The Blacksmiths of the Corps of Discovery
As I was doing my research on the Lewis and Clark Expedition (also known as the Corps of Discovery) Most of the information I am using for this blog comes from archives of the actual journals of the explorers themselves.
In my research, I have discovered that these men didn’t take most of the food or supplies that they needed with them. They either procured or built what they needed. Though Captain Lewis bought surveying equipment, medicine, and trinkets to trade to the Indians in Philadelphia and had the original boat built in Pittsburgh, some of the boats were built in Camp Wood (Dubois). They hunted, hunted fished and foraged for much of their food. If something broke, they either fixed it or replaced it. The men got good at making tow ropes on their trek upriver.
They didn’t simply hunt and fish to supply them with all their food and other supplies. Nor did they just trade trinkets to the Indians for what they needed. They also bartered their skills with the Native Americans.
The skill that proved to be best for bartering with the indigenous people was blacksmithing.
Two blacksmiths accompanied the expedition. One was Private Alexander Willard, and the other was Private John Shields.
Private John Willard
Willard was recruited at Fort Kaskaskia from Captain Amos Stoddard’s artillery company, He was convicted of sleeping while on guard duty, which was punishable by death. He was given 100 lashes instead.
In the Mandan village, both blacksmiths set up shop and spent the entire winter of 1804-05 fixing Mandan tools and weapons in trade for the corn they ate that winter and the corn they took with them on their continued trek west.
Willard often assisted Shields in his work during the first year of the expedition. Because of his misconduct, he was detailed to the return party in 1805. He later served during the War of 1812.Willard later served during the War of 1812.
Private John Shields
Shields was such an invaluable blacksmith that Captains Lewis and Clark broke one of their own rules and allowed him, a married man, to go on the trip with them. (Only unmarried young men were wanted for the expedition.)
During their winter on the Pacific coast, Shields demonstrated his talents to repair their weapons including Captain Clark’s favorite gun.
Shields proved so valuable that Lewis requested that Shields be given more than the salary given to most privates in the Army at that time.
I am enjoying learning about people behind the scenes of this great adventure by the Corps of Discovery. If you enjoy this series about these amazing explorers, let me know in the comments section below.