Having made it across a continent and back, what became of Lewis & Clark? They did not immediately publish their journals, indeed Jefferson had to pester Lewis to start writing. Both received the grants of land they had been promised, as did all the members of the expedition.
The captains composed a detailed note suggesting which members of the Corps should receive additional recompense due to their disproportionate contribution and who had done no more than was asked of them – although they did make it clear that everyone who had completed the trip had endured the sufferings and helped the efforts of the rest.
Upon his return, Clark had a succession of government appointments, including governor of the Missouri Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs – a position he held until his death in 1838 aged 68. He married twice and had eight children, the first one named Meriwether Lewis Clark. The Clark lineage can be traced right through to the present day, although existing family members no longer have the Clark name.
No-one was ever told that for the entire expedition, Captain William Clark was actually the more junior Lieutenant William Clark. He had previously held the rank of Captain and Lewis had insisted that his chosen companion would be on an equal footing as himself on every level but, for some reason, the War Ministry decided otherwise, although the two received equal pay.
Lewis was appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory, but he found it much harder to thrive in a poltical world of deal-making and compromise than he had in his earlier political career as Jefferson’s aide or as the entirely indepenent co-commander of an expedition. His reputation as an administrator suffered. In September 1809, just three years after his triumphant return to St Louis, Lewis was en route to Washington ostensibly to resolve a dispute that he had been caught up in. He stopped for the night at an inn, retired for the evening, gunshots were heard and he died the next morning.
On hearing of Lewis’s death, Clark and Jefferson – the two men who knew him best – both assumed it was suicide. They were well aware of Lewis’s tendency to depression and this remains the commonly accepted verdict. Some historians have argued forcefully that he was murdered, but there is of course no clear evidence either way. Whatever happened, it is a tragic end for such an amazing person.
It is only relatively recently that Lewis’s reputation has recovered, in the light of the bicentennial celebrations of the expeditions a few years ago, and in the wake of Undaunted Courage, the biography of Lewis by Stephen Ambrose published around the same time.
The precise details surrounding the rest of Sacagawea’s life are hazy but it is fairly commonly accpeted that she died in 1812 at or near Fort Manuel Lisa near present day Omaha. An alternative view is that she lived much longer, remarrying into the Comanche tribe and eventually returning to her Shoshone homeland and dying in 1884. There isn’t any hard evidence to support this.
Her son, Jean-Baptistse, born in Fort Mandan and delivered by Lewis, received his education thanks to Clark who had promised as much. Having spent the first year or so of his life on the trail, Jean-Baptistse Charbonneau ended up as an explorer, mountain man and occasional government man in the west.
Of the other members of the Corps, many retired onto the land they received and became farmers. Some returned to the army, some just vanished, others such as Patrick Gass, published their own accounts of the trip. Gass, who married a 22-year-old when he was 60, was the last to die, aged 99 in 1870.
Whatever fates befell these men and one woman, they must all surely have been aware of the magnitude of their accomplishments. Lewis and Clark and to some extent Sacagawea are the names that live on, but without doubt this was the ultimate in team exploration, led by two remarkable men. I’ve enjoyed enormously reading and learning more about them, and following in their footsteps as best I could. I hope I’ve been able to capture some of the drama, excitement and courage of their adventures. Thanks for reading.