I’ll let you in on a little secret.
Although the book cover doesn’t say so, Unclaimed Legacy features Lewis and Clark in the historical story behind the contemporary one of Abby, John, Merri and the Old Dears next door. I love history, but I don’t claim to be a historian. And put a detailed disclaimer inside the book cover because I didn’t want real historians to get angry if I got anything wrong. But I did want be as historically accurate as possible. So I did my homework before writing Unclaimed Legacy.
Here are my main sources:
Unclaimed Legacy was Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corp of Discovery by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns.
Lewis and Clark: Point of Departure by Timothy S. Raymer
Lewis and Clark in the Illinois Country: the Little-Told Story by Robert E. Hartley
Lewis & Clark’s Illinois Volunteers by John & Susan Dunphy
I learned some interesting facts about the inauguration of that great adventure:
Napoleon and the French sold the “Louisiana Purchase” to the United States on April 30, 1803. Thomas Jefferson wasted no time making plans to explore the vast tract of land that would double America’s size. He commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to head up a “Corp of Discovery” to ascend the Missouri River as far as possible and then make its way to the Pacific.
After accepting the commission, Captain Lewis asked that Lieutenant William Clark be promoted to captain and be his co-leader. His request was not granted, but the men never knew because Lewis always referred to his friend and fellow explorer as Captain Clark.
Congress allocated $2500 for the Expedition. However, President Jefferson gave Captain Lewis carte blanche to purchase on credit in his name anything he might need. It’s not that he expected him to see any stores along the way, but he did think Lewis would encounter American sea captains when he reached the Pacific Ocean. He never did.
While still in the East, Captain Lewis got a crash course in science from leading men of the time in Philadelphia so he’d be better prepared to analyze the discoveries he made along the way.
Captain Lewis spent nearly all the money allocated right off, purchasing 3500 pounds of supplies in Pittsburgh:
Compasses, a telescope, a chronometer to calculate longitude, pliers, chisels, handsaws, hatchets, and whetstones, an iron corn mill, mosquito curtains, fishing hooks and lines, knives, knapsacks, powder horns, rifle flints, gunpowder, sheets of lead for bullets.
And clothing for the men.
And Indian gifts:
Pocket mirrors, sewing needles, silk ribbons, ivory combs, handkerchiefs, bright-colored cloth, tobacco, tomahawks/pipes, brass kettles, vermilion face paint, 33 pounds of tiny beads, etc.
And Peace medals with Jefferson’s image. (This I found particularly intriguing.)
After securing a river boat known as a keelboat and stocking it with the supplies purchased, Lewis and Clark, along with a few other men started down the Ohio River at Pittsburgh on October 26, 1803. Their goal was to spend the winter at the mouth of the Missouri so as to be ready to leave the moment the land transaction was completed by President Jefferson.
A reproduction of Lewis & Clark’s keelboat at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, Illinois.
The Captains picked up more recruits in Kentucky and reached Fort Massac in what is now Metropolis, Illinois on Nov. 11. More recruits were taken on here.
On Nov. 14: They reached the confluence of Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at Cairo, Illinois and spent a few days there trying out their equipment. Going up the Mississippi was much more difficult than their travel down the Ohio, of course. They averaged only about 10-13 miles a day.
They reached Fort Kaskaskia on Nov. 28 and picked up eleven more recruits, one of them Sergeant Ordway, who invested $200 as a sort of insurance policy for his family back east—in case he didn’t make it back to the United States.
The explorers took a little side trip on December 5 to Bellefontaine, (today known as Waterloo, Illinois, the town where I live) on the Cahokia/Kaskaskia Trail.
They reached Cahokia the next day, Dec. 6. Cahokia was at the time, the last frontier of settlement in Illinois. North of it were only a few scattered, isolated farms, except for the Goshen settlement near Collinsville (and according to the census of 1800 another one near Peoria). In Cahokia they met with Nicholas Jarrot, its leading citizen, who agreed to allow the explorers to build their winter camp on his property near the mouth of the Missouri River.
On December 12 they arrived at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Wood Rivers where they built Camp River Dubois.
The Illinois country that Lewis and Clark had reached was a beautiful but harsh place. Other than the Kaskaskia Goshen Trails, there were no roads.
“Thick timber and wild rivers restricted any kind of movement in southernmost Illinois.… To travel from Vincennes on the Wabash River to Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River required more than 40 hours on horseback through forests and over prairies covered in summer with thick grasses 10-12 feet high…”
John Reynolds, a distinguished citizen of Illinois, who served in Congress and as governor recalled that it had taken his family four weeks to travel 110 miles from Fort Massac to Kaskaskia in 1800.
A reproduction of Camp River Dubois at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, Illinois.
According to the 1800 census, about 2500 people resided in what is now Illinois:
719 at Cahokia,
467 at Kaskaskia
212 at Prairie du Rocher
250 along the southern border of St. Clair County
334 in scattered parts of Monroe County
90 at Fort Massac
100 in Peoria.
