Portrait of Captain William Clark.
When President Thomas Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis to lead the exploration of the American west, Lewis decided to chose a co-leader. He chose a former army comrade, 32-year-old William Clark, to co-lead the expedition with him. Clark was born August 1, 1770, in Caroline County, Virginia. At the age of 14, he moved with his family to Kentucky where they were among the earliest settlers. William Clark was the youngest brother of General George Rogers Clark, a hero of the Revolutionary War. William served under General "Mad Anthony" Wayne during the Indian wars in the Northwest Territory.
The Corps of Discovery, as the expedition was called, was a huge success. After the journey, Clark enjoyed a lifelong, honorable career of public service in St. Louis. On March 12, 1807, Jefferson commissioned him Brigadier General of Militia and Indian Agent for Upper Louisiana Territory. In 1813 he was appointed Governor of Missouri Territory, a position he held until Missouri Statehood in 1820. In 1822 he was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President Monroe. He was reappointed to this post by each succeeding president, and served in this capacity for the remainder of his life. Admired by many Indians as their friend and tribal protector, General William Clark died of natural causes in St. Louis, September 1, 1838. He is buried in the Clark Family plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis.
Clark and Sacagawea's Special Relationship
Popular historical novels and plays about the expedition written in the 20th century hint at a romantic (though properly sublimated) attraction between Sacagawea and one of the captains, usually Clark. There is no evidence whatsoever for that scenario, and yet it does seem fair to say, even at this distant vantage point, that a genuine fondness developed between Sacagawea and William Clark. He had a nickname for her Janey and doted on Jean Baptiste, whom he called Pomp or Pompy or "my little danceing boy Baptiest." For her part, Sacagawea gave Clark a Christmas present of two dozen white weasel tails.
"Clark protected her," says Amy Mossett. "He pulled her out of harm's way during a flash flood early on. She and her husband and son slept in the same tent as the captains for her protection. I think she was fond of William Clark in the way a younger sister is of an older brother who looks out for her."
On the return voyage, just a few days after leaving the Charbonneau family at the Mandan villages in August 1806, Clark wrote a letter to Charbonneau that is remarkable for its openness of heart toward companions of the road he seems truly, already, to be missing. In it he regrets not having compensated Sacagawea for her services and offers repeatedly to pay for the education of "my little" Jean Baptiste. The child was then 18 months old, and Clark regarded him, he wrote in his journal, as "a butifull promising Child." This offer he eventually made good on: Jean Baptiste was educated in St. Louis at Clark's expense and went on to become the traveling companion of a European Prince. (See accompanying information on Jean Baptiste.)