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Beloved Dog Shared Adventures of Lewis, Clark

The Newfoundland, possibly named Seaman, did more than earn his keep. He caught food, guarded against bears and saved lives.

August 17, 2003|Joseph B. Frazier | Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. — On May 14, 1804, William Clark wrote in his journal that "under a jentle brease," the boats of the Corps of Discovery headed up the Missouri with "46 men, 4 horses and 1 dog."

With the Lewis and Clark expedition's bicentennial, narratives and edited journals are flying off the presses. Much of what there is to tell has been told. At least two new books tell the tale of the voyage supposedly from the dog's point of view.

The shaggy, black, bear-like Newfoundland that accompanied them on the 8,000-mile, 28-month trek into the unknown remains largely in the shadows.

But the dog, whose name may have been Seaman, more than earned his keep, bringing in food, guarding against grizzlies and, at least once, saving lives.

In the journals, he was "the dogg," "Capt. Lewiss dog," "Our Dog."

When the expedition was trying to impress natives, they brought out Clark's slave York and Seaman.

"Everything appeared to astonish these people, my black servent and the segassity of Capt Lewis's Dog," Clark wrote.

The explorers' journals tell of buying dogs from tribes -- not for pets but for food.

"We have some Frenchmen who perfur dog-flesh to fish," Sgt. Patrick Gass wrote.

"A fat dog was presented as a mark of [the Indian chiefs'] Great respect for the party of which they partook artily and thought it good and well-flavored," Clark noted on Aug. 29, 1805.

But Seaman was loved to the point that even when the explorers were reduced to eating tallow candles as they headed west through the mountains, the dog avoided the stewpot.

Some historians read entries in the journals as "Scannon," "Scamon" or "Seamon." Others note that the explorers named a creek in present-day Montana "Seaman's Creek," presumably in his honor.

Meriwether Lewis probably acquired him in the summer of 1803 and had him in Pittsburgh, where he waited for two boats to be completed.

The dog was with him as he went down the Ohio River to where it joined the Mississippi River when Lewis spotted swimming squirrels.

"I made my dog take as many each day as I had occasion for," he wrote in August. "I thought them when fryed a pleasant food."

In November, a Shawnee offered him three beaver skins for Seaman, "a dog of the newfoundland breed, one that I prised much for his docility and qualifications generally for my journey."

No deal. "I had given 20$ for the dogg myself." That was a lot of money in 1803. Privates on the Voyage of Discovery signed on for $5 a month.

Seaman could bring down wounded game.

"One of the hunters wounded a deer. only broke its leg. Cap't Lewises dog Seaman chased it and Killed it," Sgt. John Ordway recorded.

Lewis noted that "our dog gives us timely notice of (bears') visits. he keeps constantly padroling all night. My dog seems to be in a constant state of alarm with these bears," which were such a menace that the captains hesitated to send men out alone.

When a large buffalo charged into the camp at night, coming within inches of some of the sleeping men, "my dog saved us by causing him to change his course," Lewis wrote.

The dog "flew at him which turned him from running against the lodge where the officers layd," Ordway wrote.

Seaman also shared the dangers and misery.

"Capt. Lewiss dog got bit by a beaver," Ordway reported. Lewis wrote of "barbed seed" that went through moccasins and clothes, noting, "my dog suffers from them excessively."

On the way back up the Columbia River toward home, Lewis recorded that members of the "Wah-cle-lars," "the greatest theives and scoundrels we have met with," stole Seaman.

Lewis sent three men after them "with orders if they made the least resistance or difficulty in surrendering the dog to fire on them," something the explorers did only once on the entire trip.

Thomas Jefferson's instructions to Lewis ordered him to treat Indians "in the most friendly & conciliatory manner which their own conduct will permit," and by and large the captains did. But running off with Seaman, it appears, crossed the line.

References to the dog are few and scattered. From mid-August 1805 to April 11, 1806, the journals make no reference to him, but Lewis himself sometimes went long periods without writing. There is no mention of Seaman after July 1806.

In July 1806, the party split up, with Lewis and a few men exploring the Marias River area in northern Montana. It is not clear whether Seaman went with him or stayed with Clark.

A few days later, Lewis' party got into their only armed clash with Indians after some of them tried to steal the explorers' rifles at night. There is no record of Seaman raising a fuss.

"Would not he have raised an alarm the moment those Indians got up to steal the guns? Would he have allowed any Indian to approach his sleeping master?" asked the late historian Donald Jackson, who wrote "Call Him a Good Old Dog But don't Call Him Scannon."

Following that logic, Seaman probably stayed with Clark. Lewis and his party went on a forced ride of some 100 miles to avoid more problems with the less-than-friendly Blackfeet. Seaman could not have kept up.

Did he make it back or was he left on the prairie? There is no ironclad evidence either way.

It is hard to imagine they would have abandoned the dog, or that Seaman met a bad end and nobody made note of it. But the journals known to exist make no such reference.

In all likelihood, when their boats swung from the Missouri into the Mississippi River and arrived in St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806, they carried 29 men.

And one dog.

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