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Being a member of the Corps of Discovery called for frontier skills in all kinds of areas. Taking on leadership in the Corps said even more for one's abilities.

Nathaniel Pryor was one of the expedition's original three sergeants appointed by Meriwether Lewis. Pryor didn't disappoint his captain. Pryor's jack-of-all-trade approach served him well throughout the expedition.

Pryor was one of the original "nine young men from Kentucky" whom William Clark had selected for his friend Lewis' approval. Pryor, who was born in Virginia in 1772, had moved to Kentucky with his family in 1783. He had some famous lineage: His mother had descended from a sister of Pocahontas. Pryor's cousin from his mother's side, Charles Floyd, joined the Corps at the same time and was also selected as a sergeant.

Lewis' directions to Clark for recruiting expedition members called for "good hunters, stout, healthy, unmarried men, accustomed to the woods and capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable degree." Pryor stood 6 feet tall, above average height for the time, with a solid build. He was quiet but with a dependable air about him. Lewis called him a "man of character and ability." Clark wrote that Pryor was a "steady, valuable, and usefull member of our party." Pryor had been married in 1798, but it is believed that the marriage had ended with either his wife's death or a divorce before he joined with Lewis and Clark because the expedition wasn't taking married men.

Early into the journey, on Nov. 22, 1803, Pryor became lost while hunting along the Mississippi River. He could not be found, and Lewis decided to move on. Two days later Pryor hailed Lewis from the riverbanks. "he was much fatiequed with his wandering and somewhat indisposed," Lewis wrote.

After Pryor was appointed sergeant in 1804, he led the First Squad, which had six privates. In late June of that year, Pryor took on an unusual role. He presided over a court-martial hearing of two privates who had stolen from the expedition's whiskey supply and had gotten drunk on guard duty. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to flogging.

On Aug. 20 Pryor's cousin, Sgt. Floyd, died from a burst appendix. Eight days later Pryor led Pierre Dorion, who had been brought along as a Sioux interpreter, to the Sioux camp near the Missouri River. They set up a council between the Sioux and Lewis.

Pryor, who kept a journal that was believed to have been lost at sea on its way to France for publication, became the first American to describe the classic Plains tipi. The description appears in Clark's journal on Aug. 29, 1804:

"the Scioues Camps are handsom of a Conic form Covered with Buffalow Roabs Painted different colours and all compact & handsomly arranged, Covered all round an open part in the Centre for the fire, with Buffalow roabs, each Lodg has a place for Cooking detached, the lodges contain from 10 to 15 persons."

When the expedition came upon the Marias River in 1805, Pryor made the first exploration of the Marias to determine if it was the Missouri. The next day he accompanied Lewis up the same river.

Throughout the expedition Pryor battled an ailing shoulder that often made it difficult for him to work with heavy objects. However, it didn't stop him from stepping in to break up a fight with Indians on a trading mission in January 1806 at Fort Clatsop, one of the few altercations with Indians on the journey.

That wasn't Pryor's last run-in with Indians. On the return trip in July 1806, Pryor and three others were directed to drive the Corps' horses overland and rejoin the rest of the party later. On July 22 Indians stole the party's 24 horses while the men slept. Pryor came up with a plan. The men killed some buffalo, stretched the skins over a willow frame, made two boats, and eventually met with the rest of the expedition down the Yellowstone River at its junction with the Missouri. Unfortunately, the loss of the horses prevented Pryor from delivering Lewis' letter to Hugh Heney of the North West Company regarding trade with the Sioux.

After the expedition Pryor led an active life in the western territories:

In 1807 he led an unsuccessful expedition for Clark to return a Mandan chief to his territory. Four expedition members were killed in an Indian ambush.

In 1811 while trading in furs and doing lead mining in Illinois, at Clark's direction he spied on Tecumseh, a Shawnee Indian prophet. In retaliation Indian allies of the British destroyed all of Pryor's holdings and captured Pryor to kill him. He escaped while the Indians were plundering his store.

In the War of 1812 Pryor was a captain under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans.

He eventually became a trader with the Osage Indians and married an Osage in present-day northeast Oklahoma. He and Osinga had at least three children. He acted as a go-between for the Osages and the government.

Pryor died June 10, 1831.


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