“Compared to the settlement of the American Bottom from Kaskaskia to Cahokia, the area north of the settlements was sparsely settled. Scattered individual farms existed, but no clusters of settlements. The earliest immigrants to the region arrived in the 1790s and by 1800 a few people had moved to an area called Goshen, which is near the location of Collinsville…”
I enjoyed reading about all this, but didn’t spend any time on the actual Expedition, although much has been written about their exploits along the way. But what about Lewis and Clark’s time spent at Camp River Dubois, their home away from home in Illinois that winter of 1803-04? I’m so lucky to be doing my research today, because for a century and a half, no one knew much about that period.
Then in 1953 Clark’s field notes (not the journal written during the Expedition) taken during that time were discovered in a dusty Minnesota attic and published. Within the scraps of Clark’s notes, a word here or there, maddening in their lack of detail, some facts have been revealed about that time.
One of my biggest questions was whether there were settlers nearby. From Clark’s notes we learn that indeed there were. A few. And they came calling at Camp Dubois that winter too:
Frontiersmen from isolated farms in the area
Indians camping just upriver
Settlers from the Goshen settlement near Collinsville.
Frenchmen from Cahokia, Kaskaskia, St. Louis, plying their wares.
Indians up and down Mississippi River “highway.” He mentions Sauk, Delaware, Kickapoo.
Members of the Whiteside family, some from Goshen and probably others from Whiteside Station (just north of Waterloo) showed up periodically at Camp River Dubois. We know for sure of visits on January 2, January 4 and January 31.
This is Clark’s intriguing note for January 2:
‘Cap Whitesides Came to See me & his Son, and some country people…Mr. Whitesides says a number of young men in his Neighborhood wishes to accompany Capt Lewis & myself on the Expdt…’
Many of the visitors brought goods—butter, turnips, chickens, corn, potatoes, onions—to sell or as friendly gifts.
And believe it or not, there was already a “whiskey shop” in the area, which would (of course) lead to problems eventually.
According to Robert Hartley,
“Illinoisans had varying motivations for making contact with Lewis and Clark during this time. Some people wanted to conduct business and make money, others felt honored to be in their company.
There was a high curiosity factor, too, as indicated by the number of visitors to winter camp and St. Louis social events.
The motivation for Jarrot to provide the campsite, and to assist Lewis in St. Louis, appears to have been nothing more than friendliness, and a desire to be associated in some manner with an intriguing project…”
Captain Lewis made several trips himself that winter:
To St. Louis for supplies, business meetings concerning the signing of the Louisiana Purchase, and shindigs to keep the area politicians happy. The most important trip he made to St. Louis was on March 10, 1804, when he attended the formal ceremony that transferred ownership of the territory from France to the United States, making it possible for the Expedition to legally proceed.
And to Cahokia for equipment, discussions, and to mail letters at the post office. Captain Lewis and President Jefferson kept in touch until the last minute.
Meanwhile, Captain Clark kept the camp going.
The men trained in marksmanship and often had contests among themselves and with visitors— an extra “gill” of whiskey to the winner.
Cooks made hard tack and rendered lard and tallow. The men made maple sugar that February.
It was Clark’s job to show these half-wild, stubbornly independent young men how to hone and harness their skills, and most importantly, how to pull together as a team. Their lives and the success of the mission depended on it.
“A number [of the men] had no military training and came to the Corps straight from life on the frontier. They did not welcome orders. These rough-cut men, used to living and acting independently, chafed at the regulation and military order. Keeping them under control for such a long time tested everyone.…”
As was common in the military at the time, at Camp Dubois the lash was used a few times for infractions of the rules.
So when Captain Clark discovered that four of the men assigned to the hunting party—a constant chore to keep the men in meat that long winter—had sneaked away from the hunt, bought whiskey at that local shop, got drunk and commenced to beat each other to a pulp. . . well he could have had them lashed. Instead, he sentenced them to build a cabin for an unnamed washer woman. Here are two fascinating notes Clark made:
January 1, 1804 Snow about an inch deep. Cloudy to day, a woman Come forward wising to wash and doe Such things as may be necessary for the Dtachmt.…
January 6, 1804 “I ordered those men who had fought got Drunk & neglected Duty to go and build a hut for a Woman who promises to wash & sow etc.
Lewis and Clark weren’t the only ones to write journals. As a matter of fact, President Jefferson encouraged all the men to write so there would be different perspectives of the journey.
Sergeant John Ordway, next in command when both captains were absent, wrote one journal. It was lost for over one hundred years and finally published in 1916. He was the most educated of the recruits. And we have the wonderful letter he wrote to his parents right before the explorers left on their great adventure. It gives a real sense of the dangers they faced. (Bear in mind that spelling had not been standardized yet.)
