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Born in Augusta County, Virginia, Robert Frazer’s enlistment date is unknown. During the winter of 1803-1804, while at Camp Dubois, he was listed continuously as a member of the “extra party.” Clark entered in the Orderly Book, a “Detachment Order, Camp River Dubois april 1st 1804. The Commanding officers did yesterday proceed to take the necessary inlistments and select the Detachment destined for the Expedition through the interior of the Continent of North America; and have accordingly selected the persons herein after mentioned, as those which are to Constitute their Perminent Detachment [men listed].”

“The Commanding officers do also retain in their service untill further orders, The following Persons...[list includes Robert Frazer]...and are to be treated in all respects as those men who form the permonant detachment, except with reguard to an advance of Pay, and the distribution of Arms and Accoutrements intended for the expedition.” The latter men were designated under a preliminary plan that would have sent them back from some point up the Missouri with dispatches, but who eventually wintered at Fort Mandan and returned on the keelboat in the spring of 1806.

The captains on October 8, 1804 transferred Frazer to the “Permanent Party.” Clark entered the appointment into the Orderly Book: “Orders: Robert Frazer being regularly inlisted and haveing become on the Corps of Vollenteers for North Western Discovery, he is therefore to be viewed & respected accordingly; and will be anexed to Sergent Gass’s mess.” Frazer replaced Private Moses Reed, who was dismissed for attempted desertion.

A glimpse into the mark of character commanded by certain of the expediton members is revealed during the Fort Mandan winter. On February 15, 1805, George Drouillard, Robert Frazer and John Newman were dispatched to bring in loads of dressed buffalo and elk meat that was cached by a hunting party 24 miles down the frozen Missouri. The three men, leading three sleigh-drawing horses, were abruptly intercepted. According to Sergeant Ordway’s journal, over 100 Sioux Indians “emediately Seized the horses cut off the collars [harness]...then they jumped on two of them and rode off uppon the run, our men with much difficulty kept the Gray mare which had a coalt at the Fort.”

During the return journey near the end of May 1806, private Frazer and an unnamed Nez Perce Indian woman struck a trade bargain. As recorded in the journal of Sergeants John Ordway and Patrick Gass, the exchange took place near the junction of today’s Salmon and Snake Rivers in northwestern Idaho. Frazer offered the Indian woman “an old razor” in return for two Spanish dollars.

According to “The Ethnohistory of a Common Object” by Dr. James P. Ronda, this incident “tells us much about the ethnohistory history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the native peoples encountered . . . The coins, the razor, and the observations recorded about their exchange give us a tantalizing glimpse into the differing cultural values of Private Frazer and the Nez Perce woman.”

“When Private Frazer and his Nez Perce trade partner struck their bargain, the Indian woman probably left the exchange sure she had gotten the best of a gullible stranger. Those Spanish dollars were worthless to her in her daily round of domestic duties. On the other hand, a metal razor was a very valuable instrument. Without question she could have found dozens of uses for the sharp tool. It is equally easy to picture Private Frazer chuckling to himself after the encounter. He had exchanged an old and perhaps broken straight razor for two good Spanish dollars. While there are surely more spectacular cases of culture value differences recorded in the Lewis and Clark journals, few illustrate the point more simply and more directly.”

Frazer kept a journal and received special permission from the captains to publish it, but the publication never took place and journal is apparently lost. Frazer did publish a prospective, which reads in part: “An accurate description of the Missouri and its several branches; of the mountains separating the Eastern from the Western waters; of Columbia river and the Bay it forms on the Pacific Ocean; of the face of the Country in general; of the several Tribes of Indians on the Missouri and Columbia Rivers; of the vegetable, animal and mineral productions discovered in those Extensive region. This work will be contained in about four Hundred pages Octavo and will be put to the press so soon as there shall be sufficient subscriptions to defray the expenses. Price to subscribers three dollars.”

Frazer died in Franklin County, Missouri, in 1837.


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