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,
THE CHARACTER OF WILLIAM
by Landon Y. Jones
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.”