When the Corps of Discovery formed at Camp Dubois during the winter of 1803-1804 Clark put his prior training under Gen. Anthony Wayne to good use and developed a cohesive military unit as Jefferson had specified. But he went well beyond that expected basis. As a result of his, and Lewis’, training and personal abilities as leaders the Corps of Discovery that left that spring was a team, officers and enlisted. Respect for leadership and followship had been earned.
In the eyes of the men, the Captains had earned the right to be the leaders by the way they conducted themselves and the “office of commander.” Fairness of work assignments, appropriate discipline, adequate input into decision making, responsibility spread as needed all made this happen. These are all the things that effective leaders today do to earn the respect of the men they command. A mutual trust among the men enabled a cohesive team to develop.
The Captains careful geographic decision followed by the men’s statement that they all disagreed, but would cheerfully follow wherever the Captains chose to lead and the Captains’ decision to take an advance party up the river they selected were the result of careful preparation by people with knowledge and used to making decisions.
So far, we have seen the Captains made conscious decisions as the journey unfolded. But the story of the Marias also shows an inner quality both Captains possessed that served them well. Although they had spent months in planning and preparation for the expedition they did not hesitate to make changed when they encountered a situation that required it.
As the “decision at the Marias” saga came to its conclusion Jefferson’s requirement to send a military unit to explore the Northwest was vilified. The Corps of Discovery’s planning and training proved to have been key to insuring a successful mission. A great deal of hard labor lay ahead, but the Corps showed it was ready for any challenge that presented itself.