By Jim Holmberg
In December 1803, 210 years ago this month, the Corps of Discovery was still in the early stages of its epic journey that would take it across the American West to the Pacific and back. The nucleus of the Corps had pushed off from the Falls of the Ohio on October 26, 1803. Down the Ohio and then up the Mississippi to the mouth of Wood River the explorers went, recruiting additional members along the way. It was there across from the mouth of the Missouri River, at Camp River a Dubois (the French name for Wood River), commonly called Camp Dubois, that the explorers spent the winter of 1803-1804, preparing for their ascent of the Missouri into the heart of the vast West and the Rocky Mountains the coming year.
William Clark, Meriwether Lewis, York, the Nine Young Men from Kentucky, and Seaman had been gone from the Falls for almost two months and like any good travelers, it was time for an update to family back home. On December 16, William Clark wrote the first of his expedition-date letters to family in Louisville. It is one of six known letters he wrote to his oldest brother Jonathan Clark during the expedition. Discovered in an attic in Louisville among the family papers of Temple Bodley, Jonathan's great grandson, it, as well as some fifty other William Clark letters (including his other expedition letters to Jonathan) and the family papers, are now in The Filson's collection. William's December 16 letter contains information unknown before its discovery, providing a great deal of knowledge about those first months of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition.
For more information about this and the other Clark letters see Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark, edited by James J. Holmberg, Yale University Press, 2002.
Opposit the Mouth of Missourie
Dear Brother December 16th 1803
I expected to have found in the Kohokia post office a letter from you, but to my great disapointment did not find a Single letter from any one of my friends- I hope the next post will bring me a letter from you _ I will give you Some account of my Voyage to this place-; a fiew days after I parted with you on the river bank, I was taken Violent ill by a Contraction of the muskelur Sistem, this indisposition Continued Several days and was ultimately removed by the exertions & Close attention of Capt Lewis, after a fiew days of tolerable health, I was again attacked with a violent Pain in the Sumock & bowels, with great Obstruction in in those parts, which Could not be removed untill I arrived at Kaskaskees which was Eleven Days, at that place I precured Some Allow which gave me relief as I was not in a Situation to make observations dureing this time can inform you but little that happnd. within that time The men we expected would meet us at Fort Masac were not thure, which obliged us to Send an express to Tennessee for those men to percue us to our winter quarters, __ , we Calld for a Detachment of 14 men from that garrison to accompany us as far as Kaskaskees at which place we intended to ogment our permonant party, at the mouth of the Ohio we delayed five Days in which time I made a Complete Survey of the place, it is in Lat. 37o~00'~23" N~ the width of the Ohio from the point is 998 yards the Course N 30½o E _ The Mississippi is 236 poles Course S 33o E, _ I was at old fort Jefferson, it is entirly grown up with Trees_ Opposit the mouth of the Ohio on the west Side of the Mississippi a Small Settlement is formed of four or five Americans, we met with a great many Showonee Indians, we ^ and [^] traded with them for different kinds of wild meets, Such as Biar, Vensions, Ducs, Tongues, and Beaver Tales -. We arrived at Kaskaskees on the 29th & Selected 12 men for our party, and made Some arrangement for our winters Provisions, dureing this time I had verry Comfartable quarters with Capt. Stodart, and a Mr. Wm. Morrison a merchent of that place, - here we was informed that the Lieut. Govr. of upper Louisiana intended to Stop us (at this place we let our rout be known) this information made it necessary for one of us to go on to St. Louis by land without delay - my being too weak to ride that far [^]Capt. Lewis[^] deturmined to proceed on, Shew his Vouchers and do away any Obstruction, he accordingly Set out by Land, and I by water from that place on the evening of the 4th instant on the 7th I arrived at Kohokia Landing about 3 miles below St. Louis and three above a Small town of 40 famlys called vietpuche ^In our language is enpty [empty] belly[^] both in view, on the 8th at night Capt. Lewis met me from St. Louis and informed me "the Lt. Govr. Objected to our passing up the Missourus, untill he recves orders from his Govr. at New Orleans. that he had promised to Send off an express imediately in a Canoe with the Dispatches & c.["] We deturmined ^not to go Contrary to the wish of the Govr. butt[^] to take up our winter quarters ^on the Mississippi[^] Convenunt to good hunting, and within the bounds of a Contrait [country?] which extended as high as the Missourus at a Situation where our party might amuse themselves in hunting Clear of the means of Corruption, Several plaices were recomended, I determined to proceed on & fix on the Spot best Calculated for our views- after takeing the Latidude of Kohokia L. 38 18' 56" we proceeded on under Sales & Cullers to St. Louis, and passed to a landing opposit the center of the Town the admiration of the people were So great, that hundreds Came to the bank to view us. at the govrs. I found Several of my old acquaintuncs from Vincennes & Kaskasskees- the Govr. persisted in his Objection to our proceeding more by advice than other wise. Stateing many dificuelties & [^]Dangs. [dangers][^] all of which I understood perfectly _ as being the means he ment to apply in Case we proceeded this winter. The next morning I set out leaving Capt Lewis who intended to Kohokia to Send on Despatches to the Governmt. by the mail. In assending the river I found no place So well Calculated for our purpose as the one I am now at, which is imdiately opposit the mouth of the Missourus at the mouth of a Littl river Called Duboice or wood river, the ^mouth[^] of this river afords a good harbor for my boats; the lands below the River Duboice is Suffecntly high for our huts, and the Countrey around affords good hunting; innoumerable quantiss. of fowls of everry discription are passing, ^&[^] at one mile a large Prariee Commencs, which reaches from [^]at Kaskassies and passing[^] Kohokia (which is about 18 miles from this place) and runs Parrelal with the river, towards the Illinois river, in this Prarie there is more Grouse or heath hen, than I ever Saw Partredgus, in any Countrey I saw this day more than one hundred fly over the Camp, I began to raise the huts for our winter quarters to day, tomorrow I shall Send off this by Charles Floyd to Kohokia Post office. Capt. Lewis I expect here as Soon as he answers the letters he expects by the next mail.
I received a letter from Sam: Gwathmey Since his return, and am much Concerned at Mr. Mills's failing to make a payment. I wish him pushed and if possible those force him to pay the money in time to meet those demands which I left for Sam to pay out of the money he was to rceive of Mills. I hope to receive a letter from you the next mail, I would write to bro: Edmd. but am So busey attending the raising of huts that I have not as much time, please to present my Compliments to him. also to Sister Clark & the family sincearly I Shall be glad to here from you at all times. with Sincear effection I am your