the Corps of Discovery have done without a one-eyed, half-French,
half-Omaha, trilingual, fiddle-playing Missouri River boatsman
whose nearsightedness in his "good" eye almost sent
Meriwether Lewis to an early grave?
not nearly as well. Pvt. Pierre "Peter" Cruzatte was
quite a beloved and respected member of the Corps. Before enlisting
with Lewis and Clark at St. Charles, MO, in 1804, "St. Peter,"
as the men of the expedition called him, had traded many years
on the Missouri. He had worked for the Chouteau fur interests
and had honed his skills in the French and Omaha languages as
well as English. Lewis hired him on as one of the main navigators.
He worked as bowman on the keelboat because of his ability to
spot the slack water eddies that would help move the boats upstream.
were his skills as a boatman that when the expedition encountered
the split of the Missouri before the Great Falls, all the men
except the captains sided with Cruzatte when Cruzatte claimed
the north branch to be the Missouri. Of course, he was wrong in
that case, but Lewis nonetheless showed plenty of confidence in
him in most matters pertaining to the river. For example, in the
same journal entry (June 9, 1805) that Lewis talks about determining
which fork was the true Missouri, he praises Cruzatte in another
determined to deposite at this place the large red perogue all
the heavy baggage which we could possibly do without and some
provision . . . with a view to lighten our vessels . . . accordingly
we set some hands to diging a hole or cellar for the reception
of our stores. These holes in the ground or deposits are called
by the engages cashes (caches); on enquiry I found that Cruzatte
was well acquainted [with] this business and therefore left
the management of it intirely to him."
It was Cruzatte's
"persuasive skills" that helped save the expedition's
white pirogue on May 14, 1805. The captains had left Touissaint
Charbonneau at the helm despite his having nearly capsized
the same pirogue in a strong wind a month earlier. This time a
squall blew in suddenly and Charbonneau, whom Lewis had called
"perhaps the most timid waterman in the world," panicked.
Instead of putting the pirogue's bow into the wind, he turned
with it. The pirogue upset and was close to capsizing. Cruzatte
yelled at Charbonneau to take up the rudder and turn the boat
into the wind. Instead, Charbonneau froze, "crying to his
god for mercy," according to Lewis. Cruzatte came to the
rescue with a simple solutionhe threatened to shoot Charbonneau
instantly if he did not take up the tiller. He did and the boat,
which contained all of the expedition's important papers, righted
itself. As Lewis wrote, "the fortitude resolution and good
conduct of Cruzat save her."
Copyright © 2002-2003 by Wheeling Jesuit University/Center for Educational
Technologies®. All rights reserved.
Center for Educational Technologies, Circuit Board/Apple graphic logo, and COTF
Classroom of the Future logo are registered trademarks of Wheeling Jesuit
The contents of this web site were developed under a grant from
the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily
represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume
endorsement by the Federal Government.
project is being presented by the Center for Educational Technologies®
with financial assistance from The West Virginia Humanities Council, a state
affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.