Primary Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition - dummies

Primary Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

By Sammye J. Meadows, Jana Prewitt

Part of Lewis and Clark For Dummies Cheat Sheet

One of the reasons that the story of Lewis and Clark and their journey continues to fascinate people today is its large and colorful cast. Of the 40-some on the Lewis and Clark expedition, here are a few of the most memorable:

  • The brilliant but troubled Meriwether Lewis. After finishing school, Lewis joined the Army, where drinking and unruly behavior got him transferred to a company of elite sharpshooters, whose captain was William Clark. The two respected one another and became friends. Lewis was promoted to lieutenant in 1799 and gained a reputation for honesty and thoroughness, but also for vanity and occasional melancholia.

    Just before his inauguration in 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed Lewis to serve as his private secretary, and Lewis moved to the White House. When Jefferson got congressional approval to fund an exploration of the West, the president appointed Lewis to lead it. At the time he was chosen to command the expedition, Meriwether Lewis was 29 years old, 6-feet tall, physically tough, smart, adventurous, ambitious, resourceful, organized, and determined. He knew how to lead men. But Lewis was not a perfect hero: He drank too much; he had a temper that he had trouble controlling; and he suffered from periodic bouts of severe depression.

            Meriwether Lewis
            Meriwether Lewis

    In June, perhaps suspecting his own limitations, Lewis asked William Clark to share command of the expedition. Clark enthusiastically accepted, and thus began one of the greatest partnerships in American history.

  • Out-going and rock-steady survivalist, William Clark. Clark never received a formal education like Lewis did, but was educated at home by his older brothers. The creative spelling in his expedition journals showed his lack of formal training. His education in wilderness skills, on the other hand, was supreme.

    He was gregarious, level-headed, curious, dependable, good at mapmaking and drawing, and faithful in recording the day-to-day events in his journal. But he wasn’t perfect. Like Lewis, Clark could lose his temper. He used his influence with the tribes against their interests, and he sometimes beat his slave York.

    William Clark
    William Clark

    Clark was 6-feet tall, red-headed, popular, and tough. He was a commanding figure, and a few years older than Lewis.

  • Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian, child bride, and mother. One of the most famous Native Americans in U.S. history, Sacagawea was about 12 years old when raiding Hidatsa Indians from present day North Dakota captured her (according to Lewis’s journal). The Hidatsas transported her across the plains and eventually sold Sacagawea and another captive Shoshone girl in marriage to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader.

    Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau as an interpreter, and when they learned that one of his wives spoke both Hidatsa and Shoshone, they selected her to accompany them to the Pacific

  • Sacagawea’s un-heroic husband, Toussaint Charbonneau. Lewis and Clark thought him to be of little merit, except as a cook. Charbonneau was not a good boatman, he panicked easily in a crisis, and Clark berated him once for striking Sacagawea.

  • Sacajawea’s infant, born on the expedition, Jean Baptiste. Clark nicknamed him Pomp (“little dancing boy”) and started carrying the toddler on his shoulders as the expedition proceeded along.

  • York, Clark’s humorous and dignified slave since childhood. He was a big man, a fine marksman, a good cook, and a strong swimmer. During the journey west, York carried a gun, and he hunted and functioned as an equal with the other men of the expedition.

    The Indians who encountered the expedition were in awe of York’s size, his nimbleness as a dancer, and especially his black skin. Suspecting that York had spiritual powers, the Arikaras called him “Big Medison” (“paint that won’t rub off”).

  • The civilian jack-of-all-trades, George Drouillard. He was the expedition’s best hunter, scout, woodsman, and interpreter of Indian sign language. Drouillard brought great skill, endurance, and judgment to the expedition during dangerous times. George Drouillard was born in French Canada, the son of Pierre Drouillard and a Shawnee mother.

  • The one-eyed fiddler, Cruzatte. Cruzatte was recruited for his navigational skills and his command of the French and Omaha languages.

    His music had a direct impact on the success of the expedition: It served as a critical survival tool, both as a form of entertainment and recreation for the members of the expedition and as a way of establishing trust and good will with the Indian nations the travelers encountered along the trail.

  • Lewis’s Newfoundland dog, Seaman. The Indians sometimes offered to buy him, and at one point, some Chinooks stole him, and in a rage Lewis stopped everything and threatened to burn villages in order to get him back. The big dog kept buffalo bulls and grizzly bears away from camp. Seaman caught beaver, squirrels, and even an antelope, all of which the expedition eagerly cooked for supper.

        A Newfoundland dog
        A Newfoundland dog

    Even in the hungriest of times on the trail, Seaman was taken care of, and when the expedition was reduced to eating dogs that they bartered from the Indians, Seaman never became dinner.