Last week I wrote a post about the embarrassing hunting accident in which Captain Meriwether Lewis was accidentally shot in the butt by one of the men. I thought it might be fun today to talk more generally about hunting on the Expedition and how the men got fed.
From the beginning, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark understood that they would not be able to carry nearly enough food to keep the Corps of Discovery in trim. They would be gone, they thought, for at least eighteen months (the reality was two and one-half years). Almost four dozen men would make the journey from St. Louis to the first winter camp at Fort Mandan, and the so-called permanent party, which traveled from Fort Mandan to the Pacific and back, included 33 people. Lewis packed some flour and cornmeal and 193 pounds of “portable soup,” a gelatinous precursor of condensed soup, as emergency provisions. Otherwise, the Corps would eat what it could catch, trap, or shoot along the trail.
Lewis and Clark also understood just how much food the men would need in order to do the incredible heavy labor they were expecting–to row, pole, or haul three heavy boats full of supplies upstream against the Missouri’s unpredictable current, snags, and sandbars and later to paddle heavy dugouts, engage in frequent portages, and travel on foot over unbroken mountain trails. The concept of the calorie in nutrition hadn’t yet been invented, but the men would be expending a whopping 5000 calories a day. To put that in perspective, the average male office worker needs about 2200 calories a day; an elite male athlete in training about 3500.
In other words, the men of the Corps needed an enormous number of calories just to keep going, and that meant meat and lots of it–about six to nine pounds of meat per person per day. In other words, vegetarians need not apply! Lewis and Clark attacked this problem in two ways: with technology and personnel.
One of Lewis’s jobs was to outfit the Expedition. He ordered 15 new .54-caliber flintlock rifles from the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, as well as high-quality tomahawks and knives. In the meanwhile, Clark recruited the frontiersmen known as the “Nine Young Men from Kentucky,” each of whom brought his own “high-tech” Kentucky long rifle. Though each of the U.S. Army soldiers on the Expedition was issued a smoothbore musket, it was the rifles that would be the mainstay for the Expedition’s hunters.
Lewis and Clark had the right weapons, but they still needed the right men for the job. Everyone’s lives would depend on the hunters, who would have to work long hours every day and endure every kind of weather and terrain just to keep the Corps fed. At Fort Massac in Kentucky, Lewis recruited an elite civilian hunter named George Drouilliard (pronounced Drewyer). It was one of the best decisions he ever made. The 28-year-old Drouilliard was of mixed Shawnee Indian and French Canadian blood and had already earned a reputation as a remarkable hunter, tracker, and interpreter. Drouilliard’s worth is reflected in his pay–$300 a year vs. $60 for a private–and in his status, in which he was treated almost like another officer.
Drouilliard was the lead hunter, and was frequently assisted by Lewis or Clark, both of whom were elite riflemen and fine hunters. The journals identify at least fourteen of the other men as frequent hunters. Interestingly, York, Clark’s slave, often hunted, the prohibition on slaves carrying weapons being abandoned almost as soon the Corps was out of sight of St. Louis.
The final piece of the hunting puzzle was Clark’s recruiting of John Shields, a blacksmith and gunsmith from Kentucky. Shields kept the weapons in good working order, a task that required more and more ingenuity as the Corps got further into the wild. Shields also made bullets by melting down the lead Lewis had packed for the purpose.
Each landscape and leg of the journey featured different hardships and challenges for the intrepid hunters and the hungry Corps. Want to know more? Then pick up a copy of Feasting and Fasting with Lewis & Clark by Leandra Zim Holland. This fascinating and comprehensive look at how the Expedition lived is a must-read for history buffs, re-enactors, and lovers of pioneer lore.