Submitted by Bruce Mihelish

On March 9, 1807, Henry Dearborn, Jefferson’s Secretary of War, ordered William Clark to see that Mandan Chief, Sheheke and his family be safely escorted back to the Mandan Villages on the upper Missouri. They had been on a state visit to Washington City. Clark chose a former trusted member of the expedition, Sgt. Nathaniel Hale Pryor to be the escort. Pryor was still in the military and had been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Pryor escorted Sheheke’s group up the Missouri from St. Louis with 14 soldiers and 1 interpreter. Auguste P. Choteau and a large fur trading contingent also accompanied them. The party of 90 was met on the river by 650 heavily armed Arikara and Sioux Indians. It was the hostile’s intent to murder the Mandan chief and steal the trade merchandise. After hours of negotiations with Pryor and the Indians, a fight erupted with a hail of bullets. Many were killed or badly wounded on both sides. Pryor’s former mate from the expedition, George Shannon lost a leg as a result of the battle. Sheheke hid in the keelboat and refused to go on further for the safety of himself and his family. The keelboat was turned around and returned to St. Louis. They were 3 days away from his Mandan home. Sheheke finally made it home 2 years later.    

This was not the first unsuccessful mission by Pryor for William Clark, nor the last. Pryor, a Virginian born woodsman, somehow had earned the role as head wrangler while traveling through Montana with the Corps in 1806. Clark definitely liked and trusted Pryor. The Sargent was one of the 1st nine men enlisted by Clark in 1803. They called them “The 9 Young Men from Kentucky.” The Captains chose Pryor as one of the 3 Sergeants to lead at Camp Dubois during training.  Pryor led First Squad with 9 men. His first cousin, Charles Floyd was also promoted to Sargent and led Second Squad with 7 men. Cousin Floyd was the only death casualty on the entire 3 year adventure. He died in 1804 of a presumed appendicitis attack.   

In 1806, the Corps was moving over 70 horses across the Lolo Trail to Travelers Rest. Managing a large herd of half wild steeds would have been a big job for any experienced equestrian. The journals suggest Pryor was the man in charge of the mounts. Clark seemed to be particularly impressed with Pryor’s abilities. He praised him as a man of “character and ability”. Pryor was a good carpenter. He had helped build pack saddles and oars. In July of 1806, Pryor was traveling with Clark and 12 other men down the Yellowstone. They had 50 mustangs that would be used at the Mandan Villages for trade. Lewis had gone north to the Great Falls with 17 other horses to portage cached supplies and canoes around the falls. These horses were valued cargo. Expedition trade goods were spent. The Corps needed horses to barter for more goods on the final leg. They needed gifts to help convince tribal leaders to come to Washington City to meet the President. The dangerous Teton Sioux might blockade river access on the return home if the Corps didn’t have a hefty toll to pay in trade goods. Pryor’s orders were to take all the horses to the Mandan Villages overland. Near today’s Park City, MT, Crow Tribe rustlers snuck into Clark’s camp and stole 24 horses. It was July 22nd. Pryor was sent off immediately with 3 other men to get the remaining 26 to Ft. Mandan safely. Off went Pryor, Shannon, Windsor and Hall.  The mission didn’t last long. The night of July 24th, the Crow thieves struck again as the men slept. All the horses were gone! They feverously searched for horse tracks, but soon gave up. The party went back to the river, and built buffalo hide boats. They caught up with Captain Clark’s party on the Missouri a few weeks later. Quick wits and resourcefulness saved Pryor and his men, but their horse mission ended in disappointment.    

Pryor was often given difficult and dangerous of assignments from Capt. Clark. This continued after the expedition was over when Clark became the head of Indian affairs in the west. Missions didn’t always turn out as planned. But perhaps it says something to know Pryor was the highest paid member of the expedition other than Lewis and Clark themselves. He was certainly a valuable member for the Corps. Pryor died in June, 1831. He was probably 49 years old.  There are plenty of namesakes left behind today. We have the town of Pryor, The Pryor Mountains, Pryor Creek, and the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Reserve in Montana. There is also a town of Pryor and Pryor Creek in Mayes County, Oklahoma. 

To dig deeper into the life of Nathaniel Pryor, explore these resources:
Journals of Lewis and Clark. Gary Moulton: www.lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu (on line edition):
Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with related documents 1783-1854, edited by Donald Jackson
The Life and Times of Nathaniel Hale Pryor, Lawrence R. Reno
Discovering Lewis and Clark /Lewis-Clark.org, Joseph Muselman: Articles: Nathaniel Hale Pryor, Sheheke and His Wife.
PBS / pbs.org, Inside the Corps of Lewis and Clark, Article on Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor


Western Montana Bison Distribution
Submitted by Bob Henderson 

That millions of buffalo once roamed the North American plains before Euro-Americans arrived on the scene in the 1500s is well-known.  Less well-known is that buffalo were also present in the intermountain valleys of western Montana and Idaho.  When the Lewis and Clark Expedition first pushed its way up the Missouri River in 1804, its members were astounded at the huge herds they encountered.  But, no more buffalo were seen, after crossing the Continental Divide in August 1805, as the Corps headed on west searching for the Pacific Ocean.  It would be a year later in summer 1806, after leaving Travelers Rest and going east in two separate parties, when the men again found bison, east of the Continental Divide.  It had been roughly a year since they had seen, hunted and eaten bison.  These observations and the writings of members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition convinced many Americans that buffalo were absent from the mountain valleys and grassy ridges west of the Continental Divide.  To the contrary, considerable evidence has since been developed showing that bison were indeed residents of the western Montana and Idaho Valleys, before and after Lewis and Clark passed through.

