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William Clark made his mark in history as a brave explorer and accomplished cartographer.

History will always remember Capt. William Clark for his epic exploration of the American West with Meriwether Lewis, but the map of the United States might look very different were it not for Clark's contributions to American Indian diplomacy.

After the Corps of Discovery returned, Clark spent years as an administrator of Indian affairs in the Louisiana and Missouri territories. He was known as a friend of the Indians who balanced their interests with those of the U.S. government. His efforts laid the groundwork for the early years of American westward expansion.

A Gentleman and a Frontiersman
Clark, like Lewis, was a Virginian. He was born into a notable plantation owner's family on Aug. 1, 1770, near Charlottesville. He was of Scottish ancestry, the son of John and Ann Rogers Clark and the ninth of 10 children. He was the youngest of six sons and a brother of George Rogers Clark, an American Revolutionary War hero. Though he had little formal education, he was trained in the manners of a Virginia gentleman of his day, riding, hunting, surveying, and managing an estate.

At 14 Clark moved with his family to a new plantation near present-day Louisville, KY. Their home was called Mulberry Hill. Clark grew up on the Kentucky frontier. As a young man, he was 6-foot tall, red-haired, and seemed to be more suited to the life of a frontiersman than a Virginia planter. Indeed, he spent the rest of his life in one way or another on America's ever-expanding frontier.

Clark joined the militia at 19, serving in campaigns against the Indians of the Ohio Valley. In 1792 he transferred to the regular army, advancing to the rank of lieutenant. He lived in the field with the western army in Ohio and Indiana, where he learned the practical principles of military command, engineering, construction, and topography. He learned how to build forts, draw maps, lead pack trains through enemy country, and fight the Indians on their ground. He also learned wilderness survival and a curiosity and respect for the Indians he encountered.

By 1795 he had received promotions to leadership positions, eventually attaining the rank of captain. Ensign Meriwether Lewis was among the men assigned to Clark. The two struck up a lasting friendship.

Resigning his commission in 1796, Clark returned to Mulberry Hill to manage the plantation. When his father died in 1799 and his mother the next year, William inherited Mulberry Hill and most of the family's slaves and debts even though he was not the eldest son. He subsequently sold the homestead to his brother, Jonathan, in 1800 and moved to Clarksville in the Indiana Territory with his brother, George Rogers.

The Partnership
On June 19, 1803, a letter arrived from Lewis, the young officer who had served under Clark in the western army. Lewis was inviting Clark to share command of the government-sponsored Corps of Discovery commissioned by President Jefferson. Lewis wanted Clark to help recruit able-bodied, qualified men to enlist in the Corps. Lewis, with Jefferson's agreement, offered Clark a permanent commission as captain.

Sending a letter to Lewis in Pittsburgh, where he was gathering boats and supplies for the journey, Clark wrote, "My friend I assure you no man lives with whome I would perfur to undertake Such a Trip&c as your self."

The United States had just purchased the Louisiana Territory, and Jefferson was eager to establish an American presence in the far Northwest as well as to locate a water passage to the Pacific. Jefferson charged Lewis and Clark with reporting on the culture, commerce, and capabilities of the natives along the route and to observe and collect botanical and biological specimens.

Clark eagerly accepted Lewis' invitation. On Sept. 19, 1803, Clark wrote in his journal, "This very day I got a letter from Lewis asking me to go on a long and dangerous journey to map out the land and discover an over land route to the pacific ocean for Thomas Jefferson. I would love to go for I am good with the out doors. He also said he needs men lots of them. He needs lots of multi tasked men to cook, build, hunt and most of all he needs me. He says we will be equal partners for the whole time. We will bring goods to trade with the tribes for horses. We will also need food, boats and guns. All of this will cost a lot of money for such a long trip. We will depart on May 5th 1804!"

He was promised a captaincy by Lewis, and he received the same pay and recognition as a captain. However, when the commission was finally received, it was for a second lieutenant. Lewis never made public to the Corps that Clark was not officially a captain. In Lewis' eyes Clark was an equal.


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