William Clark was an American explorer, territorial governor, soldier, and Indian agent who lived between August 1, 1770 and September 1, 1838. He is best known for his exploration of the territory between the Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Ocean, which he conducted alongside Meriwether Lewis between 1803 and 1806.
William Clark, born in 1770 in Caroline County, Virginia, was the ninth child born to John and Ann Rogers Clark. His family was known in the area as common planters with a modest estate. Clark did not receive a formal education, which was common during that time. Many of his brothers fought in the American Revolutionary War. After the war, Clark, his sister, mother, father, and his family’s slaves moved to Kentucky in 1785. Clark’s military career began in 1789, when he joined a militia led by Major John Hardin during the Northwest Indian War. Clark kept detailed records of his time in the military, documenting many events. One of these recorded instances occurred when Hardin took his troops along the Wabash River in order to fight the Wea Indians, but the troops mistakenly attacked a peaceful Shawnee hunting encampment and killed eight people, including women and children. Clark served as a captain, quartermaster, and an adjutant during his early military career. After his famous expedition, Clark married twice and had eight children.
In 1796, William Clark retired from the military at the age of twenty-six due to poor health. It was not until 1803 that he was recruited by Meriwether Lewis to help lead the Corps of Discovery, whose mission was to find a body of water connecting the United States and the Pacific Ocean, explore the territory obtained in the Louisiana Purchase, claim the Oregon territory before the Europeans, and establish trade with the Native Americans. After this expedition, Clark married twice and had eight children.
After the Lewis and Clark expedition, President Jefferson appointed Clark as the brigadier general in the Louisiana Territory and as the agent for Indian affairs for the United States government. During this time, Clark worked in the War Department to establish and oversee trading in Native American territories. Although he was performing the duties that came with his title, he was not actually in charge of anything. It was not until 1808 that he would be granted the title of Missouri territorial governor. Clark took his position seriously and acted upon his duties with a stern, yet compassionate attitude. Although he helped the Native Americans in many ways, such as getting them inoculated for diseases and creating a museum for artifacts, he still displaced them from their native lands and “educated” them with the habits and cultural practices of Americans. Despite this, he was still considered by some to be too compassionate to the Native Americans.
During the war of 1812, William Clark led many battles against the Native Americans. Clark took a few government positions in his later years, including Governor of the Missouri Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Both of these positions gave him a chance to use his experience with the Native Americans. He focused on removing Native Americans from their lands, especially during Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal, as well as their preservation. Clark served as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs until his death in 1838.
Image Caption: William Clark was an American explorer, soldier, Indian agent, and territorial governor. Credit: Wikipedia