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Captain William Clark, was born on August 1, 1770, the ninth child from a family of 10 children.  Originally from the same area of Virginia that was home to both Jefferson and Lewis, the Clark family migrated to Mulberry Hill, near Louisville, KY.  Clark joined the military at age 19, eventually attaining the rank of Captain.

Ensign Meriwether Lewis was among men assigned to Clark. The two struck up a lasting friendship that would lead to their co-commanding the Corps of Discovery.

William Clark possessed many physical and mental qualities that were beneficial as a leader of the Corps. On June 19, 1803, Lewis penned a letter to Clark, expressing his desire that Clark share command of the expedition and help recruit able-bodied, qualified men to enlist in the Corps.

Of the two captains, Clark was the expedition’s cartographer. His final map of the Lewis and Clark Trail was accurate to within 40 miles in over 8000 miles of travel.

On January 5, 1808, Clark married Julia Hancock in Fincastle, Virginia. Julia would later bear Clark a son, whom they would name Meriwether Lewis Clark in honor of his father’s closest partner. In 1813, Clark was named Governor of the Missouri Territory until the state of Missouri was created in 1820. Clark continued to enjoy his Brigadier General rank, and to serve as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Clark died of natural causes in St. Louis, September l, 1838.

by Landon Y. Jones

Author of William Clark and the Shaping of the West
 (article from the Lewis and Clark Trail Guide 2004)

For two centuries the top billing and most attention in the story of Lewis and Clark has gone to the Expedition’s younger partner, Meriwether Lewis. Thomas Jefferson himself regarded Lewis as the commander-in-chief of the Expedition, and historians ever since have been fascinated by the brilliant, mercurial, tightly wound Virginian whose life was tragically cut off by his suicide.

But what about Clark? Was he really just a loyal second-banana, remaining self-effacingly in the background while concealing from the Corps of Discovery the fact that he had not even been promoted to Lewis’s rank of captain? Was his long but strangely little-known life after the Expedition an example of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous remark that “there are no second acts in American Lives”?

The actual story of William Clark’s life could not be more surprising and more different. Contrary to his popular image as rough-hewn, unsophisticated frontiersman, Clark was in fact an experienced leader of men and accomplished naturalist and cartographer who was almost single-handedly responsible for the success of the Expedition. Afterwards, during his thirty-year career as the federal government’s principal voice to the Indians, Clark became the most powerful man west of the Mississippi, controlling access to a vast territory larger than the United States itself. During his career, he worked for every U.S. President from Washington to Van Buren and knew a cross-section of prominent Americans ranging from the mountain man Jim Bridger to Washington Irving to Robert E. Lee.

Clark was an affable red-head, the ninth of ten children born to a family of Virginia and Kentucky planters. His five older brothers all fought with distinction in the American Revolution. One of them, George Rogers Clark, was celebrated as “the Hannibal of the West” after his dramatic victories in the Old Northwest. In the 1790s, William fought in Mad Anthony Wayne’s campaign against the Ohio Indians that ended with the crucial American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. During Wayne’s campaign, Clark met and impressed Meriwether Lewis. When Jefferson asked Lewis to lead the expedition to the Pacific, the young captain insisted that Clark be appointed his co-commander.

Clark’s extensive experience building frontier forts, hunting for provisions, and leading military men in combat paid off enormously. When Lewis faltered, the men turned to Clark for leadership and Indians came to him for medical help. The astonishingly accurate maps Clark drew of the continent became the most lasting achievement of the Expedition.

Appointed governor of Missouri Territory, Clark organized its defense during the War of 1812. But Clark’s later life was shadowed by tragedy. Both of his wives died young, as did three of his seven children. As Superintendent of Indians, he found himself obliged to carry out a policy of tribal removal that resulted in countless deaths and a wholesale destruction of Indian cultures. Yet, through the force of his personality, he somehow kept the trust of both Indians and whites throughout the agonizing experience. When Clark died in 1838, he was the last of his ten siblings and one of the last of the Expedition. This funeral was the largest ever seen in St. Louis. Today it seems fitting that the only surviving evidence on the landscape of the Voyage of Discovery, carefully carved into the sandstone of Pompy’s Pillar near Billings, Montana, is the name of “Wm. Clark.”


Lewis & Clark 101
Lewis & Clark Biography 
Thomas Jefferson & Louisiana Purchase
Corps of Discovery
Lewis & Clark with Sacagawea
Lewis & Clark Among the Tribes
York, Clark's man-servant
Seaman, Lewis' Dog
Clark as Cartographer
Lewis as Botanist
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Geology on the Lewis and Clark Trail
Lewis and Clark 1804 Timeline
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