Oregon Focus: People to Know: Captain William Clark

About Captain William Clark

painting of William Clark in dark jacket and ascot
Captain William Clark. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
William Clark was born near Charlottesville, Virginia, in the the county next the family farm where Meriwether Lewis lived. They considered themselves to be near neighbors, and the two boys grew up as close friends, although Clark was four years older than Lewis.
William Clark was the ninth child in the family. George Rogers Clark, who distinguished himself as a soldier in the Midwest, was older brother.
When Clark was 14, the family moved to Kentucky. Although he had little formal schooling, he developed self-reliance and boldness that made him stand out as a leader. At 19 he joined the infantry, and two years later became a captain in the militia. He was promoted to lieutenant in the regular army infantry and served under Mad Anthony Wayne. By the time Clark was 25, his capacity for leadership was rewarded. On one assignment, Meriwether Lewis served under him with Wayne's troops.
Later, when Lewis was planning the historic expedition to the Pacific Ocean, he immediately chose Clark as his co-leader. Clark was known among the Native Americans as "red-hair chief." He had a natural ability to gain and keep their respect and trust. Clark worked well with Lewis during the expedition and their childhood friendship grew stronger.
On their return to St. Louis, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Clark to be brigadier-general of the territorial militia and Indian agent. Clark also served as appointed governor of the Missouri Territory until it became a state in 1820. In 1822 he was made superintendent of Indian affairs, a post he held until his death in 1838.
Clark saw the journals of the expedition to Oregon published in 1814. He is shown at the Oregon Capitol as part of the outside sculpture and in one of the rotunda murals.
Also see Notable Oregonian descriptions for Clark | Lewis | Sacagawea.

Celilo Falls fishing wall mural  
A mural in the rotunda of the State Capitol shows Lewis and Clark next to the Columbia River.

Suggestions for Teachers

Ask students to:
Read portions of books about Captain Clark as well as the journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Talk about what life was like in his times.
postage stamp with painting of William Clark in center
A U.S. postage stamp honors Captain William Clark.
Make a continuous "filmstrip" on butcher paper depicting the major events in Clark's life. Write sentence labels for each picture. Wind the ends onto cardboard rolls and turn as several students narrate.
Make simple maps showing the route Lewis and Clark followed on their expedition.
Play imagination game: How do you travel over mountains where there are no roads? How do you get around rapids and rocks in the rivers? How do you get through forests with few, if any, paths? etc.
Taste beef jerky, edible wild berries, etc. to stimulate discussion about what explorers might have eaten on their journeys. How did they get salt? Where did they get water?
Prepare a skit of events in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, such as the first sight of the Columbia River and Christmas at Fort Clatsop.
Pretend they are traveling with Clark. Write a letter to tell the folks back home what they are seeing.
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