Small Arms, Personnel and Miscellany
By Walt Walker
Chapter 6: Fort Clatsop and Winter
Crossing over to the Southside of the Columbia, Lewis left the camp on November 29th to look for game and a site for the winter quarters. He took Drewyer, Colter, R. Field, Shannon, and Labiche with him. All of these men were hunters, four of the seven best with Labiche being the best fowler. Drewyer killed an elk on the 1st of December and J. Field from Clark’s party killed one on the 2nd of December. These two elk were the first the party killed since they came over Lolo Pass. Gibson and Pryor killed two more while York was sent out to fish and hunt fowl. One of the men York surely took with him was Silas Goodrich, an excellent fisherman.
Importantly, a list of supplies and compass directions to various points around the mouth of the Columbia and estuary was inserted between mileages on the Columbia from TIMM to Cape Disappointment. This list included two guns, one of which they found in the mountains above the falls of the Missouri.
Charbono lost his fusil in a flash flood near the Great Falls and Clark traded one of the men’s muskets to the Shoshone for a horse. Clark gave the man his fusil to use temporarily. Clark later noted that Charbono hunted buffalo on the Yellowstone. It is questionable as to what gun he used. It would not have been a government issue. Clark must have traded Goodrich’s musket since Goodrich only liked to fish and not hunt. Muskets, not being rifled, could be used by the fowlers. Collins was known to hunt fowl with a musket, which would indicate that the prior-enlisted men also likely kept their issued muskets along with their rifles.
Collins, Windsor, Ordway, and Gass were all named as hunters some time on the expedition with Collins being near Drewyer in hunting prowess. Notable, also, is that at least until this time, the captains sent out only the men who were noted as hunters. Frazer appears only to have hunted with his musket and other prior-enlisted men shot game and fowl from their canoes. Later, however, while wintering at Fort Clatsop, several nonhunters occasionally hunted with the regular hunters. Hunting was very hard work and these nonhunters were mostly used to help retrieve downed game and perform garrison duties. All the sergeants hunted, with Gass doing the most because Pryor had been assigned duties to keep him from dislocating an injured shoulder and Ordway, as the first sergeant, had charge of all the enlisted men.
All the riflemen from Kentucky hunted during their stay at Fort Clatsop although Gibson and Bratton became disabled for a long time. Bratton’s illness even kept him disabled and weak on the return trip. He recovered somewhat at the Yellowstone and was mentioned as trapping. He was sent out hunting again well below the Teton Sioux on the Missouri in 1806.
It is difficult to know which of the fifteen prior-enlisted men did not have a musket, but Goodrich seems the likely candidate. LePage was listed as hunting often during the latter days at Fort Clatsop since Bratton, Willard, and Gibson were ill. He also hunted at Camp Choppunish. LePage is not listed as hunting after Travelers’ Rest. Frazer also did some hunting at Fort Clatsop. However, some of his behavior during his trip with Clark from the whale site might have limited his full participation, even though he was a good hunter.
Potts was sent out with Collins and R. Field on the 26th of December to hunt and the party returned on January 3rd. Drewyer and LePage set out to hunt and trap on January 17 and returned on January 24th. Drewyer and LePage again set out to hunt on January 28th and returned on February 3rd. Drewyer killed seven elk on this trip. The two hunters set out again on February 4th and returned on February 9th. Collins and Weiser hunted on February 9th and 10th. Gass, R. Field, and Thompson set out to hunt on February 11th and returned on the 17th. On February 15th, Drewyer and Whitehouse left to hunt and returned on the 17th. John Thompson and R. Field hunted from the 17th to the 18th of February. R. Field and Thompson again hunt from March 12th to March 14th.
In their account of the time at Fort Clatsop, the captains each said that most of the party had become experts using their rifles. The above-listed men who were not regularly mentioned as hunters might have used the rifles issued to the hunters, but once a man is issued a firearm by the army, he is responsible for its use, care, and maintenance. While at Fort Clatsop, the captains might have pulled one or some of the rifles back into company inventory to be signed out as needed. An arrangement like this would make sense since most of the men had become experts with the rifle.
Labiche lost the front site of his gun causing him to miss several shots at elk on March 15th, thus proving he had one of the rifles. Ordway is never named as a hunter in the time at Fort Clatsop. He does leave the fort, but for other reasons. Pryor didn’t hunt, but it may be to keep from reinjuring his shoulder. Bratton and Gibson did not hunt again while at Fort Clatsop after their illnesses occurred. Shields hunted late in the Corps residency at Fort Clatsop, but I believe he was needed at the fort to keeps the guns in working order. Since there were now many excellent hunters in residence, he was not utilized to hunt. Shields was an excellent hunter and would have been ranked with the best had he hunted more.
Other than one extended foray, Gass usually attended to other duties at the fort including being in charge of the parties bringing in meat from the hunters’ kills. Cruzatte is not mentioned as hunting. Nor were Goodrich, Hall, McNeal, and Werner. The captains actually call Werner and Howard, “not good woodsmen”. Willard cut his knee badly with his tomahawk so he didn’t hunt at Ft. Clatsop after that time.
Willard returned from the Saltworks on February 10th. He was badly injured and reported Bratton to be very sick and Gibson to be so sick that he could not sit up, stand or walk alone. Pryor and four men went to the Saltworks to bring back Bratton, Gibson, Colter, and Weiser. They returned with Gibson and Bratton. The Saltworks was closed down and the rest of the men returned to Fort Clatsop with salt kettles, etc. On the 26th of February, Drewyer took Cruzatte and Weiser up the Columbia to get sturgeon and anchovies. They returned on March 2nd with a good supply.