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Pvt. Joseph Field celebrated Independence Day 1804 by getting bitten by a snake. Looking back, it's almost fitting.

Whenever danger and difficulty arose, Field always seemed to be in the middle of it, and his brother wasn't far behind. Joseph survived that July 4 snakebite, but plenty of other adventures awaited these Kentucky woodsmen, two of the "nine young men from Kentucky" that William Clark had selected for Meriwether Lewis' approval.

The Field brothers knew their way around the frontier. Reubin was born in 1772, two years before Joseph, in Virginia. As Clark wrote of the Field brothers and five others he had chosen for Lewis, these were "the best young woodsmen & Hunters in this part of the Countrey."

The captains thought highly of both brothers, especially Joseph Field. When they did any scouting, Joseph usually was in the party. The captains trusted him and found him dependable.

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Though the bison became a familiar site along the Missouri the farther north the Corps traveled, Pvt. Joseph Field was the first Corps member to shoot a buffalo.

A month after his snakebite, Joseph was sent by Lewis on a hunt as they neared the Great Plains. It was Aug. 23, 1804, when Field came rushing down a bluff toward the party out on the river. He shouted that he had killed a buffalo. Field became the first in the party to kill this great symbol of the Plains during the expedition. Reubin soon accompanied Capt. Lewis and bagged his own buffalo.

The following spring, on April 25, Lewis sent Joseph Field alone up the Yellowstone River to investigate it. Field reported on the river's gentle current and muddy bottom. A few days later, on March 4, Joseph again appears in Lewis' journal, this time sick with dysentery and high fever. Lewis treated him successfully with various frontier remedies.

Field returned the favor. When the expedition built Fort Clatsop in December 1805, Field made writing desks for Lewis and Clark. On these primitive desks the captains completed much of their report about their journey west.

As the expedition waited for the snow to melt on the Rockies on their return trip, Lewis writes of how the men of the Corps played games with the Nez Perce Indians. Reubin Field and George Drouillard were the fastest runners, Lewis pointed out.

On the return trip east Joseph Field's careless mistake led to the only Indian deaths on the trip. When Lewis, the Field brothers, and Drouillard encountered the Piegan Indians, one of the Blackfeet tribes, the Indians and the Corps members agreed to camp together the night of July 16, 1806. Early the next morning one of the Piegans attempted to steal Joseph Field's rifle, which Field had carelessly laid next to his sleeping brother. The ensuing chase and confrontation resulted in both Lewis and Reubin Field each killing a Piegan and the men of the Corps having to flee more than 100 miles over the next day to elude the Blackfeet.

Despite that incident Lewis praised the Field brothers at the end of the mission. He asked for additional pay for the brothers. In his report he called them "two of the most active and enterprising young men who accompanied us. It was their peculiar fate to have been engaged in all the most dangerous and difficult scenes of the voyage, in which they uniformly acquited themselves with much honor."

For their efforts they each received double pay and 320 acres of land.


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