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Iron Will

While William Clark is best known for the expedition he made with Meriwether Lewis, his later life was as historic and more consequential

 

Black Hawk was captured, put in chains and imprisoned at Jefferson Barracks, outside St. Louis. The author Washington Irving visited him there and found “an old man, upward of seventy, emaciated & enfeebled by the sufferings he has experienced and a touch of cholera. He has a small, well-formed head, with an aquiline nose and a good expression of eye.”

 

Clark dispatched his old adversary to Washington to impress upon him the spectacle of American power and to underline the pointlessness of further resistance. After a tense meeting, President Andrew Jackson promptly imprisoned Black Hawk in Virginia. Convinced that the defeated leader was no longer a threat, Clark and Atkinson at once petitioned for his freedom. After a tour before curious crowds on the Eastern Seaboard, the old warrior was finally returned to his people in Iowa. 

 

 

By the last decade of his life, in the 1830s, Clark was presiding over a remade West. The romanticized era of the mountain men was giving way to industrialized America. Five hundred steamboats a year were docking in St. Louis; railroads were on the way. In 1832, the steamboat Yellow Stone had churned all the way up the Missouri River from St. Louis to the junction at the Yellowstone in Montana, covering in three months what had taken Lewis and Clark a full year by poling and pulling their boats.

 

Now Clark was witnessing his worst fears for the Indians. During their removal from ancestral lands, he had urged the government to provide more assistance to the migrating Indians. But ravaged by settlers and alcohol, the tribes west of the Mississippi were outof his reach, sinking further into poverty. In 1837, the American Fur Company steamboat St. Peters brought smallpox to the Mandan—a tribe that had generously helped Lewis and Clark during the frigid first winter of the expedition—virtually wiping them out.

 

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