Fair Trade

As the time for departure from Fort Clatsop neared in the spring of 1806, the urgency of adding another canoe to the expedition's flotilla increased, and a light-weight, seaworthy Indian canoe was preferable to another heavy, low-riding dugout canoe they could have made. Evidently, word got around, for on March 14 George Drouillard brought in a party of Clatsop Indians wanting to sell "a verry indiferent canoe" plus some hats and roots. The captains bought the Indians' hats and roots, but failed to get the canoe. Lewis offered his uniform coat for it but, "agreeable to their usial way of tradeing his price was double."

"Price" denoted a relative value. Coined money would have been useless, and the Corps' capital in trade goods was dangerously low. On March 16 Lewis reported that two handkerchiefs would hold all that remained of their small trade items such as buttons, beads, and other trinkets. The balance of their stock, he lamented, consisted only of 6 blue and one red "robe," five robes or shawls made from their large American flag, one artillerist's uniform coat and hat, and "a few old cloaths trimed with ribbon." Not much "cash." And the "credit card" President Jefferson had given Lewis was worthless to the natives.

The "uniform artillerist's coat and hat" probably were the last of the 15 inexpensive military coats and 11 "cocked" officers hats – probably chapeaux de bras – brought along as gifts to tribal chiefs. Clark, an artillery officer, still had his personal coat, though he was soon obliged to trade it for horses,

On the 17th, Sergeant Ordway succeeded in buying a good canoe from the Cathlamet Indians, a few miles up the Columbia River, for a reasonable price. Lewis explained:

For this canoe he gave my uniform laced coat and nearly half a carrot of tobacco. It seems that nothing excep this coat would induce them to dispose of a canoe which in their mode of traffic is an article of the greatest val[u]e except a wife, with whom it is equal, and is generally given in exchange to the father for his daughter. I think the U. States are indebted to me another Uniform coat, for that of which I have disposed on this occasion was but little woarn.

The word "laced" referred to silver-threaded braid around the buttonholes. His comment that his coat "was but little woarn" suggests he had bought it expressly for official, formal uses only on this journey.

In August of 1807 Lewis billed the government for the coat in question, as well as "one silver Epaulet, one Dirk [dagger] and belt, one hanger [sword] & belt, one pistol & one fowling piece [smoothbore "fusil"], all private property, given in exchange for Canoe, Horses &c. for public service during the expedition."