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Even if he did almost fall asleep on the job, Pvt. Alexander Willard’s fellow soldiers still named a creek after him!

Alexander Hamilton Willard was born in 1778 in New Hampshire. At 22 he enlisted in the general army and was part of the Corps of Artillerists. He was among the first men chosen to join the Corps of Discovery in 1803. He boasted that "his fine physique enable[d] him to pass the inspection for enlistment in the expedition" that many younger men had failed. Willard and John Colter were companions who served together under the command of Sgt. John Ordway and shared many experiences together on the expedition.

On July 12, 1804, Willard was caught sitting down while on guard duty, and Ordway charged him with "Lying down and Sleeping on his post whilst a Sentinal." He was tried and convicted. Willard confessed that he was "Guilty of Ly Down, and not Guilty, of Going to Sleep." While the usual punishment for such an offense was the shooting of the negligent soldier, Willard was graced with the less severe punishment of 100 lashes.

Image of a blacksmith.
This modern-day blacksmith works in a shop much like one that Alexander Willard would have set up during the winter at Fort Mandan, where he and John Shields used their blacksmithing skills to establish a thriving trade with their Indian neighbors.

As an assistant to John Shields, Willard also served as a blacksmith—a trade at which he had adequate skill. He was able to repair equipment and make tools for trading with the Indians.

At the end of July 1805, Meriwether Lewis and other members of the Corps passed Last Chance Gulch—a great gold deposit was discovered there years later—and temporarily settled on a small creek. The captains decided to name it "Willard’s Creek," in honor of Willard. That creek 60 years later was renamed Grasshopper Creek, which is located near today’s Beaverhead River in Montana.

In 1807 Willard married, and he and his wife eventually had 12 children. In 1852 his family emigrated in a covered wagon to California, where they took permanent residence.

On March 6, 1865, Willard died at the age of 87 in Franklin, CA, near Sacramento. He is buried in the Franklin Cemetery.


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