Travels with Charlize, in search of living alone

Dr. David Gross
Dr. David Gross

Part 41: Seaman

Confinement while my surgically fused ankle heals provides time for reading, perhaps too much. No — that’s not possible. Along with my infatuation with all of Steinbeck and Hemingway I am addicted to any publication that deals with the Corps of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I own at least a couple of dozen books dealing with those adventures.

While re-reading, I’ve lost track of how many times, the three volumes edited by Elliott Coues, as always I discovered something new to think about. The history of the Coues edition is interesting in itself. After returning from the mouth of the Columbia River both Lewis and Clark promised to publish their journals but didn’t get to it. After Lewis’ untimely death Clark traveled to Philadelphia to find an expert to edit and publish the over 27 separate writings, some only partial journals, that survived the trip.

The expert he selected was Nicholas Biddle, who in 1814 published “History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark to the Source of the Missouri, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the Columbia River to the Source of the Pacific Ocean”. It didn’t sell well because a member of the Corps, Patrick Gass, published his journal of the trip shortly after their return, thus the story was well known.

Biddle trimmed about two-thirds of the journal entries to create his narrative. Elliot Coues and his “expert copyist” Mary Anderson were granted access to the original journals late in 1892. Anderson deciphered misspellings and abbreviations and completed a word-for-word, handwritten transcript. Coues used her transcript to create “The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition” first published in 1893. He added many footnotes based on his travels along the route, Gass’ publication and partial journals from other members of the Corps, along with much of the original information left out by Biddle.

Sorry, too much information? I warned you that I am an addict. Anyhow during my latest binge of reading I re-discovered that in 1803, while in Philadelphia preparing for the journey, under Jefferson’s direction, Lewis purchased a black, male Newfoundland puppy for which he paid $20. The basic pay for privates in the Corps of Discovery was $5 a month while Captain Lewis earned $40 per month.

Newfoundland dogs are massive. Males can weigh 130-150 pounds and stand 22 to 28 inches at the shoulder. They have webbed feet and are powerful swimmers, bred to retrieve from strong ocean currents. They are great swimmers with a thick, oily, waterproof coat. When they swim they don’t dog paddle, the limbs move up and down in a sort of modified breaststroke.

Lewis’ dog was named Seaman, but errors in transcription of the journals identify him as Scannon in many writings about the expedition. He became a favorite of the Corps and functioned as a watchdog often warning of danger. Many of the Native Americans they encountered wanted to purchase the dog but, of course, Lewis always refused. One journal entry recounts a time when a deer was wounded by one of the hunters and jumped into the river to escape. Seaman went in after the deer, caught it, drowned it and retrieved it. He made the entire trip to the Pacific and back and legend has it that after Lewis committed suicide, or was murdered, at an Inn in Tennessee on his way to Washington, Seaman wouldn’t leave Lewis’ grave and died of starvation guarding his master.

What troubles me is how the dog survived the trip from the Western Slope of the Rockies to the Pacific. At many times during this portion of the trip the Corps faced starvation; sometimes subsisting on rotting dried and pounded salmon and various roots purchased from the Native Americans. This diet, when they could acquire it, made most of them ill. During this period it is estimated they ate about 300 dogs, meat that the Native Americans of the Columbia watershed did not use but that the Corps apparently considered acceptable, if not tasty. What did Seaman eat during these times? The issue is not addressed in any of the writings that I can find.

I’ve discussed this issue with Charlize; what else do we have to talk about? She is concerned, as I am, that Seaman might have turned cannibal.

— By Dr. David Gross

After his losing his wife of 52 years to cancer, Dr. David Gross has embarked on an extended road trip with his new dog, Charlize, and is writing about his experiences

  1. Have you read Corps of Discovery by Jeffrey W. Tenney? I am the author, and I’m not writing to hawk my book, but rather because I share your intense interest in the Expedition and I think you would enjoy the characterizations in the book. I would be interested in your comments as well. Enjoy your trip and your dog. I have two dogs myself and love taking them out into the open spaces.

    1. Are you traveling the L&C Trail at this moment? If you are, be sure to visit the Lemhi Pass site. It’s been a few years since I was there, and I think I heard that it was being developed to some extent–previously, it was a narrow dirt road with a couple of primitve campsites at the pass.

      I also wanted to comment on your observation about Seaman and the Lolo Pass trek. I had wondered about that myself back when I read the journals. As I recall, Clark was averse to eating dogs, some of the others not so much. I suspect Lewis kept Seaman close to him at all times.

  2. Here is a website you might find interesting???

    From the archives of the Offbeat Oregon History newspaper column. Stories of shanghaied sailors and Skid Road bordellos and pirates and robbers and unsolved …

  3. And off-beat Lewis and Clark moment. I grew up in north Portland near Lombard Street (Route 30). Back then, and today, the highway is peppered with signs showing L&C pointing in a direction. If the sign was on the north side of Lombard, it pointed properly to the West and the Pacific. However, the signs on the south side of the Street pointed eastward which led us, as kids, to wonder which way they were headed. We settled for one set of signs got them to the Pacific, the other signs reminded them how to get home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.