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Image of a recreation of the salt works.
William Bratton headed the salt works detail during the winter at Fort Clatsop. Here reenactors today in Seaside, OR, recreate the salt works.

Salt of the earth. A good description for Pvt. William Bratton's character as well as his skill in a certain area.

Selected by William Clark to join the expedition, Bratton was known as a hardened, disciplined man. Clark wrote of him and six others he had selected for Meriwether Lewis' approval that these were "the best young woodsmen & Hunters in this part of the Countrey." At about 6 feet tall with red hair, Bratton cut a striking figure. His quiet nature went hand-in-hand with his economical ways. He also held strict morals.

Bratton was born to Irish parents in 1778 in Augusta County, Va. Even though he was listed as one of the men from Kentucky, he was living at his birthplace when he joined the expedition.

Lewis and Clark thought highly of Bratton as did his fellow enlisted men. He was one of three candidates voted on to replace Sgt. Charles Floyd when Floyd died in Aug. 1804. Patrick Gass won the election, but even being nominated was considered an honor.

Bratton brought important talents. He had served as an apprentice blacksmith in his youth and had completed some schooling. He also was an excellent gunsmith. During the winter of 1804 at Fort Mandan, Bratton and Pvt. Alexander Willard set up a forge and bellows. They repaired and sharpened metal objects that the Mandans and Hidatsas had gotten from British traders. In return the Indians traded corn and dried vegetables.

As with most of the young men in the party, Bratton had signed on for adventure, and he wasn't disappointed. He appears at various points in the journals. When Pvt. Moses Reed deserted on Aug. 3, 1804, Bratton was in the search party that eventually brought Reed back 10 days later.

Grizzly bears earned quite a hatred among the expedition. Bratton's encounter with one on May 11, 1805, showed why Lewis wrote, "I do not like the gentlemen [the grizzly] and had reather fight two Indians than one bear." That day Bratton, who was walking along the Missouri River shore to relieve painful boils, came upon a grizzly. Bratton shot the bear through the lungs, but that did little more than anger the bear. The grizzly tore after Bratton for a half mile before giving up the chase. Bratton caught up to the party on the river. An enraged Lewis had the crew of the pirogue join him "in quest of this monster." Together, the men tracked the bear down before shooting it twice in the head.


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