The Hunters: A Final Tally

Page 10 of 10

Figure 25

Four Hunters

Winter 1804–05

Sketch of four hunters dressed for cold weather

© 2005 Michael Haynes

George Shannon, Reuben Field, John Colter, and Joseph Field, four of the Corps' more promising hunters, meet a new challenge on the chase at Fort Mandan. Shannon wears a greatcoat with a high collar, and deep cuffs that can be turned down to warm his hands. He wears a fur cap that can be pulled down around his ears. Reubin's fatigue cap is tied on with a rag to shield his ears from the wind. John, who has supplemented his hunting frock with a fur cape, will make do with his round hat. Joseph Field wears a capot (cay-po) with hood and tails. Two have wrapped their moccasined feet with rags, perhaps stuffed with grass or leaves for insulation. They share the convenience of a Canadian-style sled to haul hides and meat back to the fort.4

Short list

On 15 January 1807, Meriwether Lewis submitted to the Secretary of War "A Roll of the men who accompanyed Captains Lewis and Clark on their late tour to the Pacific Ocean through the interior of the continent of North America, showing their rank with some remarks on their rispective merits and services." He wrote remarks on only eleven of the twenty-nine men on the list,1 and cited only one of those as having "uncommon skill as a hunter and woodsman." That was George Drewyer, of course, the "man of much merit" who had been especially valuable on account of his knowledge of "the common language of gesticularion." Lewis went so far as to point out that Drewyer had received the agreed-upon salary of twenty-five dollars per month (plus one ration per day), but added that "it is not unusual  for individuals, in similar employments, to receive 30 dollars per month." Neither Dearborn nor Congress took the hint.

The only other man Lewis officially recognized as a hunter was John Newman, whom he had discharged from the Corps of Discovery as well as the Army, in punishment for "certain mutinous expressions" committed at "an unguarded moment." In an effort to redeem himself, Lewis admitted, Newman—"a man of uncommon activity and bodily strength"—had exposed himself to extreme risks on a hunting trip at Fort Mandan and suffered severely painful frostbite on his hands and feet. Furthermore, during the return of the expedition's barge to St. Louis, Lewis later learned, Newman had been extremely serviceable as a boatman and hunter despite his status as a civilian. For those reasons Lewis suggested to Dearborn that Newman receive one-third of the sum Lepage earned for taking his place in the outfit. Dearborn passed that on to Congress; Newman received $62.83-1/3, Lepage earned $111.50 (An ordinary private was paid $166.66-1/3.2)

Lewis also drew the Secretary's attention to Private John Shields's skill and ingenuity in repairing the Corps' guns and accoutrements, which kept the hunters' firelocks in top condition. He recommended extra pay for Shields as an artificer,3 but said nothing about Shields's other services, even though, in his journal entry for 10 June 1805, he acknowledged that the talented Tennesseean was also "a good hunter and an excellent waterman." Both Congress and Dearborn ignored Lewis's recommendation.

Only two names, Drewyer's and Newman's, constituted the full extent of a formal list of hunters, but an informal roster of the rest is present in the journals.

Partial census

Hstorian Arlen J. (Jim) Large tallied the journalists' references to hunters by name, and came up with a list of nine who were mentioned in connection with "hunting episodes" a total of twenty-five times or more–a purely arbitrary cutoff number.5 George Drewyer led the list with a total of 153 hunting episodes. The remaining eight men on the honor roll were:

  1. Reubin Field, 92
  2. Joseph Field, 83
  3. John Shields, 63
  4. John Collins, 61
  5. George Shannon, 53
  6. François Labiche, 42
  7. John Colter, 32
  8. George Gibson, 28

Eleven of the Corps were named as hunters fewer than ten times. Those also-rans, by Large's count, were Robert Frazer with 9 hunting episodes; Joseph Whitehouse, 8; William Bratton, 6; Jean-Baptiste Lepage, 6; Toussaint Charbonneau, 4; Thomas Procter Howard, 5; John Potts, 3; Richard Windsor, 3; John Thompson, 2; Peter Weiser, 2; Silas Goodrich, 1; and Hugh McNeal, 1. Clark's servant, York, carried a gun and was taken along on 10 hunting episodes, but was only given credit for one buffalo, one buck deer, two geese, and eight brants. Two men–Hugh Hall and Robert Werner, who were among the recruits from South West Point, Tennessee–were never mentioned among the hunters at all. Not very good woodsmen, according to Lewis, they were the lower half of the four who had been sent from South West Point, none of whom were hunters.

Five men stood in a distinct class between the best and the worst:

  1. Sgt. Patrick Gass, 22;
  2. Alexander Willard, 19;
  3. Sgt. John Ordway, 18;
  4. Pierre Cruzatte, 16;
  5. Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor, 12.

The sergeants' extra responsibilities as non-commissioned officers may have interfered with their participation in any more hunting episodes. Willard's position in the list may simply reflect his priority as a blacksmith at Fort Mandan, if not his ambivalent status as a hunter. Cruzatte scored well even though his impulsive behavior led him into unpredictable responses to circumstances, ranging from timidity to recklessness, including the wounding of Captain Lewis (see Closest Call).