Since Lewis and Clark, a number of diarists, historians, ecologists, archaeologists, and anthropologists have also tackled this question.   Here are some of the most relevant:

  • Accompanying a hunting party of Salish in 1842, Father Nicolas Point recorded that they “set out and before the sun sank they had taken one hundred and fifty buffalo” south of Missoula. 
  • Anthropologist Turney-High in 1937 reported older Flatheads remembered “bison did come in small numbers as far west as the Bitterroot Valley.  A small but adequate supply could be taken on the low benches around Missoula.  These were mere stalked, often in disguise, or ambushed.”  Explaining why bison were in low numbers west of the Divide by the 1800s, they felt that “with the coming of the great hunting animal (the horse) bison rarely came so far west” and “that the superior mounted hunting methods taxed the local supply to heavily...”   
  • Dr. Suckley with the Stevens Expedition in 1877 reported that “For a number of years past, none (bison) has been seen west of the mountains, but singular to relate, a buffalo bull was killed at the mouth of the Pend D’Oreille River on the day I passed it.  The Indians were in great joy at this, supposing the Buffalo were coming back to them.”
  • Will Cave in 1941 recalled that in 1870 three buffalo lived in the hills east of Stevensville.

In prehistoric times, these inter-mountain valleys historically supported bison in relatively low densities for long periods of time, but with the introduction of horses in the early 1700s bison hunting was so effective that numbers had sharply declined by the Corps’ arrival in 1805.  As the Captains speculated, herds of bison reentered these valleys from time to time, sometimes for several years, until, when found, were hunted down again.  Oral history suggests this could have occurred repeatedly, until the last of them disappeared 1870-80.

For more on the history of bison, explore the resources in this bibliography:
Adams, S. and A. Dood. 2011. Background Information for Issues of Concern for Montana:

Plains Bison Ecology, Management and Conservation. MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  


Bailey, James. 2016. Historic distribution and abundance of bison

in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. 

Intermountain Journal of Sciences 22(1-3), pp 36-53. 


Cannon, Kenneth P., 1997.  The Analysis of a Late Holocene Bison Skull from Fawn Creek, Lemhi  County, Idaho,

and Its Implications for Understanding the History and Ecology of Bison in the Intermountain West.

The Department of Agriculture, United States Forest Service. Salmon-Challis  National Forest Salmon, Idaho.  http://www.npshistory.com/publications/bison-skull-fawn-creek.pdf


Submitted by Tom Schenarts

Robert Frazer was an ordinary soldier and a solid person who you could depend on for good judgment. He was trustworthy but was not a hero nor did he stand above the others.  Frazer was born about 1784, in Agusta County, VA. Nothing is known about his early life or when he joined the Army. It is possible that he was recruited at Fort Kaskasia in January, 1804.

In May, 1804, he is listed in Cpl Warfington’s mess.  Originally Frazer was to be part of the crew that was to return down the Missouri from Fort Mandan. On October 8, 1804, he was transferred to the permanent party and was part of Sgt Gass’s mess. He replaced Pvt. Reed who was dismissed for attempted desertion.

As a private he performed most ordinary duties, though he was only a fairly successful hunter. Some interesting references to him in the journals include:  On Feb. 14, 1805, he was one of the party from Fort Mandan sent to retrieve a large load of meat and was set upon by over 100 Sioux who took the meat and two of their horses. In June he helped assemble the iron boat at the head of the Great Falls. “Frazier Creek” was named for him in August, 1805, but is now known as S. Boulder Creek in Montana. On August 25, he fired his musket at some ducks on a pond and nearly hit Captain Lewis. On the return trip Frazer was often successful in bartering with the Indians for food and horses. In May, 1806, he was sent with several others to go from the Clearwater River to the Snake River a distance of over 20 miles to procure salmon from the Indians.

He took a great interest in the Nez Perce language and could converse with them in their language. In June, 1806, Frazer was given a fine horse by a Nez Perce Chief Hohots Ilppilp. Frazer had previously given the Chief a pair of Canadian “shoe-pacs’ (snow shoes). On July 1, while at Travelers’ Rest, he volunteered to accompany Captain Lewis in the source of the Marias River later in the month. However, Indians stole some of their horses and he was not able to make the Marias trip for lack of a horse.