Camp River Dubois
April the 8th 1804
I now embrace this opportunity of writing to you once more to let you know where I am and where I am going, I am well thank God, and in high Spirits. I am now on an expedition to the westward, with Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clark, who are appointed by the President of the united States to go on an expedition through the interior parts of North America. We are to ascent the Missouri River with a boat as far as it is navigable and then to go by land, to the western ocean, if nothing prevents, &c.
This party consists of 25 picked Men of the armey & country likewise and I am So happy as to be one of them pick’d Men from the armey, and I and all the party are, if we live, to Return to Receive our Discharge when ever we return again to the united States.
This place is on the Mississippi River opposite to the Mouth of the Missouri River and we are to Start in ten days up the Missouri River. This has been our winter quarters. We expect to be gone 18 months or two years. We are to Receive a great Reward for this expedition, when we Return. I am to Receive 15 dollars pr. month and at least 400 ackers of first Rate land, and if we make Great Discoveries as we expect, the united States, has promised to make us Great Rewards more than we are promised.
For fear of exidants I wish to inform you that I left 200 dollars in cash, at Kaskaskia. Put it on interest with a Substantial man by the name of Charles Smith &c. partnership which were three more Substantial men binding with him and Capt. Clark is bound to See me paid at the time and place where I receive my discharge. . .
and if I should not live to return my heirs can get that and all the pay Due me from the U.S. by applying to the Seat of Government.
I have Recd. no letters Since Betseys yet, but will write next winter if I have a chance. yours, Etc.
John Ordway Sergt.
And here is Sergeant Ordway’s journal entry on the day they returned home from the Expedition:
Tuesday 23rd Sept. 1806 “A wet disagreeable morning. We set out after breakfast and proceeded on. Soon arrived at the Mouth of the Missouri, entered the Mississippi River, and landed at River Deboise where we wintered in 1804.
Here we found a widow woman who we left here & has a plantation under tolerable good way since we have been on the Expedition.
We delayed a Short time and about 12 o’Clock we arrived in Site of St. Louis. Fired three rounds as we approached the Town…Then the party all considerable much rejoiced that we have the Expedition Completed and now we…wait for our Settlement and then we entend to return to our native homes to See our parents once more as we have been so long from them.
I realized from my research for Unclaimed Legacy that the five and half months Lewis and Clark spent in Illinois Country were essential. While they waited for the treaty with France to be settled, they finished outfitting their boats and gathering and packing their supplies.
Lewis collected as much intelligence as he could from local frontiersmen to improve their understanding, and most crucially, their maps of the west.
And Clark made the final selections of which men would accompany them on the Expedition and trained them into the cohesive Corp of Discovery that Jefferson labeled them.
“The Illinois country provided more military recruits than any other state or region. These men played a pivotal role in the expedition’s success…”
But the most exciting three things I discovered during my research were what I didn’t learn:
1. We don’t know exactly how many went on the trip.
“Even after assembling all the military records and journals, and with diligent work of historians, there never has been a precise roster of the full company that traveled from the Illinois country to Fort Mandan.”
2. We don’t actually know how many of the men wrote journals. And who knows when another one might turn up in someone’s attic. After all, Clark’s notes were only found in 1953.
“As the party pushed away from Camp Dubois, at least six members started journals of the voyage…Others may have kept journals or diaries, but none has been found.”
3. And we don’t know exactly who the washer woman was.
I was convinced that it would be unwise for me to write about any of the actual heroes of the Expedition. It would be too easy to get it wrong. And besides, others have already written about them. And I didn’t think it would be Kosher to invent a character to go on the Expedition if the historians were definite about the roster.
So I was thrilled to find these three “loopholes” which gave me the license to get creative. I decided the washer woman was from Goshen, a woman whose husband had died after their arrival in the Illinois country. And her son Nathan Buchanan was one of the young men eager to join the Expedition. The washer woman’s cabin survives to this day (I wish this part was not fiction!) in disguise. And Abby and her friends “Time-Surf” there, uncovering a priceless legacy for their new friends, Eulah and Beulah Buchanan.
It could have happened.
For Further Study
The Lewis and Clark State Historic Site. One Lewis and Clark Trail, Hartford, IL 62048. 618-251-5811. www.campdubois.com.
Lewis and Clark in the Illinois Country: The Little Told Story. By Robert E. Hartley. 2002. Xlibris Corporation. 888-795-4274. www.Xlibris.com
Lewis & Clark’s Illinois Volunteers. By John and Susan Dunphy. 2003. Second Reading Publications. 618-462-2830. firstname.lastname@example.org
Lewis and Clark: Point of Departure. By Timothy S. Raymer. 2004. Author House. 800-839-8640. www.authorhouse.com.
The Settlement of Illinois, 1778–1830. By Arthur Clinton Boggess. A 1974 reprint of a 1908 Chicago Historical Society’s publication. ISBN: 9-781149-54401-3
A Woman’s Story of Pioneer Illinois. By Christiana Holmes Tillson. A reprint by Forgotten Books. www.forgottenbooks.org.
It would be so nice of you to share!