Charles Floyd, Much Lamented

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Figure 3

Floyd's Bluff

Geroge Catlin, 1832

Painting of green hills overlooking the Missouri River

Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum, Luce Foundation Center, 1985.66.376

The American artist George Catlin (1796-1872) painted Floyd's Bluff in 1832, with the original cedar marker still in place. The following year Prince Maximilian von Wied, the Prussian explorer and man of science, noticed that someone had erected a new cedar post after prairie fire damaged it.

Floyd's grave became a conspicuous point and a historic shrine on the Lewis and Clark trail almost immediately after the expedition was over. To begin with, the steadily increasing movement of trappers and traders up the Missoula would have quickly spread the word that only one member of the party had died, and that his grave was on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River about 950 miles from its mouth. Many of the early travelers were in small parties bound for the new territory's beaver fields, and the "jawbone journals," as the late historian Jim Large called the spontaneous, one-on-one oral medium, worked faster and spread the word more widely than one might think.

In May of 1807, only 8 months after the expedition disembarked at St. Louis, the Pittsburgh bookseller David McKeehan published Sergeant Patrick Gass's journal, titled A Journal of the Voyages & Travels of a Corps of Discovery, under the Command of Captain Lewis and Captain Clarke of the Army of the United States. The prospectus appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette in March, and the first review of it appeared on June 1, 1809 in The Monthly Anthology, and Boston Review. The Anthology's critic granted that Gass's book was "written without lofty pretensions," and that "as it is without a map, it cannot be of very lasting importance; yet it furnishes some details to satisfy us for the moment, till we are favoured with the principal work" that Meriwether Lewis had promised in early April of 1807 but was never to be published.

In 1848 a man named William Thompson built a cabin on the bluff near Floyd's grave, and the following year a French Canadian trader for the American Fur Company settled at the mouth of the Big Sioux River. In 1854 a surveyor for the U.S. government laid out a town between the Big Sioux and Floyd's River, a logical place for a settlement, inasmuch as it had long been a favored fording place, campsite and gathering point of the Yankton Sioux and other Indian tribes. In only four more years the new town gained official identity with a post office, and saw the first steamboat arrive from St. Louis.

Floodwaters undermined the bluff early in the spring of 1857, and part of the grave slid toward the river. Local citizens who were aware of the significance of the site quickly recovered all but a few bones, and on May 28, 1857, Floyd's remains were buried for the third time, with appropriate military and religious ceremonies, 200 yards east of their original burial. New wooden markers were erected, but over the next four decades they were steadily whittled away by souvenir hunters, and grazing cattle obliterated all other evidence of the gravesite.

Figure 4

Sergeant Floyd's grave as relocated in 1857

historic photo of a bluff above the Missouri River

Olin Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804—1904, Vol. 1, p. 89

This second gravesite was between the two large posts.

Figure 5

Stone slab placed on Floyd's Bluff August 20, 18952

slab on floyd's grave

Olin Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804—1904, Vol. 1, p. 90

Five years later the sergeant's remains were disinterred for reburial a third time beneath the 100-foot-tall obelisk. The fate of the stone slab thereafter is unknown.

The inscription on the stone read:

Aug. 20. 1804.
Remains removed from 600
Feet West and Reburied at
This Place May 28. 1857.
This Stone Placed
Aug. 20. 1895.

Figure 6

"Floyd's Bluffs, Iowa. May 3rd 1866"

Looking up the River from the Steamboat Walter B. Dance

stuart sketch  of bluffs

Courtesy Montana Historical Society, X1968.43.01b

Graphite on paper, 1866, by Granville Stuart (1863-1918).

The X marks the location to which the grave was moved in 1857.

Figure 7

Dedication ceremony, Memorial Day, 19013

monument in 1901

Courtesy Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc.

In 1893 Floyd's long-lost journal came to light, and the publication of it served to revive public interest in the site.2 On August 20, 1895, the sergeant's remains were interred for the third time, beneath a three-by-seven-foot marble slab, and plans were begun to erect a more fitting monument to his memory.

On August 20, 1900, Floyd's bones were reburied for the fourth and last time. On May 30 of the following year the present hundred-foot-high sandstone obelisk was dedicated, and Floyd's place in American history was commemorated with due ceremony. In October of 1966 the monument became the first site to be listed in the newly established National Registry of Historic Places.

Figure 8

Floyd's Monument Today

aerial view of today's Floyd's Monument

On October 27, 1997, the plaza surrounding the monument was dedicated to the memory of Dr. V. Strode Hinds(1927-1997), of Sioux City, Iowa, "a man who brought Lewis and Clark history to life through his programs, conversations and work with people of all ages." Dr. Hinds was a president of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in 1981-82.

Figure 9

Bronze plate mounted on Floyd's monument in 1901.4

Floyd: This shaft marks the burial place of . . .


1. Olin D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1904 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 90.

2. Reuben Gold Thwaites rediscovered Floyd's journal at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in 1893. It was first published in 1894 in the American Antiquarian Society Proceedings by James D. Butler. Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 128.

3. Wheeler, 167.

4. Ibid., 170.

5. 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. Holmberg, "The Life, Death, and Monument of Charles Floyd."
(accessed 06/08/2013).

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