Clark's Sketch of the White Pirogue
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Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
The white pirogue was manned by a detachment of soldiers who were to haul provisions and escort the Expedition for 40 days. As it turned out, it went all the way to the Great Falls of the Missouri and back.
Under way on the Missouri, Lewis and Clark divided the crews of their three boats according to job status. The permanent party was segregated on the big keelboat, probably to build its team spirit for the perilous future. Corporal Warfington commanded the white pirogue's escort party of five other soldiers, while the eight (or nine) French watermen paddled the red pirogue. Here was the Expedition's first stage booster at full thrust; both pirogues, then, were essentially cargo vessels, helping carry the initial burden of such store bought consumables as pork and flour until the party reached big game country on the plains.
The Expedition lost its first man within a month. On June 12, the party encountered some fur laden canoes headed for St. Louis. "Sent One of Our Men Belonging to the white pierouge back," reported Joseph Whitehouse, a private on the keelboat, who gave neither the escort soldier's name nor the reason for his departure.2 Whitehouse said only that the man dumped into a downriver fur canoe had belonged to Stoddard's artillery company, so it might have been either Ebenezer Tuttle or Isaac White.3 The explorers actually made a swap with the canoeists, picking up Pierre Dorion, the first of a series of Indian trading oldtimers who acted as temporary interpreters.
By August the Expedition had passed the mouth of the Platte River, and more men were lost. Moses Reed deserted his permanent party comrades on the keelboat, and a hired boatman named la Liberte left the red pirogue. La Liberte got away, but deserter Reed was punished by the gauntlet and fired from the permanent party. The captains later promoted Robert Frazer, one of the escort soldiers, to fill Reed's vacancy on the keelboat. On August 20, the Expedition was saddened by the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd at present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa, probably of a burst appendix.
By now Jefferson probably had an inkling of how big the operation had become, if he didn't before. In mid-July a delegation of Osage Indians arrived in Washington to see him, having left St. Louis just as Lewis and Clark stared up the Missouri. The chiefs were escorted by Pierre Chouteau, a St. Louis merchant who knew the Expedition's departing strength. Jefferson surely would have asked Chouteau for particulars. Also that summer somebody—perhaps a trader named Fairfong—went downriver to St. Louis to give an account of the Expedition's progress. His much garbled report eventually reached Jefferson. here's how the President relayed the information in a November 6 letter to Lewis's younger brother, Reuben:
"Two of his men had deserted from him. he had with him 2. boats and about 48 men. He was then setting out up the river. One of his boats & half the men would return from his winter quarters. In the Spring he would leave about a fourth where he wintered to make corn for his return, & would proceed with the other fourth."4
Plan C: Dealing with Cargo
Wherever the old notion of a squad of Army corn planters originated, it allowed Jefferson to use some creative accounting to shrink the reported 48-man mob to a final party of just 12—the familiar number planned.
It's unlikely that Lewis and Clark were trying to deceive Washington by floating such an untrue story. All along, they had planned to make a firsthand official accounting of this leg of the trip, by means of a pirogue sent back with the escort soldiers from Kaskaskia. After passing the Platte the captains started preparing a map and "despatches" about the journey thus far, work that continued until the boats reached modern South Dakota. But there, the plan changed again. The heavily loaded keelboat kept bumping its bottom on sandbars, slowing the whole fleet. On September 16, the captains decided both pirogues were needed to carry cargo transferred from the laboring keelboat, meaning that the escort soldiers would have to stay with the Expedition all winter. Curiously, Clark's journal justified this switch solely in boat-handling terms, with no hint the captains anticipated the following week's dangerous encounter with the Teton Sioux—supposedly a major reason for taking the escort's extra guns in the first place.
Fort Mandan Adjustments
It was beyond the Tetons that another permanent party explorer was lost. John Newman, a keelboat man, was "discarded" to the red pirogue for talking mutiny. When the Expedition stopped at the Mandan villages for five months of North Dakota winter, the captains enrolled in the Army a resident Canadian, Jean-Baptiste Lepage, to fill Newman's slot. Because Floyd hadn't been replaced, the permanent party's roster of enlisted men was still one shy of the 27 that had begun the trip. A replacement in fact was at hand. Hanging around Fort Mandan was Francois-Antoine Larocque, a clerk for Britain's North West Company, who asked to join the Expedition. One big purpose of the trip was to lure Western Indians away from their trade connections with Larocque's company, so the captains not surprisingly turned him down.
