As Lewis and Clark fans know, William Clark was a journal-keepin’, letter-writin’ man. Well over half of the words of the Lewis & Clark journals were written by Clark, and he is acknowledged to be the more faithful journal-keeper of the pair. It was no anomaly. Clark kept journals at other times in his life too.
The summer he turned 24, Clark was a young lieutenant on the march with Anthony Wayne’s army to fight the Indians in the Ohio Valley. Clark started a journal of the campaign which is full of a sense of certainty, self-importance, and resentment of authority that only a young person can muster. (In fact, his attitude earned him some ribbing from a fellow recruit, who labeled a book of company records, “Company Book of Lt. Clark’s & Wayne’s Wars.”) Personal resentments aside, Clark’s journal is a priceless record, one of only three first-hand primary-source accounts of this turning point in American history. Through the filter of his own perspective, Clark writes in detail about the intrigues among the officers, the march through the Ohio wilderness, and the climactic Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Reading young Clark’s diary, one thing is certain: he didn’t like Anthony Wayne very much. We enjoyed playing off this resentment in our upcoming book, The Fairest Portion of the Globe.
Clark also kept a journal in later years, when he was the federal superintendent of Indian affairs in St. Louis (1820-1838). This journal, which runs from May, 1826 (the time of a great flood along the Mississippi) to February 1831, appears to be the surviving volume of a set. It lacks the personal touch of the youthful diary, much less the rich observational details and profound humanity of the Lewis & Clark journals. For the most part, it’s a dry record of daily weather, river conditions, and the comings and goings of steamboats and visitors from his office in St. Louis. In fact, many of the entries in the book are in the handwriting of Clark’s clerk.
However, there are a few personal glimpses to be found in the diary. In March 1827, the diary notes, “On this day George R. Clark son of Genl Clark when Hunting with Henry (a yellow fellow)-by accident was wounded under the right eye-by the discharge of Henry’s gun 3 miles out.” Clark’s son was ten years old at the time, and it was thought for a time that he might lose his eye. Fortunately, the boy recovered, doubtless to the immense relief of his parents and poor Henry. No wonder Clark’s hair turned white!
A few months later comes another more heart-breaking entry, this time in Clark’s own handwriting: “Edmond Clark (my Infant Son) died at 81/2 A.M. . . .” This journal is now in the collection of the Kansas Historical Society.
Finally, here is a doozy of a parody of Clark’s expedition journals. Enjoy!