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  Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor was born in Virginia in 1772. He moved to Kentucky with his parents in 1783, where he lived until joining the expedition 20 years later. Pryor had taken a wife in 1798, and thus was an exception to the captains’ recruiting stipulation that only unmarried men would be enlisted. Nevertheless, Captain William Clark enlisted him on October 20, 1803, together with eight others, at Clarksville, Indiana Territory, across the Ohio River from Louisville.

The new recruits became known as the “Nine young men from Kentucky.” All would be selected as members of the expedition’s “Permanent Party,” the cadre that would journey to the Pacific and return. Two, Pryor and Charles Floyd, who were cousins, would become sergeants. Floyd would be the only member who would die during the mission. Upon his death, the captains would give Pryor Floyd’s personal effects.

Considered “a man of character and ability,” Pryor often was assigned responsibilities of army administration, such as appointment as “Presiding” authority at the June 29, 1804, court marshal of Privates John Collins and Hugh Hall, both charged with getting drunk while on duty. The penalties were severe. Collins was sentenced to “receive one hundred Lashes on his bear Back,” and Hall 50 lashes.

Pryor appears in Lewis’s “Ohio River Journal” soon after his enlistment. On November 22, 1803, he became lost while hunting. Lewis “had several guns fired to bring him too, and the [sounding] horn freequently blown but without effect.” The following day, Pryor was still missing; Lewis again had guns fired and the horn blown, but apparently would not be delayed any further. After waiting “untill half after 7 OC.,” Lewis set out without him. Finally, on November 24, Pryor “hailed, we passed the river and took him in. he was much fatiequed with his wandering and somewhat indisposed.”

The explorers were assembled, trained and disciplined at their l803-1804 Camp Dubois (Illinois) winter staging area, situated opposite the mouth of the Missouri River. On April l, 1804, by authority of a Detachment Order, the commanding officers selected the “Detachment destined for the Expedition through the interior of the Continent of North America...the persons herein after mentioned, are those which are to Constitute the Perminent Detachment.” Nathaniel Pryor, Charles Floyd and John Ordway were formally “appointed sergeants, with equal Power (unless when otherwise specially ordered).”

Sergeant Pryor was selected Squad Leader of the 1st Squad, comprising six privates. On March 30, Clark recorded that “Priors is verry Sick. I sent out R. Fields to kill a squirel to make him Suip.” On April 6th, he still was sick. The captains directed that “During the indisposition of Sergeant Pryor, George Shannon is appointed (protempor) to discharge his the Said Pryor’s duty in his Squad.”

By departure date, May 14, 1804, crews had been assigned to each of the three vessels. The keelboat, sometimes referred to as the “Batteaux” by the captains, would be manned primarily by members of the permanent party, with each sergeant in charge of his squad assigned specific duties while underway, viz, steersman, bowman, rowers, etc. Both pirogues were manned by French watermen, “extra personnel” who would go only to Fort Mandan, where they would winter, then return downriver on the keelboat the following spring.

On July 8, 1804, the captains issued another Detachment Order governing the “several messes” of the keelboat crew. The officers appointed persons to “receive, cook and take charge of their respective messes...These Superintendants of Provision, are held immediately responsible to the commanding Officers for a judicious consumption of the provision which they receive; they are to such manner as is most wholesome and best calculated to afford the greatest proportion of man at any time to take or consume any part of the mess provisions without the privity, knowledge and consent of the Superintendant. In consideration of the duties imposed by this order the Superintendents in future will be exempt from guard duty, tho’ they will still be held on the royster for that duty...which shall be performed by someone from their mess; they are exempted also from pitching the tents of the mess, collecting firewood, and forks poles &c for the cooking and drying such fresh meat as may be furnished them; those duties are to be also performed by the other members of the mess.”

On August 28, Pryor and “Mr. Durioin the Souis interpreter were sent to the Souis Camp with derections to invite the Principal Chiefs to councel with us a Bluff above Called the Calumet.” On the 29th, Clark wrote that he was “much engaged writeing a Speech” that he would give at the council. Upon his return, Pryor reported that the Indians camp, composed of teepee lodges, “[W]as handsum made of Buffalow Skins Painted different Colour, all compat & handSomly arranged, their Caps formed of a Conic form Containing about 12 to 15 persons each and 40 in number.”

On September 21, Clark reported that “the Sand bar on which we Camped began to give way, which allarmed [Pryor], the Serjt on guard...the Sand was giving away both above & below and would Swallow our Perogues in a few minits, ordered all hands on board and pushed off before part of our camp fel into the river.” The party was camped near the Big Bend of the Missouri. Clark wrote that “the Distance of this bend around is 30 miles, and 1 1/4 miles thro’.”

