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The date and place of birth of Private Francois Labiche are unknown. He, together with Private Pierre Cruzatte, apparently were encounted by the captains upon reaching Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory, November 28, 1803. The officers, however, apparently did not learn until later that the two men were experienced boatmen, and frontier traders, and that both knew several lower Missouri Indian languages. Labiche also was conversant in both English and French, which would prove to be vital in an involved chain of interpreters later needed to communicate with the Shoshone Indians. Captain Clark enlisted the two men to the “permanent party” on May 16, 1805, at St. Charles, Missouri, where they had intercepted the explorers in their desire to join the Pacific bound expedition.

In a Detachment Order dated May 26, 1804, both men were given assignments as boatmen. As Lewis wrote, “Labuche and Crusat will man the larboard bow oar alternately, and one not engaged at the oar will attend as the Bows-man, and when the attention of both these persons is necessary at the bow, their oar is to be maned by an idle hand on board.”

On August 6, 1804, Labiche was called upon to interpret during a council with the Oto Indians. Chief Petieit Villelu LittleThief, who apparently had known Labiche during his former trading days, said, “I want ...Mr. La bieche to make a piece with the Panis Loups [Skiri Pawnees]...he can Speake english & will doe well.” On August 7, Labiche and four others were assigned by Clark to bring Moses Reed, a deserter, back into camp “with the order if he did not give up Peaceibly to [put him to] Death.” Reed confessed that had deserted, and the captains “only Sentenced him to run the Gantlet four times througbn the Party & that each man with 9 switches Should punish him and for him not to be considered in future as one of the Party.”

Because of his language skills, Labiche often played key roles in establishing relations with the various Indian tribes that the Corps encountered. In September 1804, Labiche and Cruzatte served as interpreters during talks with the Bois Brule Teton Sioux to gain access to the upper Missouri. This was especially critical when the Sioux captured one of the Corps’ pirogues, demanding that the Americans either trade with them exclusively or surrender the pirogue as tribute. Cruzatte’s translations, along with donations of useful gifts, were key in helping the Americans recover the pirogue and gain peaceful entry to the upper Missouri. Upon arrival at the friendly Shoshone villages that were home to Sacagawea in August 1805, Labiche again played a critical role in translating between Indian and American tongues. One of the captains would speak to him in English. He would then translate their remarks into French for Charbonneau, who would then pass them to Sacagawea in Hidatsa. Finally, Sacagawea would translate from Hidatsa into Shoshone. Later, on the expedition’s return home from the Pacific in September 1806, Labiche’s and Cruzatte’s translations would again prove invaluable in helping the Corps pass through Sioux territory.

In late November 1805, while the Corps was attempting to decide on a suitable winter camp location, Lewis, accompanied by Labiche, Drouillard, Colter, Reuben Field, and Shannon, explored the coast of what is now Young’s Bay. It was during this trek that the crew discovered an inlet to the Neteul River (now the Lewis and Clark River). After the survey of the river’s inland was complete, they determined that the area, with its abundant wild life and vegetation, would be a good place to set up camp. Within the next week-and-a-half, the entire Corps returned, building what would become Fort Clatsop, their winter camp among the Clatsop Indians.

In October 1806, after returning to St. Louis, Labiche and Sergeant Ordway were placed in charge of a pack train that was bound for the East and loaded with whatever “plants, seeds, bird skins, animal skeletons, and furs [that] had not been ruined in water-soaked caches.” The Washington-bound party included Lewis and Clark, Mandan Indians, and Osage Indians.