Captain William Clark

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 217

Clark was the co-commander of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Although his military appointment was only that of lieutenant, in the eyes of the entire group, he was a co-captain, in no way subservient to Lewis. Clark had first become acquainted with Lewis when both men served in the army.

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Clark had served as a company commander and led a party of soldiers down the Mississippi River as far as Natchez, Louisiana. He was an accomplished woodsman, waterman, and terrestrial surveyor. He also was a strong commander and selected many of the men who made up the Corps of Discovery.

Along the trip, Clark functioned as the company’s medical doctor, at times bartering his services to local American Indians. He also maintained a detailed journal, which provided much of the information that historians today know about the journey. On the return trip, he led the party of men who explored the Yellowstone River.

After returning from the expedition, Clark, although never awarded his captain status, received just compensation. President Jefferson appointed him the superintendent of Indian affairs for Louisiana. He married and settled in St. Louis. He also became a partner in the St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company. After Lewis’ death, Clark undertook the task of getting the manuscript of the expedition ready for publication.

Captain Meriwether Lewis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318

Lewis organized and led the first journey across the North American continent. He was born in 1774 into a distinguished Virginia planter family that had a close acquaintance with the family of Thomas Jefferson. Lewis became an explorer at a young age when he and his family moved to a frontier colony in Georgia. Although he had little formal education, he became an avid naturalist.

In 1794, Lewis volunteered for the militia called out by President George Washington to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. He remained in the military for the next six years, traveling throughout the American frontier and becoming an even more accomplished woodsman. In his role as regimental paymaster, Lewis—promoted to a lieutenant—journeyed up and down the Ohio River.

In 1801, at the request of President Jefferson, Lewis left the military to become Jefferson’s personal secretary. When Jefferson planned an expedition to the Pacific, he appointed Lewis as its commander. In preparation for this journey, Lewis studied botany, geography, cartography, mineralogy, ethnology, and astronomy. At the same time, he needed to outfit his expedition with men and supplies. He also decided to solicit his army acquaintance, Clark, as a co-commander.

Lewis was a good commander. His men respected him and trusted him. Under his lead, the expedition accomplished its important goals of charting western territory, asserting its authority over American Indians, and working to establish peace agreements between different Indian tribes.

The journey was the pinnacle of Lewis’ career. After returning, Lewis became an instant celebrity. However, his professional life faltered. Although he was appointed the governor of the Louisiana Territory, he was utterly unsuited for a political career. Lewis also failed to work on his promised three-volume chronicle of the journey. In his personal life, Lewis was unsuccessful in a number of courtships. In the last few years of his life, Lewis, a manic-depressive, increasingly turned to alcohol. He died in 1806, an apparent suicide.

Other Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 733

Big White
Big White was a Mandan chief. He agreed to accompany the expedition on its return voyage and visit President Jefferson in Washington. He, his family, and a party of soldiers were attacked and repelled by a group of Arikaras on their return trip.

Cameahwait
Cameahwait was a Shonshoni chief who aided the Lewis and Clark expedition. Cameahwait’s people provided horses and Old Toby to guide the expedition through the Bitterroot Mountains. Cameahwait also turned out to be Sacagawea’s brother.

Toussaint Charbonneau
Charbonneau was a French Canadian. At the time he met the Lewis and Clark company, he was living among the Hidatsas as an independent trader. Sacagawea was one of his wives. Lewis and Clark eagerly signed him on as an interpreter, thus gaining the service of Sacagawea. Lewis was disappointed with Charbonneau, however, calling him ‘‘a man of no particular merit."

Pierre Chouteau
Chouteau, along with his half-brother Auguste, co-founded St. Louis. They were among the merchants from whom Lewis purchased his expedition supplies. Chouteau accompanied the Osages on their trip to Washington in 1804. He later became a partner in the St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company. In 1809, he was given command of the group of men who returned Big White and his family to their home territory.

George Drouillard
Drouillard was the son of a French Canadian father and a Shawnee mother. He was a skilled frontiersman, hunter-trapper, and scout. He was knowledgeable in Indian ways and fluent in several Indian languages, including Indian sign language, in addition to English and French. An early recruit, Drouillard impressed Lewis from the start of the voyage. His hunting skills further made him a valued member of the party.

President Thomas Jefferson
Long before the Louisiana Purchase and before he even became president, Jefferson had wanted to send an expedition of explorers west of the Mississippi River. As the third president of the United States, Jefferson convinced Congress at the beginning of 1803 to fund such an expedition. He hoped that Lewis would discover an all-water route—a Northwest Passage—across the North American continent. Such a waterway, which did not exist, would make trading easier and facilitate Jefferson’s desire to establish a fur trade empire for the United States. Jefferson also wanted Lewis to learn more about the land and its people and to make peace with the American Indians living in this territory in hopes of beginning the process of making them U.S. citizens. Also in 1803, Jefferson arranged for the Louisiana Purchase from France which doubled the size of the United States.

Even aside from his actions regarding the expansion of the United States, Jefferson was a remarkable man. He was well-educated, well-read, a sparkling conversationalist, and a good judge of character. His contemporaries noted his intellectual curiosity and trusted his opinion. He also gave serious thought to and wrote about the important issues of his day, such as slavery.

Private Francis Labiche
In addition to performing his regular duties, Labiche served as a translator from French to English.

Manuel Lisa
Lisa was a trader and explorer. He was one of the merchants who provided supplies for the Lewis and Clark expedition. He later became a partner in the St. Louis Missouri River Fur Company. He accompanied the second expedition to return Big White and his family. After the party reached the Mandans, he took command of the company’s men to explore the Yellowstone River and set the groundwork for the fur company’s commercial operations.

Sacagawea
Sacagawea was a fifteen-year-old Shoshoni who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition. Captured by a Hidatsa raiding party as a child, she was one of two squaws, or wives, of the trader Toussaint Charbonneau. She was an integral member of the party because she was the only member who could speak the Shoshoni language. On the return trip, she guided Clark’s party along the Bozeman Pass and up the Yellowstone River. The voyage led to personal discovery for Sacagawea; in addition, she was reunited with her brother, Cameahwait. Her son, who was a baby during the trip, and her daughter eventually became boarders in Clark’s home and were tutored there.

Private John Shields
As a skilled blacksmith, Shields repaired Indian tools in exchange for corn. He also repaired the company’s guns.

Old Toby
Old Toby was the Shoshoni who led the expedition through the Bitterroot Mountains.

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