering an elk near Fort Clatsop. Several other accidents with knives were reported, but apparently none of those were connected with hunting. The labor of carrying meat from the kill site back to camp undoubtedly inflicted sore muscles, and worse, on those to whose lot that job fell (Figs. 18-21). John Colter once threw out his trick shoulder doing it, and York strained his back the same way.

Out in the cold

Extremely low temperatures at Fort Mandan in 1804-05 made every aspect of hunting difficult and dangerous both on land and on water. The winter's first snow had been falling for two days when, on 15 November 1804, Clark sent a man to the hunters' camp thirty miles down river with orders to return to the fort, and sent along an extra tow rope as well as some tin to reinforce the bow of the pirogue against the river ice.

On December eighth, when the mercury dropped to 44° below zero Fahrenheit, Clark led fifteen men seven miles from the fort to hunt buffalo with some Indians. They killed eight animals, then Clark and most of the men returned to the fort, leaving two to field-dress and skin the animals, and drive off wolves. Several of the party, including York, suffered frostbite to their feet, and York also complained of frostbite on his penis—one can scarcely imagine the agony that caused him. One man, possibly Newman, had his feet severely frostbitten.

The sun rose in a clear sky on the morning of the twelfth, when the thermometer stood at 38° below zero. According to Clark the temperature "moderated untill 6 oClock at wich time it began to get Colder. I line my Gloves and have a cap made of the Skin of the Louservia [lynx]…the fur near 3 inches long." Great numbers of pronghorns were reportedly near the fort, but Clark decided that "we do not think it prudent to turn out to hunt in Such Cold weather, or at least untill our Const[itution]s are prepared to under go this Climate."

By the thirtieth of December travel had become extremely fatiguing because the snow was knee-deep or more. Walking on the river ice was difficult, painful and dangerous because of its roughness, and also from the daily rise and fall of the water level, which weakened it. By mid-January, however, it was three feet thick even where the current was strongest.

Midterm exam

The first crucial test of the hunters' marksmanship, as well as their ability to work together as a team, began when they first encountered grizzly bears. As Lewis eventually discovered, and explained on 11 May 1805, "there is no other chance to conquer them by a single shot but by shooting through the brains." But this was difficult, he wrote, because two large muscles covered the sides of the forehead, and at the center of the thick frontal bone was a sharp projection. Otherwise, even under a fusillade of rifle fire, death usually came slowly to the great bear. In the meantime, every hunter within its range of sight, smell, or hearing was subject to injury or death under its claws or maw. One strategy they occasionally used on grizzlies was derived from a basic battle tactic that the soldiers would have at least occasionally rehearsed in anticipation of fights with Indians—firing in orderly volleys from two or more ranks of riflemen.14 Lewis described its use in an encounter with a grizzly on 14 May 1805:

In the evening the men in two of the rear canoes discovered a large brown bear lying in the open grounds about 300 paces from the river, and six of them went out to attack him, all good hunters; they took the advantage of a small eminence which concealed them and got within 40 paces of him unperceived, two of them reserved their fires as had been previously conscerted, the four others fired nearly at the same time and put each his bullet through him, two of the balls passed through the bulk of both lobes of his lungs, in an instant this monster ran at them with open mouth, the two who had reserved their fires discharged their pieces at him as he came towards them, boath of them struck him, one only slightly and the other fortunately broke his shoulder, this however only retarded his motion for a moment only.

All fled toward the river with the bear close on their heels. Two of them made it to a canoe while the remaining four ducked into a willow thicket, reloaded, and emptied their rifles into the beast with no apparent effect. The enraged grizzly pursued two men down a twenty-foot bank into the river. One of the two still on shore killed the bear at last with a bullet to the brain.

When game was scarce, or pressure from Indian hunters had taught some animals to avoid humans, the Corps' hunters could employ techniques such as "bleating-up" does during springtime fawning season. The trick was to find a hidden brushy copse or a nest in deep grass where a doe had hidden her fawn while she browsed, then imitate the bleating of a lonesome or frightened youngster to attract its mother's attention. If the hunter was skillful enough, he could lure the doe back to the hideaway where he could easily bring her down. During the Corps' month-long stay at Camp Chopunnish, where the Nez Perce pursued the game so much on horseback that "it is very shye," Lewis observed: "the does now having their fawns the hunters can bleat them up and in that manner kill them with more facility and ease." Drawing prey within rifle range by imitating their sounds was a skill expected of every professional hunter on the frontier. John Bradbury (1768-1823), the Scottish naturalist who traveled throughout parts of America in 1809-1811, gained much of his information about wildlife from his party's hunters, who could "imitate the cry or note of any animal found in the American Wilds, so exactly, as to deceive the animals themselves."15

Coastal rain-forest

During the winter at Fort Clatsop it was hard for the hunters to keep the party fed, partly because of the almost continual rain, high humidity, and above-zero daily temperatures made it difficult to keep fresh meat from spoiling. Also, it took some weeks for the hunters to learn to get around in the dense forest with its deep underbrush, and to develop new tactics to achieve success. Reubin Field, Collins, and Potts left on December 28 to hunt along Lewis's River. They returned seven days later to report that

they had been about 15 miles up the river at the head of the bay just below us and had hunted the country from thence down on the east side of the river, even to a considerable distance from it and had proved unsuccessfull having killed one deer and a few fowls, barely as much as subsisted them. this reminded us of the necessity of taking time by the forelock,16 and keep out several parties while we have yet a little meat beforehand.


