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Meriwether Lewis stood on the shore of the Missouri River on April 7, 1805, at Fort Mandan and watched as the Corps of Discovery's keelboat set sail back down the river for St. Louis.

"Having on this day at 4 PM completed every arrangement necessary for our departure, we dismissed the barge and crew with orders to return without loss of time to St. Louis," Lewis wrote.

Heading the keelboat crew of five soldiers and nine French trader-watermen was Cpl. Richard Warfington. He was a good choice to take on the responsibility of overseeing the precious cargo onboard.

Born in Louisburg, NC, in 1777, Warfington had already had an exemplary military career by the time he joined the Corps of Discovery in November 1804. At the age of 22 he joined the Second Infantry in 1799. When he joined the Corps, he was a member of Capt. John Campbell's company at South West Point, TN.

Lewis and William Clark considered Warfington to be reliable and efficient. He was described as 5'10" with a fair complexion, black eyes, and brown hair. His leadership qualifications were apparent to the captains at least as early as May 1804, when he was named squad leader of the crew manning the white pirogue on the ascent of the Missouri River.

The cargo on the keelboat was extremely important to Lewis. "It was of some importance that the government should receive in safety the dispatches I was about to transmit," he wrote. "There was not one of the party destined to be returned from (Fort Mandan) in whom I could place the least confidence except [Warfington]."

The return trip from Fort Mandan to St. Louis must have been a challenge for Warfington. He was in charge of managing all the men who had been dismissed from the permanent party, including John Newman and Moses Reed, who had been court-martialed, as well as delivering the items Lewis was entrusting to his care. The cargo included the journals and scientific discoveries (including four live magpies and a prairie dog). In addition to the plant and animal specimens, there were detailed river maps, weather charts, and information on the location, numbers, strengths, and habits of 53 Indian tribes.

Because no journal recording the return trip has been discovered, little is known about the journey to St. Louis. Proof that Warfington faithfully executed his assignment is evident from a letter Lewis wrote to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn when he returned from the expedition:

"The duties assigned (Warfington) on this occasion were performed with a punctuality which uniformly characterized his conduct while under my command. Taking into view the cheerfulness with which he continued in the service after every obligation had ceased to exist, from the exposures, the fatigues, labours and dangers incident to that service, and above all the fidelity with which he discharged this duty, it would seem that when rewards are about to be distributed among those of the party who were engaged in this enterprise that his claim to something more than his pay of seven dollars pr. month as corporal cannot be considered unreasonable."

Although Congress denied Lewis's request for more money for Warfington, it did vote that he should receive the same 320 acres of land granted the men who were with the Corps for the entire expedition.


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