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All are in silence, some one perhaps pours out audible prayer
for the parting spirit and for those around, none of whom
in such a moment can forget their own brittle thread of life.1
--Commemorative funeral oration, August 20, 1895
"With All the Honors of War"
The Artist's Description hope this view of the scene as it might have happened 200 years ago captures some of the pageantry and emotion as these men honored one of their own and left him in a lonely grave on the vast prairie. As Clark wrote that evening in his journal; "We buried him with all the honors of War."2
The men are drawn up in formation facing toward the South in double ranks. To the extreme left of the viewer are Sgt. Ordway and his squad, which included three 1st. Infantrymen, three 2nd. Infantrymen, two recruited privates and one artilleryman. The infantrymen are distinguished by their round hats, fully dressed with bearskin crests and deers'-tail plumes. The artillerymen are in similar uniforms, the most noticeable difference being the distinctive chapeau de bras on their heads. Both the infantry and artillery men were probably dressed in white linen overalls with black gaiters. The recruited privates are distinguished by their coatees of drab wool which Lewis had had specially made in Philadelphia, and the dark blue overalls that he procured from Government stores at the Schuylkill Arsenal there. Corporal Wharfington aligns his men to their left. His squad includes three 1st . Infantrymen and four artillerymen. In rank to their rear are Sgt. Floyd's men (soon to be commanded by Sgt. Gass) and Sgt Pryor's squad. I've been able to determine the actual men in each squad thanks to the excellent work of Bob Moore, the National Park Service historian at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis.
The men are standing at "Mort" or "Reverse Arms," with the muzzles of their muskets or rifles resting on their left feet and their foreheads resting on their hands, which are folded together over the butts of their guns. Lewis is reading a passage from the Bible3 as Clark stands at attention. York, who tended diligently to Sgt. Floyd during his final illness, stands behind and a little apart holding the cedar post which served as the grave marker. This post was hewn and branded with the date and Floyd's name, and became an important historical landmark on the river for years to come.
Scattered in small groups are the French engagés who were hired at St. Charles to work as rivermen for the Corps. They were Catholics and most likely would have been very sympathetic, though unofficial, observers of the ceremony. It is unlikely they would have brought along anything other than work clothes, so they are represented accordingly in various styles of work jackets, capotes and shirts, plus breechcloths and leggings—the standard work attire of the voyageur. Several of them might have worn rough linen pants which were common among the inhabitants of Upper Louisiana. Their leader, or patron, is on the far right of the grave, holding his Cross of Lorraine and rosary beads. The French of the Colonial period were noted for their predilection for blue cloth of all shades, and general love of color and distinctive personal adornments.
Leaning on his rifle at the brink of the bluff above the Missouri River is George Drouillard, the Corps' principal hunter and interpreter, and two other civilians.
The Lewis and Clark journals put Sgt. Floyd's death at sometime between noon and 2:00 p.m., so, factoring in the time needed to complete the arrangements for the funeral, I've set the scene for late afternoon. I've tried to creat a mood of somberness and a sense of drama by the natural elements of light, sun and wind. the sky symbolizes the transition between life and death, and this theme of transition is also carried forward by the shadows in the foreground, particularly the shadow falling half on the grave and casket. The wind sweeps patterns in the grasses on the hill. I also intend for the wind to give some feeling of motion to the scene and to emphasize the wilderness the expedition was moving forward into.
1. From the commemorative funeral oration delivered on 20 August 1895 by Prof. James D. Butler, on the occasion of the temporary reburial of Floyd's remains beneath a marble slab (Figure 5). Reprinted in Elliott Coues, In Memoriam Sergeant Charles Floyd: Report of the Floyd Memorial Association (Sioux City: Perkins Bros., 1897), 39.
2. The only known description of a military funeral during the era of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is in a letter at the Missouri Historical Society describing a ceremony conducted in St. Louis in 1808.
3. There is no evidence in the journals or related documents that the expedition carried either a Bible or a prayer book. Nevertheless it is likely that Lewis or Clark anticipated the need to conduct one or more burial ceremonies en route, and carried a Bible or the Book of Common Prayer for that purpose.
It has been said that they would have needed a Bible for the swearing-in of witnesses in a courts martial (of which they impaneled several). However, the Articles of War passed by Congress in 1786, and still in effect during the years of the Expedition, did not require the "oath or affirmation" to be made over the Bible, but merely to be concluded, "So help you God."
Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge-Cost Share Program.