1. Properly Drouillard. The surname was almost without exception phonetically spelled Drewyer by all of the journalists, including the captains.

2. A tug was a rope or strap; a hoppus was a long strap of leather or a web woven of hemp or buffalo wool and nettle, an inch wide at both ends with a three-foot center section 2½ inches wide. It was used by Indians and hunters to carry—or "hoppus"—bags, baskets, game and other burdens comfortably high on the back and shoulders. Meriwether Lewis, in his preliminary list of requirements for the expedition, included "Dress'd letter [leather] for Hoppus-Straps," but no record of such a purchase is known. None of the journalists ever used either term, but knowing Drewyer's expertise as a still hunter, it seems likely that he would have had one or the other in his hunting bag. Ted Franklin Belue, The Long Hunt: Death of the Buffalo East of the Mississippi (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996), 226.

3. Meleagris gallopavo; mel-ee-ag-ris gal-o-pah-vo. Meleagris is Latin for "guineafowl," which early European writers confused with the turkey; gallopavo is a combination of two Latin words meaning "chickenlike peafowl," which compounds the confusion. The wild turkey is the largest North American upland game bird; males may weigh from 16 to more than 20 pounds, females 9 to 12 pounds. They have several basic calls, but the most familiar is the one that gives them their nickname, "gobbler," which can be heard as far as a mile away. A sudden noise of any kind can cause the bird to repeat the same call even louder. This surely explains Drewyer's experience on 24 June 1804: He had, "Passed a Small Lake in which there was many Deer feeding he heard in this Pond a Snake makeing Goubleing Noises like a turkey, he fired his gun & the noise was increased."

4. Windsor or Weiser? Probably Weiser, inasmuch as Windsor never thereafter ranked among the Corps' more active hunters.

5. Lewis summarized the contrast in his journal entry for 15 January. The guns in the hands of the Chinooks, Clatsops, and others, he said, were "usually of an inferior quality being oald refuse american & brittish Musquits which have been repared for this trade. there are some very good peices among them, but they are invariably in bad order; they appear not to have been long enouh accustomed to fire arms to understand the management of them they have no rifles. Their guns and amunition they reserve for the Ek, deer and bear, of the two last however there are but few in their neighbourhood. they keep their powder in small japaned tin flasks which they obtain with their amunition from the traders; when they happen to have no ball or shot, they substitute grafel or peices of potmettal, and are insensible of the damage done thereby to their guns."

6. Prisoners' base, a very old game of tag characterized late in the 18th century as "a country game of prisoners bars which is a sport of mere agility, and speed and…productive of quarrels."

7. The most famous shoot of all had taken place a couple of hours down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh on 31 August 1803, when Lewis showed off his repeating air rifle to a group of friends from the city. It was cut short by a minor accident that could have brought the entire expedition to an ignominious end eight and one-half months before it officially began. Accounts of the incident may have circulated more or less widely for a time, but Lewis's own memoir remained lost to the written record until the Eastern Journal was discovered 113 years later. Moulton, Journals, 2:40.

8. Milton W. Brown and others, American Art (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1979), 222. E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 117-120.

9. Jackson, Letters, 2:502.

10. Since he remembered it was white, it must have been a whooping crane, which could have weighed between thirteen and seventeen pounds—a modest meal for those four men.

11. Paul Allen, ed., History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1814), 2:21-22. Back in Philadelphia in the spring of 1803 Lewis ordered 8 dozen burning-glasses for use as presents to Indians, although the baling invoice that accompanied the return of specimens and other acquisitions up to April 7 of 1805, list only 7¾ dozen. Jackson, Letters, 1:93; 2:529-30. Mouldon, ed., Journals,

12. The water spaniel, a large longhaired species of canid that originated in Spain, consisted of numerous varieties, some of which have for centuries been bred by fowlers to retrieve downed birds from water. Encyclopaedia Americana (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1832), s.v. "water spaniel."

13. Jackson, Letters, Lewis to Jefferson, April 7, 1805, 1:234-35; Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, October 9, 1805, 1:263.

14. Described in Baron von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Chapter XIII, Article 2, "Firing by Divisions and Platoons." Baron von Steuben's Revolutionary War Drill Manual, facsimile reprint of the 1794 edition (New York: Dover, 1985), 63-65.

15. John Bradbury, Travels in the interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811, 2nd ed. (London: Sherwood, Neely and Jones, 1819), in Reuben Gold Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark, 1904), 5:124. Later in the 19th century, bleating in a doe was deemed unsportsmanlike by gentlemen hunters. The American attorney, journalist, and far-western traveler Edmund Flagg (1815-1890) deplored it as a "diabolical modus operandi," and Friedrich Gerstaecher (1816-1872), a German tourist, declared the subterfuge "base and cruel." Daniel Justin Herman, Hunting and the American Imagination (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 154.

16. Lewis's reference, which he may have learned of from the educated men in Jefferson's circle, is to the ancient image of time and opportunity as a figure that is bald behind, with hair only on the forehead, by which he can be led. The basic idea is implied in the still familiar Latin phrase carpe diem, from the Odes of the Roman poet Horace (65 BC-8 BC), 1.11, which concludes: "Scale back your long hopes to a short period. Even as we speak, envious time is running away from us. Seize the day, trusting little in the future."

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service's Challenge Cost Share Program.