McKenzie on Lewis & Clark

In the winter of 1804-05, Charles McKenzie, a young clerk with the North West Company of Canada, made the first of his four trips to the Mandan villages on the "Mississouri" River. On that occasion he and his three companions—including François-Antoine Larocque—met Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. His impression of the two captains highlights an essential difference in their personalities.

We lived contentedly and became intimate with the Gentlemen of the American expedition; who on all occasions seemed happy to see us, and always treated us with civility and kindness. It is true Captain Lewis could not make himself agreeable to us—he could speak fluently and learnedly on all subjects, but his inveterate disposition against the British stained, at least in our eyes, all his eloquence. Captain Clark was equally well informed, but his conversation was always pleasant, for he seemed to dislike giving offence unnecessarily.1

Ironically, Clark left quite a different impression with a majority of voters in the new State of Missouri, when he sought election to the office of governor in 1820. John O'Fallon commented on Uncle William's status among the electorate in a letter to his cousin, Dennis Fitzhugh: "They accuse Governor Clark of . . . being stiff and reserved and unhospitable."2

1. W. Raymond Wood and Thomas D. Thiessen, Early Fur Trade on the Northern Plains: Canadian Traders Among the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians, 1738-1818 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), p. 238.

2. Cited in Jerome O. Steffen, William Clark: Jeffersonian Man on the Frontier (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977), p. 176, note 59.