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Index Inside the Corps The Native Americans The Archive Living History Into the Unknown Forum with Ken Burns Classroom Resources Related Products Interactive Trail Map Search Lewis and Clark navigation Introduction The Corps To Equip an Expedition Circa 1803 Lewis and Clark navigation
 

One of ten children, Sergeant John Ordway was a young soldier from Hebron, New Hampshire. A major contributor to the expedition’s success, Ordway was one of the few well-educated men recruited for the expedition. His many responsibilities included issuing provisions, appointing guard duties, keeping all registers and records, and commanding the group during absences of Lewis and Clark. He was also instructed to keep a journal, and his descriptions about the Native American life provide a valuable historical account.

Many violations of orderly conduct (refusing to obey orders, stealing, and rebelliousness) occurred while Sergeant Ordway was in command. One problem occurred in February 1804, while Captain Lewis was in St. Louis attending ceremonies for the transference of the Louisiana Territory from France to the United States. With Ordway in charge of the men back at Camp Wood, several men had visited a local tavern and gotten drunk, in defiance of Ordway’s orders. When Lewis returned, he confined the offenders to the camp area for 10 days, and told them that “the Commanding officer feels himself mortifyed and disappointed at the disorderly conduct . . . A moment's reflection must convince every man of our party” that the captains would sometimes be absent and that “on such occasions the directives of duly appointed sergeants had the same authority as the captains.”

However, after four months at Wood River, the men continued to be restless. On March 29, there were fights among the men. Both Privates John Shields and John Colter disobeyed orders and threatened Sergeant Ordway’s life. Both were put on trial for mutiny where they “asked the forgivness &c & promised to doe better in the future.” Two days later both men were welcomed into the permanent party.

As the Corps was about to begin the journey, Ordway wrote to his parents about the purpose and determination of the expedition: “We are to ascend the Missouri River with a boat as far as it is navigable and then go by land, to the western ocean, if nothing prevents, &c. This party consists of 25 picked Men of the armey & country and I am So happy as to be one of them pick’d Men....We are to start in ten days up the Missouri River....We expect to be gone 18 months or two years....If we make Great Discoveries as we expect, the united States, has promised to make us Great Rewards more than we are promised, &c.”

On the return trip from the Pacific Ocean, Ordway was given the task of leading a party of 10 men to the head of the Jefferson River, where the Corps had left its canoes before crossing the mountains. After repairing the canoes, Ordway would lead the men down the Jefferson to the Great Falls of the Missouri, portage around the falls, and then proceed to the mouth of the river to reunite with the groups led by Lewis and Clark. This was done successfully and without incident.

After the expedition, Lewis and Clark had the task of preparing a work of their journey. They agreed to buy Ordway’s journals and incorporate his writings in their book, and paid him $300 for the journals. Ordway returned to New Hampshire, married, and later moved to Missouri to farm the 320 acres of land that he was awarded for his service in the Corps. He also received double pay, on Lewis’ recommendation, as did most of the men in the Corps. Ordway lived the remainder of his life as a successful landowner.


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