On June 2, 1805 the party reached a major fork in the Missouri River. They established a base camp from which the two forks would be explored. to determine which was the true Missouri. Clark took a party up the south fork; Lewis with six men, including Pryor, hiked up the north fork 60 miles. Here, Lewis concluded, “I now became well convinced that this branch of the Missouri had its direction too much to the North for our rout to the Pacific, and therefor determined to return.”

Clark’s reconnaissance up the south fork was similarly fruitless. Nevertheless, both leaders were convinced it was the true Missouri. Their intuition proved correct, when Lewis, who was ahead of his “little party” of four companions, heard “a roaring too tremendious to be mistaken for an cause short of the great falls of the Missouri.” He hurried on “to gaze on this sublimely grand specticle.” To the north fork, Lewis gave the name Maria’s River, “for that lovely fair one.”

The explorers cached the two pirogues below the falls and spent three weeks portaging the heavy dugout canoes, supplies and equipment 18 miles around the falls. On July 2, Lewis reported “Sergts. Pryor and Gass at work on the waystrips” assisting “all the other hands engaged in puting the boat together.” This was Lewis’s “experiment,” an iron boat frame that Lewis had designed that would be covered with elk and buffalo hides to form the hull. There were no pitch-bearing trees in the vicinity to seal the seams, and as a result, the boat sank. To compound matters, Clark, reported on July 12 that “Serjt. Pryors Sholder was put out place yesterday Carrying Meat and is painful today.” The party proceeded on. On July 9, Clark wrote that they “passed a butifull Creek on the Std.[starboard] side this eveng which meanders thro` a butifull Vallie of great extent, I call after Sgt Pryor, who is a steady valuable and usefull member of our party.”

On November 18, 1805, Clark, accompanied by Pryor and seven others, hiked downriver from their “Station Camp,” situated on the north (Washington State) shore of the Columbia River estuary at today’s Chinook Point, to see the “main ocean.” The others, Clark explained, “being well Contented with what part of the Ocean & its curiosities which Could be Seen from the vicinity of our Camp.” The group, after walking the shoreline 19 miles by Clark’s calculations, reached the uplands of Cape Disappointment, where Clark reported finding “Capt Lewis name on a tree. I also engraved my name & by land the day of the month and year.” The men, Clark recorded, “appear much Satisfied with their trip beholding with estonisment the high waves dashing against the rocks & this emence ocian.” The exploring party had traveled 554 days and 4,132 miles since leaving Camp Dubois, reaching President Jefferson’s mandate: “The object of your mission is singular – the Pacific Ocean.”

Due to the absence of game and their unprotected exposure to fierce storms, the party elected to cross the Columbia to today’s Oregon, where the local Indians informed them deer and elk were plentiful. An actual vote of the members was recorded, which included the vote of a woman, Sacagawea, and that of York, a black man.

Upon reaching the Oregon shore, the explorers built Fort Clatsop, their 1805-1806 winter quarters, five miles south of modern Astoria. On December 10, during its construction, Clark wrote that “Serjt. Pryor unwell from haveing his Shoulder out of place.” (This orthopedic affliction would plague Pryor throughout his life.) By December 19, he had recovered sufficiently enough to carry out certain duties. Clark wrote, “we dispatched Sjt. Pryor with 8 men in 2 Canoes across Meriwethers Bay, (today’s Youngs Bay) for boards of an old Indian house which is vacant...the load of old boards was found to be verry indifferent.”

On January 8, 1806, Pryor and 11 others (including Sacagawea and her husband, Toussaint), accompanied Clark on a mission to trade for oil and blubber that Indians had salvaged from a beached whale, 25 miles south of Fort Clatsop.

One of the detachment, Private Hugh McNeal, had sneaked off during the night with an Indian man, ostensibly seeking female companionship. Instead, as Clark wrote, it “was a Plot laid to kill McNeal for his Blanket & Clothes.” An altercation ensued that caused an Indian woman to alarm the explorers. A number of the men, led by Pryor, broke up the fight, a rare instance of a serious interchange between the Americans and Indians throughout the journey.

During this assignment, the detachment visited the salt makers camp (at present-day Seaside, Oregon), both enroute to the whale site and return. For a period of nearly three months, alternating crews of men were assigned salt-making duties, of which Clark wrote, “[B]y the means of boiling the Salt water...a very tegious opperation...the kittles are kept boiling day and night. we Calculate on three bushels lasting us from hiere to our deposit of that article on the Missouri.”

On March 11, Lewis recorded another in Pryor’s diverse assignments, which points up the friendly relationships the explorers had with their Indian neighbors. “Sergt. Pryor arrived with a small canoe loaded with fish which he had obtained from the Cathlahmah’s for a very small part of the articles he had taken with him. The dogs at the Cathlahmahs had bitten the trong [thong] asunder which confined his canoe and she had gone a dreft. he borrowed a canoe from the Indians in which he has returned. he found his canoe on the way and secured her, untill we return the Indians their canoe, when [the winds permit] she can be brought back.”

