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Clark's Engraving on Pompey's Pillar

Clark's name and date in carved into a rock using a cursive script

"The nativs," Clark wrote in his journal for July 25, 1806, "have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year." He had done the same thing in the same sort of setting at least once before. Back on July 12, 1804, near the mouth of the Big Nemaha River, in Nebraska, he wrote:

observed some Indian marks, went to the rock which jucted over the water and marked my name & the day of the month & year.


No trace of the earlier inscription has ever been found, so the one on Pompey's Tower is the sole remaining material evidence of the Corps' presence in the Northwest.

We don't know what sort of instrument Clark used to engrave his signature, but we may suppose that he used something like a cold chisel. In any case, Private John Shields, the Corps' blacksmith, was with Clark's party, and he would have had a wide selection of suitable tools.

Over the years a number of other passersby have seized the opportunity to borrow a little status by scratching their tags over and around Clark's, but none more blatantly than a certain cavalryman in April of 1876.

Clark's Engraving before 1927

Rock face with a heavy iron grill covering Clark's signature

As the Yellowstone began to draw increasing numbers of traders, trappers, soldiers, and emigrants around the middle of the 19th century, the number of irrepressible fools with suitable tools increased proportionately. After 1882, Northern Pacific passenger trains were routinely stopped nearby to allow tourists to climb the steps for a closer look. The superintendent of the Yellowstone Division had an iron grille anchored over Clark's tag, to protect it from vandalism. It was removed in 1927 to enable professional stone cutters to deepen the inscription in several places where rain had eroded it, and was replaced in 1956 with a sheet of one-inch shatterproof glass set in a bronze frame.