Young man of much merit

Charles Floyd, born in 1782, was the only one of the expedition's famed "Nine Young Men from Kentucky" who actually was born there. He was a cousin of another expedition member, Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor, and may have been remotely related to William Clark. On 11 August 1803, 21-year-old Charles enlisted in the Corps of Discovery direct from civilian life. As an infantry officer prior to his retirement in 1796 on grounds of poor health, Captain Clark had developed the ability to recognize the potentials of his recruits, and he immediately began to systematically groom Floyd as a soldier.

Young Charles was a quick study. On 20 February Lewis placed him in charge of the officer's quarters during their absences in St. Louis, and added: "the commanding Officer hopes that this proof of his confidence will be justifyed by the rigid performance of the orders given him on that subject." In April of 1804 he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Figure 1



Plaster cast of the skull of Sergeant Charles Floyd1

Before Floyd's remains were sealed in the concrete core of the obelisk's base (Figure 9), two plaster casts of the skull and jaw were made and photographed (Figure 1). One of the casts has long since been lost. The other, now in the Sioux City museum, served as the basis for a reconstruction of Floyd's head by a forensic artist in 1997 (Figure 2), and placed on a specially designed and suitably uniformed mannequin that is now on display in the Sergeant Floyd Riverboat Museum.

Figure 2


Reconstruction of Sergeant Floyd's facial features by forensic artist Sharon Long.2

Floyd began his journal on 14 May, the day of the expedition's departure from Camp Dubois, and with occasional advice thereafter from his captain, faithfully entered in it his brief, often fragmentary but usually pointed memoranda.

On July 30 Clark noted that Sergeant Floyd was "verry unwell a bad Cold & c," and the next day Floyd himself admitted, "I am verry Sick and Has ben for Somtime but have Recoverd my helth again." Meanwhile, the captains were preoccupied with the pursuit and punishment of a deserter, Private Moses Reed, and diplomatic relations with the Oto people. On August 18th Floyd wrote his last entry, emphasizing that "the Grand Chief of the ottoes" had arrived in camp. That same day, Clark reported that Floyd was "dangerously ill," and that every man was attentive to him, especially Clark's black servant, York. Shortly after noon on the 20th, Charles Floyd died "with a great deal of composure."

Today it is generally agreed that he probably suffered a ruptured appendix, with resultant peritonitis. The captains tried every treatment they knew of, unaware that even the most advanced medical care of that day would not have saved his life.

"We carried him to the top of a bluff," Clark wrote, "below a small river to which we gave his name and he was buried with the honors of war, much lamented." Lewis read the funeral service, and the men marked the grave with a cedar post bearing the sergeant's name and date of death. Two days later the men elected Patrick Gass, originally a private in Floyd's squad, to assume Floyd's rank and post.3

On the expedition's return from the mouth of the Columbia River in early September of 1806, the men paused to visit Floyd's grave for a final farewell. Finding that it had been partly uncovered, they refilled it and restored the fallen wooden marker.

In his official post-expedition report to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, dated 7 January 1807, Lewis affirmed that Charles Floyd was

a young man of much merit. His father, who now resides in Kentucky, is a man much rispected, tho' possessed of but moderate wealth.4 As the son has lost his life while on this service, I consider his father entitled to some gratuity, in consideration of his loss, and also, that the deceased being noticed in this way, will be a tribute but justly due to his merit.4

Pvt. Floyd's land allotment of 320 acres (half a square mile) in Adams County, Mississippi, was conveyed to his heirs, and in 1839 his sister, Mary Walton, sold it for $640. His heirs also received his salary in cash–$86.33⅓ for one year of service (August 1803-August 1804)–as a member of the Corps of Volunteers for North-Western Discovery.


1. Olin D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1904 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 84.

2. V. Strode Hinds, "Reconstructing Charles Floyd," We Proceeded On, Vol. 27, No. 1 (February 2001), 16-19. See also James J. Holmberg, "Monument to a y'oung Man of Much Merit'," We Proceeded On, Vol. 22, No. 3 (August 1996), 4-13.

3. Many years later, when Patrick Gass was in his late 70s, he offered a wholly fictitious account of the cause of Floyd's demise. On 19 August 1804, he said, Floyd "had been amusing himself and carousing at an Indian dance until he became overheated and it being his duty to stand guard that night, he threw himself down on a sand bar of the Missouri, despising the shelter of a tent offered him by his comrade on guard, and was soon seized with the cramp cholic, which terminated his life" on the following day. Gass's memory simply failed him, and he obviously saw no reason to check his own journal, in which he would have been reminded that, to begin with, Floyd was sick all night on the 15th. John G. Jacob, The Life and Times of Patrick Gass, Now Sole Survivor of the Overland Expedition to the Pacific, Under Lewis and Clark, in 1804-5-6 (Wellsburg, Virginia: Jacob & Smith, 1859), 43-44.

4. Private Floyd's father, also named Charles, was a surveyor who moved from Virginia to the Falls of the Ohio in 1779-80 via Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road.

5. Jackson, Letters,, 1:366.

Originally funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge-Cost Share Program.