According to Indian oral tradition, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark left behind more than memories from their 1803-1806 expedition.
Anyone who reads the Lewis & Clark journals acquires a fondness for Hohastillpilp (Red Grizzly Bear), a wise and likeable Nez Perce elder who drew maps for the Corps of Discovery and otherwise helped them out during their stay in present-day Idaho. The Nez Perce say that William Clark had an affair with Hohastillpilp’s daughter during the spring of 1806. Clark and the expedition moved on in June, but the daughter gave birth to a son named Hal-lah-too-kit, or Daytime Smoker.
There’s no evidence that Clark and Daytime Smoker ever met. Daytime Smoker was said to be proud of his lineage, and he lived to a ripe old age. When a man in his 70s, Daytime Smoker participated in Chief Joseph’s famous breakout from the reservation and flight for freedom. He died in Oklahoma during the period in which the Nez Perce were in exile from their native land.
Oral tradition also holds that Meriwether Lewis and a Teton Sioux woman named Ikpsapewin (Winona) conceived a child. The boy, known both as Turkey Head and as Joseph Lewis DeSmet, lived until the age of 84. His baptismal record, which was written when he was an elderly man, lists Lewis as his father. Turkey Head seems to have been regarded as somewhat less reliable than Daytime Smoker — after having let down some of his comrades in a battle as a young man, he disappeared for a while. When he returned home, he claimed to have gone to St. Louis to meet his real father. Since Meriwether Lewis had been dead for some years when this incident occurred, it tends to cast some doubts on Turkey Head’s claims.
According to other traditions, Lewis fathered a man named Martin Charger when among the Sioux, and Clark fathered a man called Peter Clark during the Corps’ stay with the Salish.
In the absence of DNA evidence, there’s no simple way to prove or disprove paternity. It’s always possible that these gentlemen simply thought it sounded better to say they were the sons of the expedition leaders than other relatively obscure members of the Corps. One thing that is for sure is that the Corps of Discovery came prepared for sexual relations with Indian women. Remember, this was long before Victorian times. Sexual attitudes of the early 1800s were very frank and considerably more earthy than many of us are comfortable with even today. Lewis and Clark knew that the men of the Corps would want to have sex, and they brought along treatments for venereal disease and write openly about the matter in the journals.
The Indians also had very different attitudes from what we might be used to as early 21st-century Americans. Sexual fidelity was not a big deal among the Indians. In fact, sexual relations with visitors were encouraged, both as part of good hospitality and also in some cases to acquire the “medicine” or power the visitors seemed to possess. While there is some evidence that the liasions didn’t always work out harmoniously (a jealous husband threatened to kill John Ordway at the Mandan villages), there’s nothing to suggest that the romps in the hay were anything but consensual and enjoyable for all concerned.
Some historians, including Gary Moulton, think that as the commanders, Lewis and Clark didn’t have sex with the Indian women, but I find this hard to believe. Why wouldn’t they? While they might not want to boast about it in the journals or back in polite society in Virginia, they would hardly have met with any disapprobation among the men or the Indians.
As the journals show, the captains certainly record instances of having unwanted attentions pressed on them by overzealous women, and of trying to ban prostitution during the winter at Fort Clatsop. But Lewis was only 30 years old in 1804, and Clark was 34. I believe that Lewis and Clark were professionals who always put safety, discipline, and their mission above everything else. That said, it stretches credibility to think they kept their buckskins buttoned up the whole time.