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Do you think George Shannon had a few yarns to spin?

The youngest member of the Corps of Discovery got lost—more than once—on the journey west. He nearly starved to death in the wilderness. And that's just what happened on the Lewis and Clark expedition. In later years he cut his foot with an ax, was shot by Indians, lost a leg, practiced law, and was a U.S. senator from Missouri. Yes, Shannon led a pretty full life.

Shannon was born in Claysville, PA, in 1785, the son of George Shannon Sr., who came to America from Ireland, and the former Jane Milligan. George Jr. was the first of nine children. His father died in January 1803 just months before George, at the age of 18, enlisted in the Corps of Discovery.

Shannon was one of the famous "Kentucky nine" recruited for the expedition. Notorious for getting lost, Shannon was described by his great-great-great-nephew as a "typical teenager" who was "adventurous enough to be out with the leaders of the time." Historian Charles Clarke (1970) described Shannon as a Protestant Irishman who could sing, hunt, and sit a horse well. Singing was not a skill vital to frontier survival, but along with Pierre Cruzatte's violin it was no doubt appreciated evenings around the campfire.

Hunting and riding, on the other hand, were vital survival skills for the expedition. Several men—Shannon included—were enlisted as hunters. That William Clark did not consider Shannon to be a first-rate hunter was evidenced by the captain's decision to send John Colter with provisions in search of Shannon during Shannon's 16-day absence in August and September 1804.

Shannon and George Drouillard were sent in search of two pack horses that had strayed Aug. 26. Drouillard returned to camp unsuccessful. Several days passed, and when Shannon had not returned, he was presumed lost. Shannon had thought the Corps was ahead of him rather than behind. He had, in fact, found the horses and was determined to catch up with the men on the river so he pressed on.

John Shields and Joseph Field were sent to find Shannon. They reported that tracks indicated Shannon had the horses, but they could not overtake him. Subsisting on plums, grapes, and one rabbit, Shannon was still moving forward. After running out of bullets after four days, he fashioned a stick into a projectile that could be shot out of his gun. That's how he killed the rabbit.

After 16 days the Corps eventually found Shannon, nearly starved to death, sitting along the Missouri. He had decided to wait along the river in hopes of seeing a trading boat.


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