Are There Native Descendants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition? And More Questions From Our Readers

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Halahtookit, a Nez Perce man, widely believed to be the son of William Clark. Illustration by Ella Trujillo; Illustration source: Minnesota Historical Society

Q: Are there any American Indian descendants of the members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery?

Karen Wilson | Helena, Alabama

In their journals, the men of the Corps of Discovery alluded to their relations with Indian women. One Nez Perce man named Halahtookit was widely believed to be the son of William Clark, says Dennis Zotigh, a cultural specialist at the Museum of the American Indian. The Corps of Discovery met the Nez Perce tribe in what is now Idaho when the explorers were starving and sick. The Indians took care of them until they were ready to move on. One woman later gave birth to Halahtookit, who went by the nickname Clark. Some 70 years later, after the Nez Perce War of 1877, hundreds of Nez Perce members, including Halahtookit, were removed from their homelands. Halahtookit is buried in a mass grave in Oklahoma.

Q: Why didn’t the 13th Amendment forbid forced labor in prisons?

—Barry Ardolf | Milan, Michigan

Because former slave states had to ratify the 1865 amendment, it was the product of compromise. At the time, plantations and businesses had a practice of “leasing” convicts for free labor. The 13th Amendment allowed this to continue, forbidding slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” That exception was applied disproportionately to African Americans, explains Mary Elliott, curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Freed slaves were accused of crimes such as vagrancy and thrown in prison, where they were forced once again to work without pay. Today, prison labor brings in around $1 billion a year. Many prisons pay inmates a small stipend, which can be as little as a few cents an hour. Entirely unpaid prison labor continues in the former slave states of Georgia, Arkansas and Texas.

Q: How do some herbivores maintain their size?

—Doug Barnes | Navarre, Florida

They have two things going for them: access to a lot of plants, and large, specialized digestive tracts. Large mammals like manatees and hippos eat plants for the nutrients they need, but the real challenge is converting those plants into energy. Plant fiber (cellulose) is tough to break down, explains Mike Maslanka, head of nutrition science at the National Zoo. Most herbivores have evolved to host microbes in their digestives tracts that help them break down those fibers and convert them into energy.

Q: Why didn’t George Washington sign the Declaration of Independence?

—Annette M. Daly | Holland, Michigan

He was busy defending New York City against the British. While Washington represented Virginia at the First Continental Congress, by the Second Congress, in 1776, he was already commander in chief of the Continental Army, explains Barbara Clark Smith, curator at the American History Museum. Alexander Hamilton didn’t sign the Declaration either—he was also defending New York. By the time the Declaration was signed, dozens of state and local bodies had already declared independence through proclamations and legislative acts. But when Washington received a copy of the newly finalized Declaration, he gathered thousands of soldiers together in Lower Manhattan and had the words read aloud.

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