Button that says Epic Journey and takes you to the main page of the Lewis and Clark web site.
Button that says Scenario and takes you to the Scenario page.
Button that says Videos and takes you to the Videos page.
Button that says The Corps and takes you to The Corps page.
Button that says Activities and takes you to the Activities page.
Button that says Links and takes you to the Links page.
Button that says New Frontiers and takes you to the New Frontiers page.

Button that says Teacher Resources and takes you to the Teacher Resources page.

  Image header that says The Corps: John Ordway.

Button that links back to the main corps page.

 

Among the young, rambunctious Kentucky and Virginia woodsmen of the Corps of Discovery who signed on for adventure, John Ordway was a bit of an exception.

Ordway was "regular army," having volunteered for the expedition from Fort Kaskaskia in the Illinois Territory. He was the only one of the original sergeants to come straight from military service. As a result, Lewis and Clark assigned him a number of administrative tasks: issuing provisions, appointing guard duties, keeping all registers and records, and commanding the camp when both of them were gone.

Another unusual aspect about Ordway was his birthplace. He was from the East, born in Hebron, NH. Nearly everyone else on the trip was from Virginia or Kentucky or other western outposts.

And then there was schooling. Ordway was well educated. That set him apart from most everyone else on the expedition, except for perhaps the captains.

Given all that, was it any wonder the 29-year-old Ordway faced a rocky road starting his assignment after being appointed sergeant? In February 1804 as Lewis worked in St. Louis, the men started to give Ordway a go at the Corps' winter camp. First, privates Reubin Field and John Shields refused to mount guard duty because they would not take orders from anyone other than the captains. Privates John Colter, John Boley, Peter Weiser, and John Robinson told Ordway they were leaving to go hunting—against his orders. Instead, they went to a neighboring whiskey shop and got drunk.

The tension didn't improve much in March. With the captains away, fights among the restless men had broken out. Shields opposed another of Ordway's orders and threatened the sergeant's life. Colter did the same but took it a step further. He loaded his gun and threatened to shoot Ordway. The captains had to step in with the latter incidents. A mutiny trial resulted in the two privates seeking forgiveness. They "promised to doe better in future," the captains reported and issued no punishment.

"Doe better" they did. In fact, Colter in particular seemed to patch things up with his sergeant. Ordway, who kept a journal as required by the captains, noted that he and Colter worked many days together the rest of the journey. They hunted together and were at the salt works on the Pacific together. They ate together and were in the keelboats and canoes with each other. Ordway probably knew Colter as well as any man. In his journal Ordway often praised the performance of Colter and the other men in his unit.

Ordway's journal was purchased by Lewis and Clark after the expedition with plans to incorporate it into their book. However, the journal was "lost" after Lewis' death in 1809 until being found a century later. It was published in 1913 and was notable for the detail in which it named the hunters, saltmakers, and scouts at the various places along the expedition. That human element had been edited out of earlier versions of the journals from the trip. Ordway's description of Indian culture also provided valuable history.

At the end of the expedition, Ordway accompanied Lewis and a party of Indians to Washington, DC. He then was discharged and returned to New Hampshire. He bought several of the land warrants issued to other members of the expedition. He returned to the Cape Girardeau district in Missouri and settled in 1809, quite prosperous with the land he owned. He eventually married, although both he and his wife had died by 1817.


Search | Contact Us

Privacy Statement and 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 University.

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.

Image of the WV Humanities Council logo.This 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.