IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
UP THE MISSOURI WITH LEWIS AND CLARK
If you visit the northwestern part of Iowa and stop at Sioux City, you will see a tall stone monument rising one hundred feet above the ground. This was built in 1901 to mark the place where almost a century before a young soldier had been buried. This was Sergeant Floyd who started up the Missouri River in the spring of 1804 with Lewis and Clark.
To tell you the story of Charles Floyd will have to begin at St. Louis in the year 1803, when the United States bought Louisiana.
Now if you buy a house or a farm or an automobile, you always want to see what it looks like. In the same way President Thomas Jefferson wanted to know how large Louisiana was, what rivers and mountains it had, what Indians lived in it, and what kinds of plants and animals it produced. Of course the President of the United States could not start off on a journey into the wilderness and be gone for two years. So he asked a young man named Captain Meriwether Lewis, who was then his clerk or secretary, to go up the Missouri River and across to the Pacific Ocean, so that he could tell the President and the people all about this new land they had bought.
Captain Lewis said he would like to go, but he asked if he might take another young officer along to help him. The man he chose was Captain William Clark, a brother of the George Rogers Clark who had driven the British out of Illinois during the Revolutionary War. Captain Lewis knew that this tall, red-haired young man could find his way in a strange country and would not be afraid of storms, or Indians, or bears, and he was very glad when Captain Clark said he would go.
They spent most of the winter of 1803 choosing the men who were to go with them and the supplies they would need. At last they had a party of forty-three men, besides the two captains. Among these men was a young man from Kentucky, Charles Floyd, who was chosen as one of the three sergeants. Captain Clark had brought along his servant, a large negro named York; and as an interpreter to talk to the Indians they took a Frenchman named Charboneau who had lived among the Indians and who had an Indian wife name Sacajawea, the Bird-Woman. She had lived as a child far in the northwest, but had been taken prisoner by some Indians and sold to Charboneau.
The men expected to be gone for two years, so they had to take a great many things with them. What do you think they had in all the barrels and bales and packs they collected during the winter? Here are some of the things: parched corn meal, hulled corn, hard biscuits, fifty kegs of pork, salt, coffee, beans, peas, sugar, lard, candlewicks, and soap. There were no canned goods in those days. Besides these things, they had guns, ammunition, tools, medicines, clothing, horses, and twenty-one bales of goods for the Indians.
Just imagine the start that May morning. The goods were all piled in three boats. One, called a bateau, was fifty-five feet long, about as long as the coach in which you ride in a railroad train. This had sails and twenty-two oars. Then there were two smaller boats, called pirogues, one painted red and one white. The two horses were led along the bank of the river and when the men wanted them on the other side of the river, they made them swim across.
Going up the river they could travel about twelve or fifteen miles a day, just about as far as an ordinary automobile goes in half an hour. Sometimes they could use the sails, but when the wind was not in the right direction they had to row the boats, or the men walked along the shore and pulled the boars up the river by a rope. Once one of the pirogues stuck on a sand bar and would have tipped over in the wind if the men had not jumped out in the water and held it until the storm passed. There they stood on the sand with the muddy water of the Missouri rushing past them, while the wind blew, the thunder crashed about them, and the rain beat down.
Usually some of the men walked along the river bank with their guns to shoot animals for fresh meat. At first they found deer, rabbits, turkeys, and bears, but as they got higher up the river they found buffaloes in great numbers. One day they killed four bears and three deer. They cooked the meat over a camp fire.
On the 18th of July, 1804, they reached what is now the southwestern corner of Iowa. From July 22nd to the 26th the party camped near the present boundary of Mills and Pottawattamie Counties. While the men dried provisions, mended oars, and hunted or fished, the leaders prepared letters about the country and drew maps. Here they found plenty of wild grapes and the fishermen caught many catfish. But the hunters did not have much success although they saw deer, turkeys, and grouse. Pushing on up the river, sometimes they camped on the west side of what is now Nebraska, and sometimes on the east side in what is now Iowa. It took them thirty-five days to go from the southwestern corner of Iowa to the mouth of the Big Sioux.
