William Clark Biography

Explorer(1770–1838)
William Clark was half of the famous exploration team Lewis and Clark, who explored and mapped the unknown lands west of the Mississippi River.

Synopsis

Born on August 1, 1770, in Caroline County, Virginia, William Clark went on to become half of the legendary exploration team of Lewis and Clark. The journey began when Meriwether Lewis invited him to share command of an expedition of the lands west of the Mississippi River. After more than two years and more than 8,000 miles, the expedition helped mapmakers understand the geography of the West. His elder brother, George Rogers Clark, was a prominent military figure in the American Revolution.

Lewis and Clark Expedition

U.S. soldier and explorer William Clark was born on August 1, 1770, in Caroline County, Virginia. A younger brother to Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark, William Clark entered the military at the age of 19. First he served in the militia and then entered the U.S. Army. Clark became friends with Meriwether Lewis while the two served together in 1795. The next year he resigned from the army to become the manager of his family's estate.

In 1803, Clark received a letter from his old friend Lewis, inviting him to share command of an expedition of the lands west of the Mississippi River. The legendary journey began the following May in St. Louis, Missouri. An experienced soldier and outdoorsman, Clark helped keep the expedition moving. He was also an excellent mapmaker and helped to figure what routes the expedition should take.

Sacagawea

The trip was not without hazards. Clark helped lead the expedition through treacherous terrain and hostile weather. They encountered many native peoples along the way. While spending their first winter near a Mandan village, they invited Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian, and her husband Touissant Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trader, to join the expedition as interpreters. During the journey, Sacagawea gave birth to a child named Jean Baptiste in February 1805. The child was later nicknamed "Little Pomp" or "Pomp" by Clark.

The expedition made it to the present-day Oregon coast in November 1805. They built a fort they named Fort Clatsop and waited out the winter there. In March, the expedition prepared to make the journey back to St. Louis. In early July, Lewis and Clark decided to divide into two groups to see more of the area. Clark took a group with him to explore the Yellowstone River. During this part of the journey, he named a rock formation after Sacagawea's son, calling it Pompy's Tower. The formation stands near what is now Billings, Montana, and bears the only physical trace of the entire expedition's path—"W Clark July 25 1806" carved on its surface.

Post-Expedition Life

Clark is rejoined by Lewis by the Missouri River in August, and the expedition reached St. Louis the next month. Traveling for more than two years and covering more than 8,000 miles, the epic journey had reached its conclusion. The return of the Corps of Discovery—the name commonly used by historians to describe this expedition—was marked by numerous celebrations. Clark and Lewis were treated like national heroes. They were rewarded for their trailblazing efforts with extra pay and land. Clark also received an appointment as the agent for Indian affairs in the West and became a brigadier general of the militia.

Clark married Julia Hancock in 1808. Along with his own family, he cared for the children of Sacagawea after she died in 1812. The next year, he served as governor of the Missouri Territory, a position he held for seven years. Once the territory became a state in 1820, Clark ran for governor but lost the election. He continued his work in Indian affairs and was known for his fair treatment of Native Americans.

Clark died on September 1, 1838, in St. Louis, Missouri. He has been remembered as one of the country's greatest explorers. The maps he drew helped the U.S. government—and the rest of the nation—understand the geography of the west. His journal also provided insights into the lands, peoples and animal life of the region.

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