Salt of the Earth

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In the Old Testament of the Bible, salt is a metaphor for what is most useful, and for whatever stimulates an appetite. In the New Testament it symbolizes persons of exceptional worth – of loyalty and dedication as abiding as the savor of pure salt. In his report to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn in January of 1807, Captain Lewis directed attention to the service records of several of his men.

Of Privates Joseph and Reubin Field he wrote: "Two of the most active and enterprising young men who accompanied us. It was their peculiar fate to have been engaged in all the most dangerous and difficult scenes of the voyage, in which they uniformly acquited themselves with much honor."

Of Private John Shields: "Nothing was more peculiarly useful to us, in various situations, than the skill and ingenuity of this man as an artist, in repairing our guns, accoutrements, &c. and should it be thought proper to allow him something as an artificer, he has well deserved it."

George Drouillard, Lewis wrote, was: "A man of much merit; he has been peculiarly usefull from his knowledge of the common language of gesticulation, and his uncommon skill as a hunter and woodsman; those several duties he performed in good faith, and with an ardor which deserves the highest commendation. It was his fate also to have encountered, on various occasions, with either Captain Clark or myself, all the most dangerous and trying scenes of the voyage, in which he uniformly acquitted himself with honor."

Others worthy of special mention were Private Francois Labiche, an interpreter; Corporal Richard Warfington, who commanded the keelboat on its return to St. Louis from Fort Mandan; and even young John Newman, who had striven mightily to redeem himself despite being punished for "mutinous expressions" by a lashing and dismissal from the Corps.

Thus did Captain Lewis measure the worthiness of these particular men, "the salt of the earth."


The Details

Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854 (Second edition; 2 vols., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), I:366-69.