William Clark at Big Bone

By: Don Clare

All across the nation and especially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, people are gearing up for the 200 year anniversary milestone events of the safe return to St. Louis of the men of the Corps of Discovery of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This year (2006) marks the successful end to this unparalleled and unprecedented feat in this nation’s history. The entire expedition had actually been given up for dead, since no correspondence had been received for over one year. The 20 year-old dream of Thomas Jefferson, first proposed to General George Rogers Clark in 1783 came to fruition through the courage and determination of his younger brother, William Clark, co-captain of the famous expedition with Meriwether Lewis.

Their return to St Louis in September of 1806 marked the conclusion of the national adventure. But it signaled the beginning of another Kentucky leg of pride and history. Leaving St.Louis after all the celebrations and hoopla, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark headed back to Louisville, Ky. and arrived there on November 5, 1806. On November 8th at Locust Grove, home of Lucy Clark Croghan (William’s sister) and Colonel George Croghan, her husband, a welcome home celebration was held honoring the two captains and their men of the Corps of Discovery. All the notes, maps, journals, and specimens headed up to the spacious 2nd floor ballroom of the house where they dried out, normalized to the environmental conditions and remained on display for whoever inquired. After a long deserved rest and relaxation, the two leaders planned the taunting job of cataloging and completion of maps, drawings and journals, along with the preservation of plant and animal specimens. From here, Lewis headed east for Frankfort, then eventually to Virginia and Washington, DC. Clark remained in Louisville until the middle of December when he too left for Washington, DC.

But the President of the United States of America had other plans for William Clark. Jefferson directed him to head a fossil collecting excursion to Big Bone Lick, Kentucky to gather and collect specimens of the huge bones located there. He instructed him to get a specimen of every representative bone available as well as duplicates of each so Jefferson could provide other scientific institutions here and abroad collections of their own. He returned back home to Louisville in the spring of 1806 with plans to conduct the bone gathering expedition in the fall.

William Clark arrived here in Boone County on September 6, 1807. Not until recently was it known that he was accompanied by his famous older brother, General George Rogers Clark, not so much for his assistance in the project, but mainly to keep an eye on him. George fell victim to alcoholism and William was always so devoted to his older brother that he wanted to make sure of George’s health and safety. It is also presumed that York was along, though it is not documented anywhere, which is not surprising because he was William’s personal man-servant and slave.

Again, another successful mission accomplished by William Clark at the request of the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, the Father of American Vertebrate Paleontology, securing the prestigious distinction of Home of American Vertebrate Paleontology for Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. So as the nation’s bicentennial celebrations and commemorations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition come to a legacy vested conclusion, the year 2007 is only the beginning of the celebrations and commemorations for Boone County, Kentucky. The Lewis and Clark Expedition really ended here at Big Bone Lick.

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