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

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Meanwhile, Clark was recovering from personal blows of his own. Over a decade he had lost three of his seven children, and on Christmas Day 1831, his second wife, Harriet Radford, died. “My spirits are low and my course indecisive,” he wrote in a rare departure from his usual stout optimism. 



He was now 61. Visitors to St. Louis found what one called “a fine soldierlike-looking man, tall and thin. His hair was white; but he seemed to be as hardy and vigorous as ever.” The old explorer whose brothers were heroes of the Revolution was alive to meet the leaders of America’s next great upheaval. In declining health, Clark moved in with his son, who rented out a cottage he owned to a young engineer from West Point named Robert E. Lee. As an officer in the Black Hawk campaign, Clark’s son had served with Abraham Lincoln, then a captain in the Illinois militia. And among the officers who escorted the captured Black Hawk to St. Louis was Jefferson Davis. 



William Clark died at age 68 on September 1, 1838. His funeral was the biggest ever seen in St. Louis, with a hearse drawn by four white horses followed by a procession of carriages and mounted troops more than a mile long. He was the sole survivor of his nine siblings and among the last members of the Voyage of Discovery to die.


A month later, Black Hawk died too, at his home along the Des Moines River. He received a traditional Indian burial—sitting upright in a log mausoleum. Less than a year later, his grave was plundered by whites. His remains were recovered, and his skeleton wired back together and sent to a museum. His bones were destroyed in a fire in 1855.



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