December 29, 1805, Clark, while enjoying the warmth of the fireplace within the officers’ comfortable quarters of newly completed Fort Clatsop, was documenting certain ethnological information concerning the Indians of the lower Columbia River. Among the host of details that the captians would compile over the winter, he recorded in his journal, “The this neighborhood pass altogether by water, they have no roads or pathes through the Countrey which we have observed, except across portages from one Creek to another.”

On March 17, Clark explained the value placed on canoes by the Indians. In returning the borrowed Indian canoe “Sergt. Pryor...had also purchased a canoe from those people. for this canoe he gave Captn. Lewis’s uniform laced coat and nearly half a Carrot of tobacco. it Seams that nothing except this Coat would induce them to dispose of a Canoe which in their mode of traffic is an article of the greatest value except a wife, with whome it is nearly equal, and is generally given in exchange to the father for his Daughter.”

On March 20, 1806, three days before the explorers’ homeward bound departure from Fort Clatsop, Clark commented on their indispensable firearms. “The guns of Drewyer (Drouillard) and Sergt. Pryor were both out of order. the first was repared with a new lock, the old one having become unfit for uce; the second had the cock screw broken which was replaced by a duplicate which had been prepared for the lock at Harpers ferry where she was manufactured. but for the precaution taken in bringing on those extra locks, and parts of locks in addition to the ingenuity of John Shields, most of our guns would at this moment been untirely unfit for use; but fortunately for us I have it in my power to record that they are all in good order.”

Returning up the Columbia, on April l, the party had reached their “Quicksand River,” (now Sandy River), above Portland, Oregon. Both during the outbound trip and return, the explorers were navigating along the Washington State shoreline. In both instances, due to low lying islands that obscured the mouth of the Indians’ Multnomah (today’s Willamette) River, they mistakenly thought that their Quicksand River drained the vast Willamette River Valley they could see from their canoes. As a consequence, the captains “dispatched Sergt. Pryar with two men in a small canoe up quicksand river with orders to proceed as far as they could and return this evening.” Upon his return, Pryor and his men “reported that they had ascended the river six miles . . . [where] the river hence appeared to bend to the East” toward Mount Hood.

Continuing eastward, the explorers encountered the turbulent, non-navigable whitewater rapids of the Cascades of the Columbia, the source for the name of the Cascade Mountain Range. Here, on April 10, Lewis wrote that the men drew the canoes upstream with cords. They directed Pryor to remain with his canoe “untill Private Gibson arrived and assist him with his crews in geting the canoe up the rapid... in hawling the perogue arround this point the bow unfortunately took the current at too great a distance from the rock, she turned her side to the stream and the utmost exertions of all the party were unable to resist the forse with which she was driven by current, they were compelled to let lose the cord and of course both perogue and cord went a drift with the stream.”

Arriving at Celilo Falls, the “Great Falls of the Columbia,” now inundated by the The Dalles Dam, the captains expected to trade their canoes for Indian horses. Optimistically, Lewis, on April 20, “set Sergts. Gass and Pryor with some others at work to make a parsel of packsaddles. twelve horses will be sufficient to transport our baggage and some pounded fish which we intend taking with us as a reserved store for the rocky mountains...and rid us of the trouble and dificulty of takeing our Canoes further.”

On July 3, the party separated into three groups; Lewis headed north to explore the upper reaches of the Marias River; Sergeant Gass would head a group who would portage the canoes that had been cached westbound, around the Great Falls; and Clark, with a party twenty four persons, including Pryor, and fifty horses headed for the Yellowstone River. New canoe would be made, that Clark and the main party would use to descend the Yellowstone to its confluence with the Missouri.

Pryor, with three men assisting, was directed to drive the horses overland and rejoin all of the separated parties at Mandan. During the night of July 22, Indians stole 24 of the party’s horses, and the remainder of them while the four men slept enroute to Mandan. Determined to find their way back to rejoin the Corps, the men walked to Pompy’s Tower, a rock formation that Clark had named for Sacagawea’s son. There, they killed some buffalo and stretched the skins over a willow framework to make two circular Mandan-type bull boats, each about 7 feet in diameter. All rode in one boat and towed the second boat in the event the first one sank. Pryor and his three men were reunited with the combined parties, and all proceeded on to Mandan.

On August 16, preparing for the final leg of the journey to St. Louis, Clark “Sent Sergt. Pryor for Some Corn which the Mandans offered to give us. he informed me that they had more Corn collected for us than our Canoes Could Carry, Six load of which he brought down. I thanked the Chief for his kindness.”

After the expedition, Nathaniel Pryor lived and traded among the Osage Indians, especially the Clermont band, in present-day northeast Oklahoma. He married one of them and began a family. He represented the tribe in negotiations with nearby military Forts Smith and Gibson. In 1830, Clark appointed Pryor sub-agent for the Clermont band, but Pryor died the following year on June 10, 1831.