Were it not
for Pvt. John Shields, the Corps of Discovery might not have survived
its first winter on the Missouri River.
Shields made great use of an anvil like this to perform many
blacksmithing functions as part of the Corps of Discovery.
was one of three blacksmiths (along with Pvt. William
Bratton and Pvt. Alexander Willard) with the Lewis and Clark
expedition. During the frigid winter of 1805, the Corps stayed
at Fort Mandan with the Mandan Indians. By Feb. 4, 1805, the Corps
was out of meat. Hunting was difficult because of the conditions.
Shields came to the rescue.
Using a forge
and bellows the expedition had brought, Shields had set up shop
at Fort Mandan. In exchange for corn, he fixed everything possible
for the Mandanshoes, axes, firearms. The problem was that
by February he had pretty much fixed all he could. The need to
find another service to trade for corn was obvious, especially
since the Corps was about to run out of meat.
thus became a frontier arms dealer. Not firearmsthe captains
would not supply the Indians with new guns. No, Shields found
he could forge just as highly a prized possessionthe battle
ax. Meriwether Lewis didn't have
much use for Shields' design, calling the blade too thin and too
long, the handle too short, and the overall weight too light.
Altogether, an "uncertain" weapon, Lewis declared.
the Indians loved it. Shields used a nearly burned-out stove for
sheet iron. Other men cut timber to fire the kiln to increase
production. Still, demand outpaced production.
and the Mandans agreed to a price: seven to eight gallons of corn
for each piece of metal. Both sides thought they were getting
Shields and his helpers:
blacksmiths take a considerable quantity of corn today in payment
for their labour. the blacksmith's have proved a happy resoce
to us in our present situation as I believe it would have been
difficult to have devised any other method to have procured
corn from the natives."
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