P-064: Yellowstone Expedition Letter | UMSL

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P-064: Yellowstone Expedition Letter

ABSTRACT: This pair of autograph letters are from Lieutenant Isaac Clark to his Father, Colonel Isaac Clark of Vermont, describing his efforts to outfit the Atkinson Expedition to the Yellowstone River. Letters also discuss the City of Saint Louis, where Lt. Clark was staying at the time.

SCOPE: These letters are signed by Lieut. Isaac Clark and addressed to his father, Col. Isaac Clark. Postmarked in Saint Louis, Missouri. Dated June 11, 1819 and February 16, 1821.

EXTENT: Two sheets, front and back, folded.


25 - Col. Isaac Clark - Castleton Vermont

(Postmarked St. Louis, June 13)

St. Louis 11 June 1819

Dear Father,

I arrived here on the 13th of May, since which time I have been constantly in engaged in preparing stores for the Missouri Expedition. The agents of government in this quarter have been very dilatory so much so that not a particle of provision or stores of any kind were to be found in this place on my arrival destined for that expedition. By running & riding night and day, I have succeeded so far in procuring stores as to be able to start the Rifle Regiment in two days more, the 6th Regiment will follow in about fifteen days. The Missouri is a grand & noble stream but the difficulty in navigating is almost insurmountable. A current of at least five miles an hour, boats are not able to make more than nine miles a day. The 6th Regiment will go in steam boats if it is possible to get up. Their calculation is to go to the Council bluffs this season, 650 miles from this & about 400 miles above any settlement. I am now trying to contract or one hundred heads of cattle to be driven up, to be there by the 1st of Sept., the distance by land is about 400 miles, two hundred through the wilderness.

I am not able to give you a very correct account of the Country, as I have seen no part of it as yet (except) what borders the River. This place is the Capital of the Missouri Territory & has about 5000 inhabitants of all nations, colours, & languages who have flocked here for the purposes of speculations. There are many very good buildings and considerable wealth, it is the most extravagant place to live in the United States and at the same time we live wretchedly. I have been fortunate enough to get into Governor Clark’s house for a short time the weather has been extremely warm for the week past, the thermometer has been as high as 87F.

I shall remain at this place & bell fontaine during this summer, Bellefontaine is the Military post 18 miles from this up the river. I have had the misfortune to loose most of my clothing on the way, which disturbs me some as it cannot be replaced here, my trunk was broken open by a (?) and the clothing taken out.

I will write to you again as soon as I can. Please give my love to the family.

Your affectionate son, I. Clark Jr.

Col. Isaac Clark


25 – I. Clark on Letter

Castleton Vermont

(Postmarked Saint Louis, Missouri Territory, February 17)


Belle Fontaine Febry 16, 1821

Dear Father,

You letter on the 13th of Nov. has been received it gave me joy that you were yet able to write and that the family were all well. The Country has been almost inundated between this and Vicennes one hundred & eighty miles. We have not had a mail for six weeks until last evening. The last news we have from Couguy convinces me that the Army will be reduced, in the event of it taking place you will most likely see me in Vermont once more should I be retained.

I shall endeavor to get on to an Eastern station. If I should be left and of service I shall take a trip by the way of New Orleans to Vermont. I view this climate as very unfavorable to persons subject to bilious habit and in fact to any person bred in the frozen regions of the North. As for myself if healthy little where I am, I shall never enjoy good health again. My constitution is destroyed. General Atkinson is my sincere friend. He has placed me in command of this post. There is three detainments of troops, in all one hundred and six men. It gives double rations and I also draw the additional pay of AFS Commissary of Subsistence which makes my pay equal to a Major. I have been entitled to promotion from Marsall but have not yet seen the Register – should the Army not be reduced I shall leave this in March for the Council bluffs in command of the troops now of this post. We shall ascend the river in boats, an arduous task 850 miles against the strongest current in the world, go which way I will, you hear from me again.

Now my dear father, I once more bid you farewell. Give my love to my honest mother and all the family and be assured I remain your affectionate & unfortunate son.

I. Clark Jr. 


HISTORY: The Yellowstone Expedition detailed in these letters is a little-known but significant early western expedition. It was organized in 18191 and was under the command of Col. (later Brigadier General) Henry Atkinson. The group was charged with ascending the Missouri River by steamboat (an early attempt at such travel on the Missouri) to establish a series of forts along the river to protect the American fur trade, guard against hostile Indians, and counteract the presence of the British Hudson’s Bay Company in the region. The expedition ultimately reached the “Council Bluff” in eastern Nebraska, where they established Fort Atkinson, near the Missouri River. The troops at Fort Atkinson endured a harsh winter in 1819-1820, and lack of provisions left them susceptible to scurvy and other diseases, which ultimately claimed between 100 and 200 lives. Clark’s letters give a rare firsthand account of the logistics and provisions of the expedition.

Both letters are written by Lieut. Clark, to his father, Col. Isaac Clark in Castleton, Vermont. Isaac Clark, Sr. (1742-1822) had a military career that spanned some fifty years. He fought in the Revolutionary War, participating in the Battle of Bennington (1777) and the recapture of Fort Ticonderoga (1778). During the War of 1812 he led Vermont troops in patrolling the border with Quebec to prevent smuggling and led several military forays into Quebec. He also served in several political and judicial positions in Vermont.

ACCESS: This is Special Collection P-064. Due to fragile condition, access to this collection is limited. However, digital versions are available for viewing in the digital library and linked below. When possible, this collection is available for on-site use only in the Rare Book and Manuscripts Reading Room. Some of the collection may be photocopied, digitally scanned or photographed, depending on condition. Researchers are advised to call ahead concerning changes in hours due to University intersessions and holidays. The St. Louis Mercantile Library is located on levels one and two of the Thomas Jefferson Library building. More information about conducting research with the archival collections of the Library, including current building hours and reading room policies, can be found on our Research page.

Preferred Citation note: The preferred citation for this collection is "From the collections of the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.”

1819 Letter in Black & White (JPG)

1821 Letter in Black & White (JPG)

P-064 on the UMSL Digital Library