William Clark at Big Bone Lick, 1806
By: Donald E. Clare, Jr., Rabbit Hash Historical Society
Originally published: 28 September 2006 in the Boone County Recorder
Across the Nation and Commonwealth of Kentucky, people are gearing up for the 200th anniversary of the safe return to St. Louis of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition. The year 2006 marks the successful end to this unparalleled feat in our nation's history. In 1806, no on had heard from Lewis and Clark in over a year and the expedition had been given up for dead. But the 20 year-old dream of Thomas Jefferson, first proposed to General George Rogers Clark in 1783, was realized thanks to the courage and determination of 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 also signaled the beginning of another Kentucky leg of history. Leaving St. Louis after the celebrations and hoopla, Lewis and Clark headed back to Louisville, Ky. arriving on November 5, 1806. On November 8th at Locust Grove, home of Lucy Clark Croghan (William's sister) and Colonel George Croghan, 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 were taken to the house's spacious 2nd floor ballroom, where they were stabilized and displayed. After a long deserved rest, the two leaders planned the daunting job of completing and cataloging the maps, drawings and journals, and preserving the plant and animal specimens. Lewis headed east to Frankfort, then eventually to Virginia and Washington, DC. Clark remained in Louisville until mid-December before leaving for Washington, DC.
The President of the United States had other plans for William Clark. Jefferson directed Clark to head a fossil collecting excursion to Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, to collect specimens of the huge bones located there. He instructed him to acquire 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. Clark returned to Louisville in the spring of 1807 with plans to conduct the bone gathering expedition that fall.
William Clark arrived in Boone County on September 6, 1807. He was joined 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 was an alcoholic and William was so devoted to him that he wanted to ensure George's health and safety. Although it is not documented, William's personal man-servant and slave York was probably there as well. William Clark accomplished another mission at the request of President Thomas
William Clark accomplished another mission at the request of President Thomas Jefferson, the Father of American Vertebrate Paleontology, and secured the distinction of Home of American Vertebrate Paleontology for Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. As the nation's bicentennial commemorations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition conclude, the year 2007 is only the beginning of the commemorations for Boone County, Kentucky. The Lewis and Clark Expedition really ended here at Big Bone Lick.