And yet the Expedition kept growing. Montreal-born Toussaint Charbonneau, hired as a temporary Hidatsa interpreter at Fort Mandan, agreed to go the whole way to the Pacific. With Drouillard, that gave the party two civilian interpreters. The captains also thought Charbonneau's Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, could do some useful interpreting once the explorers reached her tribe's country in the Rockies. And if you took Sacagawea, you also had to take her newborn son Jean Baptiste.
A Parting of Ways
In April, 1805, the Expedition's two stage rocket separated. The Pacific bound payload party, numbering 33 souls, continued up the Missouri in the two pirogues and six newly hewn dugout canoes. The keelboat fell away to St. Louis with Corporal Warfington's escort soldiers (now including deserter Reed and mutineer Newman) and the French watermen. The trustworthy Warfington carried a Lewis letter to Jefferson that, perhaps at long last, gave the government an official count of the party's final size.5 Lewis also sent Dearborn a now missing muster roll of his 26 soldiers. Jefferson received Lewis's letter on July 13, but waited until the following February to include it in a report to Congress, three years after it had authorized a tour by one officer and 10 or 12 men.
In his letter Lewis also promised to send back three or four men in a canoe, with updated journals, once the party reached the Missouri's head of navigation. But by early July, having completed the tough portage around the river's falls in Montana, the officers once again decided not to risk a reduction in strength. Lewis believed the worst part of the trip was now beginning, with nobody knowing whether the Indians ahead would be friends or enemies. "We have conceived our party sufficiently small and therefore have concluded not to dispatch a canoe with a part of our men to St. Louis as we had intended early in the spring," Lewis wrote on July 4.
A conviction that every man was needed again kept the captains from reducing the group as it prepared to head home from the mouth of the Columbia in March, 1806. Finding no ships there, the captains might have left two men behind anyway to wait for a vessel to take them and a copy of the records home by sea, as Jefferson contemplated. "Our party are too small to think of leaveing any of them," said Clark on March 18. Less than a month later, with the explorers menaced by crowds of insolent Columbia River Indians, Clark thanked his stars for keeping a force big enough to deter real trouble: "Nothing but the strength of our party has prevented our being robed before this time."
|*Meriwether Lewis *William Clark *York|
|Fort Southwest Point||St. Charles||Fort Mandan|
Previoius Army units, if any, are unknown for *Robert Frazer, *Silas Goodrich, *Hugh McNeal, Moses Reed, *John Thompson, and *William Werner. Also, the departing group included eight or nine French boatmen who went as far as Fort Mandan.
*Permanent party who journeyed from Fort Mandan to the Pacific and back.
The documentary gaps in the story of the Expedition's expansion may never be filled. Even if no messages were deliberately destroyed, some Army records were lost forever when British troops set fire to the War Department in 1814. The available evidence points to a mixture of reasons for abandoning the Mackenzie precedent. Lewis first underestimated the number of men needed to manage his keelboat; whether form Nashville or Pittsburgh. Everyone eventually realized it would be too risky for a small group to brazen its way past the Sioux.
Once the permanent party was fairly on the road from Fort Mandan, the leaders felt they had struck an equilibrium level of ideal strength for their mission, and resisted any idea of cutting it back. And it finally made little difference whether headquarters authorized a bigger party or merely acquiesced later; in the end the government honored its payroll obligations to all the men, and the officers apparently got into no trouble. What counted was the determination of the field commanders to take control of the Expedition's size, showing at the very outset the kind of bold leadership that arched a continent.
Arlen J. Large
Arlen Jim Large of Washington, D.C. was a correspondent of the Wall Street Journal and a frequent contributor to We Proceeded On, the journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. He passed away in 1996.
Articles on this site by Arlen J. Large:
- 1. Arlen J. Large, "'Additions to the Party': How an Expedition Grew and Grew," We Proceeded On, February 1990, Volume 16, No. 1, the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Editorial additions include page titles, side headings, and graphics to assist the web-based reader. The original format is provided at http://lewisandclark.org/wpo/pdf/vol16no1.pdf#page=4.
- 2. Thwaites, 7:35.
- 3. Another probable transfer from Capt. Stoddard's company, Corporal John Robinson, was assigned to the escort squad in the April 1 roster posted at Camp Dubois. Thereafter his name vanishes from the Expedition's records, including a list of boat crews posted just beyond St. Charles on May 26 (Moulton, 2:254–256). He may have washed out before departure.
- 4. Jackson, 1:216.
- 5. Jackson., 1:232. In numbering his total party at 33 for Jefferson, Lewis included a Mandan Indian who soon dropped off, but omitted Sacagawea's infant, leaving no net change for the Pacific bound group.