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William Clark's Personal Diaries from the Lewis & Clark Expedition


Edited by Jordan Porter, Channel House Press, New York, London. 2003. Illustrations, maps, index. 243 pages.

Selected excerpts reprinted by permission. Copyright 2003 Channel House Press.

November 22, 1805
Spoke with Charbonneau in my quarters about the day's hunt. He heard from a Umatilla brave that elk are plentiful south of the river forks, and deer. Lewis entered abruptly in the middle of this — as is his custom — and says he, Let us make the trek to the salt camp, let us depart hencewith etc etc. Says I, Lewis we are talking here, but he does not notice this. I imagine him taking the high trail to the salt making camp, perhaps falling off the cliff into the sea. But these are just thoughts, and no real harm to any party.

December 16, 1805
Mid-December and not a hint about what I will be receiving from Lewis at Michaelmas, when all through the wet fall he has been checking to see if I have procured a present for him. He wants a cedar canoe and paddles designed specifically for the short-armed man that he is. It astounds me, Diary, how one man can be so focused on himself. Would that he had a hint of self-reflection. Would that he weren’t such a perfect ass. But I do not want to get started on a list of grievances, lest I will not be able to cease with the practice. That said, there is but one more. He is possessed of the habit of chewing with his mouth open. That gob of his hangs on its hinges like an open transom, especially when he is eating dog. Words cannot describe how homicidal this makes me feel. It is then when I have to remove myself from his company in a thrice. On the last occasion, he called after me and I turned around only to see wads of masticated hound meat dripping from his chops. Clark! Oh Clark! Where are you headed? Diary, I do not want to complain overly, but at times I am convinced that that man’s head has evicted his brain altogether.

December 18, 1805
I am making much progress in drawing the maps, with notes from my journal. If I had a carot of tobacco for every time Lewis mixed up Cassiopeia with Asia Minor, I'd have a great deal of tobacco indeed. And we would have ended up in Florida, or God knows where. So just when I have a few minutes to myself in comes Captain Nosey with his comments about the mapmaking. Says I, Lewis I have got it covered, but he has to add his two pence.

December 21, 1805
It seems the only respite is to visit Chief Brown Bear, who is a good friend, honest, and a good man. I leave after supper with my journal, saying I am going out to make a few notes on the foliage, in the name of science. Brown Bear is home, which is my good fortune. He invites me in to his teepee which has a musty smell that fills my nostrils.

He offers the pipe and we smoke. Says I, Chief, have you ever had a co-Chief, or someone you have to work with who really gets on your nerves. He says he had a sister who would challenge his authority, but he sold her to another tribe. I ask the Chief if he would like to buy Lewis, and he blows the smoke right out of his nose! We laugh heartily. He says, Bill, don't ever do that while I am taking in the smoke.

Says I, Brownie, can I stay here tonight. He has stayed at the fort many times after a long evening, and I know he will not refuse me. I stay and in the morning his wife brings dried elk, which is delicious. I am reluctant to return to the fort.

December 31, 1805
A new year is upon us. I am attempting to be merry and hopeful about the future, but lying awake on these cold nights, I cannot help but believe it is the good Lord’s design that we all perish out here in the thick of nowhere. If it is to happen, dear Father in Heaven, do not let the last face I see be Lewis’s. Do not let the last words I hear come from his ever-running mouth. His ideas are maddening. Oft times he makes no sense at all. A fortnight ago he was bragging about his robust physique; now he is laid out like a sloth and complaining about a weakness in the chest. Which is it? I asked him, standing in his cabin doorway with my arms akimbo. Whereupon he threw a boot at me and it hit me in my most sacred object. The pain had me doubled over. I am not proud of having cried like a little girl, but any man worth his salt would have done the same. To add insult to injury, Sacajaweya was witness to the whole scene, and was laughing so merrily that she nearly dropped her infant. Speaking of which, I thought she was going to trade that away, or whatever Indians do with their young. It would be nice to get some sleep again and not be woken every two hours by a screaming babe.

January 12, 1806
Lewis is full of questions about why I did not return to the fort last night, or the night before, or the night before. This I expected. Did Brown Bear get any of your supplies, asks he, and I tell him that Brown Bear is an honest man, but he listens not. Did you check your pockets after you left, says he. It makes me angry to hear it.

There is much work to do, according to Lewis. I think we did plenty just getting here. Besides, listening to Lewis every day is like work in itself, and I have little energy remaining after these ordeals. It is something new each day. This morning he speaks endlessly of crossing the river to explore more on the north side. Or not, says I. We did that already, and does he have any recollection of it at all. We didn't name it Cape Disappointment for nothing.