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George Drouillard, the 28-year-old son of a French Canadian father and Shawnee Indian mother, was recruited by Captain Meriwether Lewis upon reaching Fort Massac in November 1803. Captain Daniel Bissell, who had been ordered by the War Department to recruit volunteers for the Corps of Discovery, recommended Drouillard as an excellent hunter with a good knowledge of the Indians’ character and sign language.

In his job as civilian interpreter, Drouillard was offered a stipend of $25 a month. He also received a $30 advance from Lewis for transporting eight volunteers from South West Point, Tennessee, to Fort Massac to join the Corps. Drouillard and York, the slave, were the only non-military members of the Corps to complete the expedition from camp Dubois to the Pacific and back. Drouillard generally accompanied Lewis on scouting missions. He was superior in situations of danger, where nerve, endurance and cool judgment were needed. Lewis praised him highly as the most skilled hunter among the men.

Because of his sign language skills, Drouillard often played a key role in establishing relations with the various Indian tribes that the Corps encountered. In late July 1804, just north of the Platte River’s entrance into the Missouri River, Drouillard and Private Pierre Cruzatte were sent by the captains to scout out the villages of the Oto and the Missouri Indians. They found the principal Oto village and fresh tracks but no people, as the villagers were off on an annual buffalo hunt. Days later, Drouillard came into contact with one Missouri and two Oto Indians, with whom Lewis and Clark sought to have council.

In early August 1804, Drouillard was one of four men named to a search party charged with locating Moses Reed and La Liberte, both of whom had deserted the Corps while en route to council with the Oto tribe. Drouillard and the other members of the search party succeeded in bringing Reed back to the Corps. Intent on making peace, nine Oto Indians, including Little Thief and Big Horse, returned with the Americans.

During the winter of 1804-05, Drouillard’s interpretive and hunting skills were integral to establishing friendly relations with the Mandan Indians, with whom the Corps survived a incredibly cold winter. He was often assigned to small hunting groups, who would be charged with collecting meat to feed the Corps and to trade with the Mandans for other foodstuffs. In November 1804, Drouillard and six other unnamed men traveled upstream in a pirogue, navigating a freezing, ice-coated river to deliver the dressed carcasses of 32 deer, 11 elk, and five buffalo to Fort Mandan.

In February 1805, after recovering from having been bled and purged for pleurisy, Drouillard and three other men were assigned to transport some buffalo meat that had been cached downriver. The team headed down the river on the ice with two sleighs, three horses and a colt to where the hunting party had stored the meat in log cribs, safe from predators. One evening during this trip, the team was attacked by over 100 Sioux Indians, who stole the two sleigh horses and some of the team’s weapons. At Drouillard’s advice, the team wisely held their fire. It was enough that the Indians could claim to have stolen two horses from the powerful white men. The Americans, although short of needed supplies, were safe, and arrived back at Fort Mandan without the needed meat, which was later retrieved.

After departing Fort Mandan on April 7,1805, the Corps reached the mouth of the Yellowstone River. Lewis and Clark decided to examine and map the river’s coordinates for transcribing onto Clark’s strip maps. Lewis led a team that included Drouillard, climbing to the top of the Missouri’s southern bluffs. They were amazed at the amount and variety of wildlife. Lewis recorded “immense herds of Buffalo, Elk, deer and Antelope [were] feeding in one common and boundless pasture.”

June 11, 1805, Drouillard accompanied Lewis, Joseph Field, Gibson, and Goodrich, up the south fork, eager to locate the Great Falls and therefore prove once and for all that the south fork was the true Missouri. On June 13, Lewis, upon sighting the falls, declared them “this sublimely grand specticle.”

Drouillard provided vital interpreter services to Lewis when the captain and an advance party were scouting for the Shoshones. Comenting on Drouillard’s sign language skills, Lewis, on August 14, 1805, wrote: “The means I had of communicating with these people was by way of Drewyer [Drouillard] who understood perfectly the common language of jesticulation or signs which seems to be universally understood by all the Nations we have yet seen. It is true that this language is imperfect and liable to error but is much less so than would be expected. The strong parts of the ideas are seldom mistaken.”

In early July 1806, Lewis and Clark divided the Corps into two groups at Traveler’s Rest, near present Missoula, Montana. Lewis would head northward to determine the upper limit of the Maria’s River; in turn, his exploration would help determine the northern extent of the Louisiana Purchase Territory. Clark would lead a detachment to explore the Yellowstone. Drouillard and Joseph and Reuben Field accompanied Lewis into the northern country, where they skirmished with some roving Piegans, a band of the Blackfeet tribe. Attempting to steal the weapons and horses of the white men, two Piegans perished. Lewis was nearly shot by one of the Indians. Writing later, Lewis explained: “He overshot me, being bearheaded, I felt the wind of his bullet very distinctly.” The explorers escaped, managing to reclaim their horses, together with taking several of the Indians’ horses. This incident would allegedly spark the Blackfeet’s desire to avenge the two Indians’ deaths during later U.S. trading expeditions.

When the Corps safely reached St. Louis on September 23, 1806, Lewis entrusted Drouillard with the delivery of the first letters containing reports of the expedition to the postmaster in Cahokia. These letters were then sent on to President Jefferson. Later, after the Corps was disbanded, Drouillard returned to the Three Forks region of the upper Missouri as a member of Manuel Lisa’s 1810 fur trading party. It was there that Indians killed Drouillard, horribly mutilating him.


  GM