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The Lewis and Clark Expedition:
Blacksmiths in the Corps of Discovery

Arms and Supplies

The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Blacksmiths in the Corps of Discovery, by David G. Allen for the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association © 2003



Upon dissolving the Corps, the men were all paid. On March 3rd, 1807 Congress approved the soldier’s pay as follows:

  • Sergeants— $8 monthly

  • Privates— $5 monthly

  • Interpreters— $25 monthly

  • In addition, the men were given government land grants of 320 acres each.


 a military mechanic, blacksmiths were "artificers" in army jargon 


As for John Shields’ pay, Captain Lewis wrote the Secretary of War on January 15th: “John Sheilds (sic) has received the pay only of a private. Nothing was more peculiarly useful to us, in various situations, than the skill and ingenuity of this man as an artist, in repairing our guns, accoutrements, &c. and should it be thought proper to allow him something as a artificer, he has well deserved it.” (Shields extra pay was not approved.)

In addition to pay, every member of the Corps of Discovery had a river or topographical feature named for him on Captain Clark’s map. 


Private John Shields received a land grant in Franklin County, Missouri. He befriended Daniel Boone there and hunted and trapped with him for two years afterwards. The date of Shields’ death is given alternatively as 1809 with his burial in Little Flock Burying Grounds near Corydon, IN, or 1815 with his burial either in Sevier County, TN or Indiana.

Although he is routinely praised in the journals, Shields did refuse to take orders from the sergeants when encamped in Missouri (March 1804), stating that he only took orders from the Captains. Later that month, he fought with a sergeant. Captain Lewis realized this was due to camp fatigue and boredom and relented from punishing him.

John Shields is said to have been a blacksmith in Pigeon Forge, TN prior to joining the expedition and family members remained there. The ironworks that gave Pigeon Forge its modern name were started about 1820 by Isaac Love.

Private Alexander Willard married in 1807, had 12 children, and moved to California in 1852. At age 74, he crossed the West again, this time by wagon train. He died in Sacramento in 1865. Of the expedition members, only Patrick Gass outlived him. Willard would say later in life that his physical strength caused Lewis and Clark to select him over 100 other men who had volunteered.

Private William Bratton lived for a time in Missouri and then served in the War of 1812. He married in 1819, having ten sons and two daughters. He was elected first Justice of the Peace in Waynetown, Indiana, where he died on November 11, 1841.

Private John Shields was a skilled blacksmith. He had set up for business at the expedition’s forge and bellows inside the fort [Fort Mandan]. There he mended iron hoes, sharpened axes, and repaired firearms for the Indians in exchange for corn. But by the end of January, business was turning sour. The market for mending hoes had been satisfied. Shields needed some new product to attract business.
    The arms trade was the obvious answer. Not in firearms—the captains turned away all requests for rifles or pistols—but in battle axes. There was a particular form of battle axe highly prized by the Indians and easily made by Shields. Lewis disapproved of the design, writing that it was “formed in a very inconvenient manner in my opinion.” The blade was too thin and too long, the handle too short, the overall weight too little, all of which combined to make a weapon that made “an uncertain and easily avoided stroke.”
    But arms merchants give the customer what he wants. Shields went to work, getting his sheet iron from an all-but-burned-out stove. Some of the men were detailed to cutting timber to provide wood to make a charcoal kiln, to expand production capacity. Still, the Americans couldn’t turn out battle axes fast enough.
    The Indians were skilled traders who drove hard bargains. On February 6 [1805], Lewis had Shields cut up what was left of the stove in pieces of four inches square, which could then be worked into arrow points or buffalo hide scrapers. After some haggling, a price was set: seven to eight gallons of corn for each piece of metal. Each side thought it had made a great bargain.
  … How popular those axes were among the Indians, and consequently how far they traveled across the trade routes, Shields found out some fourteen months later, when he discovered axes he had made at Fort Mandan among the Nez Perce on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.

undaunted courage book cover

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, by Stephen E. Ambrose

Selected text from Undaunted Courage, pp. 198-199


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