At Camp Chopunnish on 18 May 1806, Sergeant Gass remarked that "ten of the party turned out to hunt," and recorded their names, although whether they were volunteers or under orders is unknown. They were the two Field brothers, Drewyer, Lepage, Shannon, Collins, Labiche, Cruzatte, Shields, and Gibson. Lewis claimed there were twelve men in the detail; Moulton speculates that the additional two were Potts and Whitehouse, neither of them a high-ranking hunter, who were sent along to help Collins retrieve the meat of a bear he had previously shot. Lepage may have gone along on this detail for a similar reason, since he was also out of his league.

Maturing fellowship

Membership in the cadre of hunters was not a reward but an earned responsibility, and no special benefits came with it. It was simply a matter of endurance, reliability, integrity, and know-how—in a word, professionalism. There was no reason for Lewis, Clark, or any of the other journalists to keep records on who was sent out. Therefore, there is no reason to place much significance on the totals we can tally from the journals. We read that "the hunters" or "our best hunters" were sent out on a given morning, but they are not always named.

In every journalist's book, however, "our hunter" was George Drewyer. Early in January of 1806 at Fort Clatsop, Lewis at last extolled the other exceptional skill of the French Canadian-Shawnee Indian he had originally hired as a sign-talking interpreter. On the morning of the twelfth he sent Drewyer and another man out to hunt. "They returned in the evening, Drewyer having killed seven Elk," Lewis wrote, continuing warmly, "I scarcely know how we should subsist were it not for the exertions of this excellet hunter." To Lewis's encomium Clark appended his own tribute: " . . . I beleive but badly . . . maney others also exert themselves, but not being accquainted with the best method of finding and killing the elk . . . they are unsucksessful in their exertions." George Drewyer was a certifiable "Boone."

Eight days later, on the twentieth, Lewis voiced his frustration over his inability to persuade the men to restrain their appetites when plenty of meat was on hand in order to tide them over periods when it was scarce. They would eat their fill and then calmly endure "a small touch of fasting." In those cases, he admitted with evident pride, "our skill as hunters afford us some consolation, for if there is any game of any discription in our neighbourhood we can track it up and kill it. most of the party have become very expert with the rifle." He didn't bother to name the men who qualified as hunters in his summary. There was no official reason for him to keep tabs.

Born to Hunt

He pulled guard duty and perhaps policed the messes, sallied forth as an independent hunter, backed up a few of the guys, hauled in his own kills and helped retrieve others'. He put up with the same discomforts as the rest of the nimrods–the tortures of mosquitoes and cactus spines, the oppressive heat and humidity on the lower Missouri, the barbed awns of needle-and-thread grass. He went AWOL at least one night for some reason–perhaps a strictly personal one–that he never revealed. He impressed many of the natives with his personality and wisdom, but unlike any of the other hunters, he was captured twice by Indians, and had to be rescued by his comrades.

Hunting was not his main responsibility, so he didn't rack up the kill record of the professionals, but he took to it more spontaneously than any of them. Bagged a few gray squirrels. Dragged in the carcasses of a wounded deer or two. Snagged an unknown number of geese. Nailed a couple of pronghorns as they swam across the Missouri. Tried to bring in a beaver once, but got seriously bitten by his prey's well-honed incisors. Nearly died.

What was his name?6

Final exam

Jim Large admitted that there are drawbacks to the name-count method of ranking those who hunted. It defies exact statistical comparisons and conclusions. Very often the journalists simply referred to "the hunters," "our hunters," or "five hunters," and so on. There is no way of knowing what secrets might be hidden behind those anonyms.

The cut-off point for his honor roll of hunters is purely arbitrary; in the context of the expedition's total duration of 862 days, it's unreasonable. On closer examination, however, it may have some validity

On the whole, the hit-and-run hunting tactics Clark used on the last leg of the trip back to St. Louis were tightly programmed, timed, and supervised. Unfortunately, many of the details historians might have wished them to remember were omitted from the journalists' pages. For one thing, anonymity shrouded identity. But who would have thought anyone would ever care? Five hunters are to go here, three there, six somewhere else; "Sent on 2 canoes with hunters"—how many in all?—"to kill some meat." Clark personally took charge of several forays, but didn't bother to mention names: "I with several of the men went out in pursute of Buffalow. . . . I took 3 hunters and walked on the N E Shore with a view to kill Some fat meet." "I took with me 8 men and prosued a Small Gang of [bison] Cows in the plains 8 miles." Success was spotty, and the meat was uneven in quality. "Sent out 6 hunters they killed and brought in two deer only." On 27 August Clark "Sent out the hunters to kill Some meat, our Stock of meat being now exousted&hallip;the hunters returned in 3 hours without haveing killed any thing. . . . they Saw several Buffalow Bulls which they did not think proper to kill as they were unfit for use"–probably too lean. Even if they shot something, the summer heat and oppressive humidity made it hard to keep the meat from spoiling, so persistence trumped patience.