Robert Frazer was described as a man of education and talent and he kept a journal of his own. Upon his return to St. Louis he planned to publish is journal and even published a prospectus to solicit orders to raise funds to publish. Lewis read the prospectus and warned Frazer not to discuss the scientific aspects of the expedition. On March 14, 1807, Lewis published a notice in the “National Intelligencer” Washington D.C. that Frazer only has permission to publish what General Wm. Clark or I approve. Lewis had reviewed Frazer’s journal for publication in October, 1807. Lewis then withdrew his permission from Frazer, saying the Frazer was only a private and was unacquainted with scientific observations. Frazer’s journal was never published, though he still had it in his possession in 1836/37 when it is recorded that he often quoted from it for visitors. His journal has never been found. He did publish A Map of the Discoveries of Capt. Lewis & Clark from the Rocky Mountains and the River Lewis to the Cap of Disappointment or the Columbia River at the North Pacific Ocean. The map is very inaccurate.

After the Expedition he accompanied Capt. Lewis to Washington and Virginia and returned to St. Louis where he received land grants for his service. In 1807, during the Aaron Burr conspiracy, Frazer had been uncovering evidence of treason and was a witness at the Burr trial. He served with the Louisiana Militia against Aaron Burr plotters in St. Louis and New Orleans. He may also have served in the War of 1812.

Frazer was in several scrapes with the law in St. Louis until 1815. Then settled down and from 1825-1829 lived on the Gasconde River in Missouri where he was a watchmaker.  He married Tabitha and had a number of children. Robert Frazer died in Franklin County , Missouri in 1837, at about the age of 53. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

To Dig Deeper into the life of Robert Frazer, explore the resources in this bibliography:
Journals of Lewis and Clark. Gary Moulton: www.lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu (on line edition):
Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with related documents 1783-1854, edited by Donald Jackson
The Race to Publish Lewis & Clark, Pennsylvania Magazine of Biography
PBS / pbs.org, Inside the Corps of Lewis and Clark, Article on Robert Frazer
American Journeys, Document AJ-160, Prospectus for the Publication of Robert Frazer's Journal of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Wisconsin Historical Society


Submitted by Jack Puckett

​The footwear of the Lewis & Clark Expedition left a lot to be desired.  For an expedition starting forth to explore a continent the official footwear of the U.S. Army consisted of black leather shoes with one inch wooden heels and ties.  They were made on a straight last with no rights or lefts.  While designated right and left shoes had begun to be produced in Europe in the 1790s, the US Army was slow to adopt new fashions.  The result was that knock-kneed soldiers would wear out the inside of the heel and the bowlegged ones would wear the outside of the heel making it difficult to walk.  The army in all its wisdom decreed that the men would alternate shoes every other day.  The shoes themselves were poorly made and would barely last a week under constant use.  This was the situation with the army men assigned to the Expedition.  In 1803 a pair of these shoes cost one dollar and a pair of socks cost 18 cents.

It is surprising that Meriwether Lewis did not give more thought to the comfort

of the men’s feet when he was purchasing equipment for the Expedition.  It is

apparent that he did have in mind that the men would all be in moccasins

before the trip was over, because he purchased four gross of assorted moccasin

awls in Philadelphia along with awls for trade with the Indians.

It wasn’t long after the start of the Expedition that the men were either wearing

moccasins or in their bare feet when towing the boats up river.  Being barefoot caused

cuts, abrasions, and sores that hampered walking.  Within a month from the start

of the Expedition the men were all in moccasins.  They bartered for them from passing traders or made their own.

Indians east of the Missouri mainly wore a one-piece moccasin and some of the men of the Expedition did also, but during the winter at Fort Mandan most of them learned from the Indians how to construct a two-piece moccasin.

A considerable amount of time was spent during the journey either making or repairing moccasins.  Cactus native to the Plains were a considerable problem for the feet, even with moccasins, as the thorns pierce the soles and in many cases left the thorn in the foot.  Lewis found that a parfleche insole helped but that the thorns still cause problems in the ankles and legs.  The portage around the Great Falls was a constant source of cactus and the men spent the evenings around the campfire pulling thorns out of their feet.  They also encountered a different cactus while ascending the Bitterroot River.

Clark exclaimed that he was so cold that he might freeze his feet in the thin moccasins he wore when the Corps encountered snow while traversing the Lolo Trail.

The winter of 1805-1806 was long and wet.  One of the duties of the men at Fort Clatsop was to make moccasins for the return journey.  Over 300 pairs were turned out.  Some say 358 (Lewis and Clark) and some say 338 (Gass, Ordway, and Whitehouse) but whatever the amount, it wasn’t enough to last all the way back to St. Louis.

When all things are considered the moccasin was probably one of the most important pieces of equipment on the whole journey.

Dig Deeper into the clothing and equipment of the Corps of DIscovery:

Tailor Made and Trail Worn by Robert J. Moore, Jr. and Michael Haynes (2003) 

Dig Deeper

Each month, a group of dedicated volunteers, local experts,  and knowledgeable Lewis & Clark enthusiasts gather at Travelers' Rest State Park to discuss intriguing aspects of the Corps of Discovery and their journey.  Known affectionately as the Clarkkies (something like Star Trek's Trekkies), the group is working to share their knowledge through this web page.  Check back often for new articles and insights.

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