Reliving Lewis and Clark: Up the Missouri Beyond Kansas

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This water, he said, "throws out a greater proportion of sweat than I could suppose could pass through the human body." He did't seem to notice how much it was the work, and the temperatures, which one day hit 96 degrees (35 degrees Celsius), that producied the sweat.

The French engages, or boatmen, complained about the scarcity of the provisions. They were accustomed, they said, to four or five meals a day under similar circumstances. And they were in fact burning calories at a prodigious rate. Clark would have none of it. The expedition ate large quantities of food. The country the party passed through was well stocked with deer, bear, and elk. The expedition's hunters sometimes shot nine or ten deer a day.

Someone has estimated that the men during this stage of the journey ate up to nine pounds (four kilograms) of meat per man per day. What they did not eat, they "jerked"—dried—for future use.

Punishment by Lashing

For the most part the men took the work quite well. But there were problems. On June 29 the expedition held its first court martial. John Collins, while on guard duty, had stolen some whiskey from the provisions he was guarding. He let Hugh Hall have some, too.

The members of the court were all enlisted men, and they found both men guilty. Hall admitted his guilt, however Collins did not. Hall got fifty lashes "on his bare back." Collins got a hundred. This was a military expedition. The lash was the common form of punishment then.

A couple of weeks later on July 12, a private named Alexander Willard was tried by the two captains for sleeping on guard duty, which was a capital offense. Willard could have been hanged. It's unlikely, Lewis and Clark would have ordered such an extreme punishment: The men were exhausted, and it was understandable that a man might fall asleep while standing guard.

But such an offense was not pardonable. The expedition was in Indian country. A surprise attack at night could have wiped out the entire party. Willard received a hundred lashes as well, spaced out over four days.

The men may have been in Indian country, but they had yet to see any Indians—or even their trace. The Kansas Indians lived on the Kansas River perhaps 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the river's mouth, but they were much reduced from their former numbers.

The explorers had a scare one day when they saw a fire on the opposite side of the river and thought it might be Indians. But the blaze came one of the expedition's own hunting parties, which every day went out and walked or rode the sides of the river. The expedition had four horses with them, two of which they had found on the open plains, lost by Indian hunting parties.

Lewis, and sometimes Clark, also walked the riverbanks. This could be nearly as difficult as rowing the boat upriver, as the re-enactors have themselves discovered. To this day the banks of the Missouri can be swampy, entangled with undergrowth, and sometimes just plain impassable. Clark described crawling through the mud at one point to escape a marsh.

July 4 on the Trail

Nevertheless the explorers found the country beautiful. On July 4 Clark remarked, after climbing to a vantage point, that "the plains of this country are covered with a leek green grass, well calculated for the sweetest and most nourishing hay, interspersed with copses of trees spreading their lofty branches over pools, springs, or brooks of fine water. Groups of shrubs covered with the most delicious fruit are to be seen in every direction, and nature appears to have exerted herself to beautify the scenery by the variety of flowers … delicately raised above the grass, which strikes and perfumes the sensation, and amuses the mind."

And then he wondered why such magnificent scenery should be found there, in "a country — far removed from the civilized world, to be enjoyed by nothing but the buffalo, elk, deer and bear in which it abounds, and — savage Indians."

That July 4 was the 28th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The expedition celebrated by shooting off the swivel gun mounted on the bow of the keelboat once in the morning and again in the evening. Lewis and Clark gave the men each an extra gill of whiskey. The crew passed two creeks during the day and named one of them Independence Creek, the other 4th of July Creek. Independence Creek retains the name to this day.

Scroll down for a link to previous installments in this series and for links to related stories and sites.

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