Authors: William Clark

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American explorer and chronicler

Author Works


History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, 1814 (with Meriwether Lewis)

The Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1904-1905 (with Lewis; 8 volumes; Rubengold Thwaites, editor)


William Clark was born into a prominent family that traditionally mixed in affairs of the state as well as the nation. He was the ninth child. His second eldest brother was George Rogers Clark, the famous American Revolutionary general. In 1784 the Clarks left their Virginia home for Louisville, Kentucky. From his days as a youth Clark made various expeditions against Americans Indians. On March 7, 1792, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the infantry. After four years of service he had become bored with army life. He resigned his commission and subsequently traveled widely in the West. In 1803 he received a letter from Meriwether Lewis–who had, at one time, served under him–offering him the coequal leadership of the expedition to the Pacific. Clark accepted and met Lewis in Illinois, where men were enlisted and trained during the winter for the expedition, which began the next spring. From the west bank of the Mississippi River at St. Louis, the trip extended up the Missouri River to its headwaters, down the Snake and the Columbia Rivers to the sea, and back, in one of the great explorations of all times. Because of the skill of Lewis and Clark, the trip was a complete success. They returned to St. Louis on September 23, 1806.{$I[A]Clark, William}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Clark, William}{$I[tim]1770;Clark, William}

After the return of the two men, Clark resigned from the army on February 27, 1807. He was immediately appointed brigadier-general of militia for the Louisiana Territory. He married and settled in St. Louis and was made governor of the Missouri Territory in 1813, in which office he was a skillful administrator. Although he led expeditions against American Indians, he also acted as their friend, entertaining them in his home and accompanying them to Washington, D.C., to try to better their lot. Throughout his life his friendship for American Indians continued.

Clark was married twice. His first wife died in 1820. They had four children. In 1821 he married again, and this union resulted in one child. Clark died in St. Louis, at the home of his oldest son.

The journal kept by Lewis and Clark during their expedition is one of the greatest adventure stories of the American West. The leather-bound journal itself was the subject of several tales told of the journey, as everyone on the expedition understood its value and risked their lives at times to save it from loss or destruction. It stands as an important record of the animals, plants, terrain, inhabitants, river systems, and geographic features in what was then a new American territory. The combined talents of the two expedition leaders produced an outstanding work, a frontier classic that has been read and studied ever since its publication.

BibliographyAmbrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Provides comprehensive details of the expedition as well as historical context.Hunsaker, Joyce Badgley. Sacagawea Speaks: Beyond the Shining Mountains with Lewis and Clark. Guilford, Conn.: Two Dot Books, 2001. Details the contributions of the American Indian woman who was a major figure in the expedition.Lavender, David. The Way to the Western Sea: Lewis and Clark Across the Continent. 1988. Reprint. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. Chronicles the expedition and contributions of Lewis and Clark.Ronda, James P. Lewis and Clark Among the Indians. Rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. An ethnohistorical perspective of the expedition. The 2002 edition features a new introduction by the author to commemorate the bicentennial of the expedition.Steffen, James O. William Clark: Jeffersonian Man on the Frontier. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977. A full-length biography.
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