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Private Joseph Whitehouse was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, in about 1775. At age 9, he moved with his family to Kentucky. He enlisted in the regular army in 1798, and was serving a second “hitch” in Captain Russell Bissell’s company of the First Infantry at Kaskaskia (Illinois) when he was recruited by Captain Lewis in November 1803. With respect to his army service, Whitehouse commented, “I was led at an early period of my life to enter into the Army of the United States, by views I had to acquire military knowledge, & to be acquainted with the Country in which I was born.”

Whitehouse kept a journal which was published in fragramentary form in 1905. It has now been reissued, supplemented with newly found paraphrase text, as Volume 11, of the Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Gary E. Moulton, Editor (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1997). Here, it is recorded that during his service at Kaskaskia he conversed with traders doing business with the Missouri River tribes and began thinking ““that there might be a practicability of penetrating across the Continent of North America, to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Missouri River.” He thought that he was “fortunate in being chosen” as one of the party, “which contributed much to quicken the execution of my favorite project, and of satisfying my own ambition.”

On December 26, 1803, Clark refers to him as “Corpl. White house.” During April 1804, Whitehouse was one of the expedition members expelled for misconduct at Camp Dubois (Illinois), the party’s 1803-1804 winter staging area. It may be that he was “busted” in rank at that time, as he does not appear as a corporal subsequently. He and the other expelled members were allowed to return to the party after repenting. Chosen as one of the “permanent party,” Whitehouse’s journal commences with the Corps’ Camp Dubois embarkation date of May 14, 1804, and runs to November 6, 1805. The newly published paraphrased version extends the diary to April 2, 1806.

Whitehouse, by and large, reported scenes and events found in the officers journals in his own vernacular. In several instances, however, Whitehouse does provide additional information concerning certain important matters that clarifies that of his superiors. For example, on May 8, 1805, Lewis had written, “[F]rom the colour of it’s water we called it Milk river. we think it possible that this may be the river called by the Minitares the river which scoalds at all others or [blank space in M.S.]”

Whitehouse clarifies the meaning of the strange word “scoalds” by giving his understanding of what the color of the river was. His May 8 entry reads, “Our officers gave this River the name, Scalding Milk River.”


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