They stopped for two days (28 and 29 August) at their old campsite on the White River, of 16-17 September 1804. It was at the center of a sub-region so rich in wildlife and other natural resources that they remembered it as "Plumb Camp." This, Clark believed, would be their last chance to fill out their collection of wildlife specimens. He first dispatched the Field brothers to shoot some specimens of "the mule deer or the antilope neither of which we have either the Skins or Scellitens of." A few miles farther on he "Set Drewyer and Labeech on Shore with the Same directions." Later in the day, after camp was pitched, he sent Pryor, Shields, Gibson, Willard and Collins to hunt for the same quarry. He ordered Bratton and Frazer to kill a few prairie dogs. All were also ordered to shoot some magpies.7 But there were no pronghorns or mule deer to be seen, and not one of those myriad "barking Squirel" would come out of its hole. Even the otherwise inescapable mosquitoes were strangely absent. By late afternoon all eleven hunters returned "without any Speces of animal were in want of," but with five deer and two bison, and from those only as much of the best meat that the men who had shot them could carry. Meanwhile, "Several of the men and the Squaws of the enterpreter Jessomme and the Mandan Chief8 went to Some plumb bushes in the bottom and geathered more plumbs than the party Could eate in 2 days." Early the next morning Clark sent Shannon, Collins, Labiche and Willard to hunt, and Reubin Field in a canoe to pick up any meat the hunters bagged.

From their camp four miles above the Grand River on September 17 the captains sent "five hunters" ahead with instructions to stop and look for game somewhere below the Grand until the main party caught up with them the next morning. Clark and company passed the Grand at 7:00 a.m. and soon overtook the five, who had killed nothing. The Corps was still 140 miles and more than four days out of St. Louis, but after consuming their last ration of one biscuit each, all agreed to press on. Said Clark, "our anxiety as also the wish of the party to proceed on as expeditiously as possible to . . . the Illinois enduce us to continue on without halting to hunt."


The record of performances of the named hunters throughout this final leg of the expedition's journey appears to validate Jim Large's simple arithmetic summary. Their names—George Drewyer, Reubin Field, Joseph Field, John Shields, John Collins, George Shannon, and François Labiche—are also in Large's list of the nine that were mentioned in more than twenty-five hunting episodes. The eighth, John Colter, had resigned on August 16 to return to the Yellowstone River's beaver fields with Dixon and Hancock. George Gibson, the ninth in order in Jim Large's list, dropped into the second string, along with Nathaniel Pryor, William Bratton, Alexander Willard, and Robert Frazer.

The outline now seems bolder, but for lack of details the picture still is shadowy. Some of the men of the Corps of Volunteers for North Western Discovery had grown well beyond what they were when they volunteered. They were the men who fed the Corps, kept them alive and able. We think we know most of their names. But it is lamentable that history still is unable to give a full measure of credit where credit is due.

1. Jackson, Letters, 1:364-69.

2. The one-third of a cent reflected the high purchasing value of the dollar in those days.

3. In the U.S. Army during the 18th and 19th centuries the military rank of artificer denoted "a soldier mechanic attached to the ordnance, artillery, and engineer service, to be employed in the construction and repair of military materials." Oxford English Dictionary.

4. Robert J. Moore, Jr., and Michael Haynes, Tailor Made, Trail Work: Army Life, Clothing and Weapons of the Corps of Discovery (Helena, Montana: Farcountry Press, 2003), 197-211.

5. Arlen J. Large, "Expedition Specialists: The Talented Helpers of Lewis and Clark," We Proceeded On, Vol. 20, No. 1 (February 1994), 4-8. In Large's lexicon a "hunting episode" was a reference to "a named person killing or trapping an animal, or to any daytime or overnight hunting excursion, with the episode ending upon return." Discovering Lewis & Clark® is gratefully dedicated to Jim's memory. He was among the first historians to encourage us.

6. He was Lewis's sturdy, sagacious canine companion, Seaman. From a later perspective he seems to have been an embodiment of the enlisted men's spirit of obedience, courage, loyalty, and brotherhood–all of their virtues, without any of their vices as far as we know. To them, as well as to their officers, he was "our dog." One could perhaps think of him as the expedition's mascot, although that word, with the concept it represented, was not in verbal currency until the 1880s. See also "Biggest Dog"

7. Either Clark thought of these as backups against the possibility of spoilage, loss in shipping, or death of caged specimens, or else he had forgotten the collections they had shipped back east from Fort Mandan: One box of "Skins of the Male and female Antelope, with their skeletons"; "a specimen of the fur of the Antilope"; another box containing "2 Horns and ears, of the Black tail, or Mule Deer"; plus a cage of "a liveing burrowing squirel of the praries [a black-tailed prarie dog]"; and a cage containing four live magpies. Jackson, Letters, 1:234-36. Clark's original list is part of his journal entry for 3 April 1805.

8. René Jusseaume, with his wife and two children, joined the party as an interpreter on August 14, replacing Toussaint Charbonneau. The Mandan chief was Sheheke-shote, known to traders as Big White or White Coyote.

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