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How would 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?

Well, probably 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.

So respected 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 matter:

"We 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 solution—he 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."

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