In August they were about twenty miles north of the present city of Omaha. Here they held a council with the Indians and Captain Lewis made a speech. How would you like to talk to a band of Indians who did not know English?
The interpreter helped them by telling the Indians what Captain Lewis said. Captain Clark, who knew what the Indians liked, got some presents ready for them. The Indians thought that the medals and goldbraided uniforms were very grand indeed, and in return they gave the white men buffalo robes and tents made of painted buffalo skins.
But they did not stop long in any place. They had a long way to go to reach the Pacific Ocean. Even when Sergeant Charles Floyd became very sick, the boats went on up the river. There was no doctor with the party and no hospital to which he could be sent. They tried to help him, but on the twentieth of August he died. His friends buried him on a hill on the Iowa side of the river, and above his grave they placed a cedar post with his name and the date of his death carved on it. Many years later a fine monument was erected there.
Sergeant Floyd had not had a chance to go to school very much, for he lived most of the time in the wilderness, but he kept a record of things which happened each day on the trip up the river. His friends felt very sorry to lose him for he had been a good man, had obeyed the orders of the captains like a good soldier, and had done his share of the hard work even when he did not feel well.
But the men still went up the river. Sometimes they stopped to talk to the Indians. On one of these meetings the Indians threatened to kill Captain Clark, but he told them his men would shoot them if they harmed him. Then he offered to shake hands, and the chiefs finally became friendly. Often they stopped to shoot buffaloes, antelopes, deer, elks, wolves, and bears. On the nineteenth of October they saw fifty-two herds of buffaloes and three herds of elks.
When it became very cold they stopped and built a fort near a village of the Mandan Indians. They were then sixteen hundred miles from St. Louis. The Mandan Indians were friendly, and the white men went hunting with them and studied their language.
Early in April, 1805, they started up the river again. Sacajawea went with them, carrying on her back the Indian cradle with her little boy, who was then about two months old. The large batear, with thirteen of the men, was sent back down the river. On board were Indian relics, specimens of rock and plants, buffalo robes, and most important of all, the report of Captain Lewis for the President and the diary of Captain Clark.
The men saw many grizzly bears along the way. One big brown bear chased the hunters into the Missouri River after he had been shot seven times, and nearly caught one of the men in the water before some one on the shore shot and killed him. On another day, Clark, Charboneau, Sacajawea, and her baby were nearly drowned by a cloudburst which sent a great flood down a ravine. It was not easy for Sacajawea to climb the steep sides of the ravine with the baby in her arms, but with her husband and Captain Clark helping her, they all managed to climb to safety.
By this time they were in the country of Sacajawea's people, the Shoshone Indians. The white men wanted a Shoshone Indian to guide them through the passes to the Pacific Ocean, but they all refused, until the white captains sent for Sacajawea. As the Indian woman listened to the Shoshone chief, she suddenly recognized her own brother whom she had seen since she had been taken prisoner as a little girl. Because his sister wanted him to do so, the chief finally agreed to guide the white men on their journey, and on the seventh of November, 1805, they came to the mouth of the Columbia River.
Here they spent their second winter away from home and in March, 1806, they started back to St. Louis. Going down the river was easy, for the current carried them along. Some days they went seventy-five or eighty miles. When they came to the land of the Mandan Indians they left Charboneau and Sacajawea. Captain Clark wanted to take the little boy with him and raise him as a white boy, but the father and mother thought he was too young to be taken so far away.
When they reached the spot where Sergeant Charles Floyd had been buried, they stopped and went to see his grave. They discovered that the grave had been opened and was half uncovered. Having repaired the damage they went on downstream. Five days later they passed the southwestern boundary of Iowa.
Finally, on September 23, 1806, a cannon was heard by the people at St. Louis and they rushed down to the river to greet the party. You can imagine how glad the men were to get back and to hear about their friends and their families whom they had not seen for over two years. It had been a long hard journey but they were able to tell wonderful stories of the country which the United States had bought from France.
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