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