Private William E. Bratton

William Bratton-historic site marker-Virginia Lewis and Clark Trail, Virginia-born member of the expeditionPrivate Bratton was born 1778 in Augusta County, and with his family later settled near Cowpasture. He enlisted under William Clark as a Virginia-born member of the expedition in Kentucky, as his parents had migrated from Virginia in 1790. Described as being over six feet tall, he was also “very straight and erect, rather reserved, economical, of fine intelligence and the strictest of morals.” When he was young, he began to apprentice as a blacksmith and contributed his excellent skills as a blacksmith and gunsmith to the expedition. Private Bratton is also remembered, along with four other Corps of Discovery members, for making enough salt at the seashore of the Columbia River where they arrived in November 1805 to last through the winter and during their return trip in 1806. (From expedition journal entry, December 28, 1805, “Jos. Fields, Bratton, Gibson to proceed to the ocean at Some Convenient place – form a Camp and Commence making Salt with 5 of the largest Kittles…”) During this task, he became quite ill for a long time, but finally, in 1806, an Indian steam bath saved his life. He returned to Kentucky, married at age 41, and later settled in Waynetown, Indiana where he was elected the first Justice of the Peace of Wayne Township in 1824. He and his wife had ten children. He died in 1841 and is buried in the pioneer cemetery in Waynetown.

Private John Colter

John Colter-historic site-Virginia Lewis and Clark Trail, Virginia-born member of the expeditionPrivate Colter was born around 1774 near Staunton in Augusta County. He moved with his family to Maysville, Kentucky when he was five years old. On October 15, 1803, he was recruited by Captain Lewis for the expedition. Characteristics that made him a good choice were “… quick-minded, courageous, and a fine hunter.” He was one of the Nine young men from Kentucky” and “was trusted with many special missions while in the party.”  Private Colter was honorably discharged on August 13, 1806. From 1806 to 1809 he trapped in the Yellowstone and lived with the Mandan Indians from 1806 to the spring of 1807. After leaving Yellowstone, Colter continued trapping in upper Missouri with the Andrew Henry trapping expedition. He was sent to trap in the country of the Blackfeet Indians; however, having earlier befriended the Crows – “mortal enemies of the Blackfeet” – conflict arose. He narrowly escaped from the Blackfeet in an encounter where John Potts, another Virginia-born member of the expedition, was killed. He is known as the “Father of the Mountain Men.” Because of his travels and trapping in the Yellowstone, Private Colter was able to supply many details to William Clark while editing the expedition journals about the Yellowstone, Wind River, and other western areas unknown to Clark. In 1809 he returned to St. Louis, married in 1811, and had one son. He died in 1813 of jaundice.

Private Joseph Fields & Private Reuben Fields

Joseph-and-Reuben-historic site marker-Virginia Lewis and Clark trailThese brothers were born in Culpeper County, Virginia, Reuben in 1772 and Joseph in 1774. They are thought to have been the grandsons of Abraham Fields, also born in Culpeper, Virginia, whose son, John Fields, would have been the father of Joseph and Reuben. If that connection is true, John married Anna Rogers Clark, older sister of William Clark that would make Clark the uncle of the Fields brothers. Joseph and Reuben, along with Charles Floyd, were the earliest recruits chosen by William Clark on August 1, 1803. (From expedition journal entry, August 1, 1803, “This early recruitment date was evidence of Clark’s high opinion of these three men.”) Both were known for being great hunters and woodsmen and were considered by Clark to be two of the “Nine young men from Kentucky.” Worth noting is that Charles Floyd, although not Virginia-born, was the son of Robert Clark Floyd, a cousin of John Floyd, Governor of Virginia. Both Joseph and Reuben were included in every exploration task, Joseph having been put in charge of a small group that explored the lower part of the Yellowstone River. In 1809 when William Clark and his new bride were traveling to their Missouri home, they gathered with friends and family in Louisville to celebrate their marriage. Reuben Fields and his wife were present. Reuben married the daughter of his brother Joseph, (his niece) who had been killed soon after the expedition. (William Clark and the Shaping of the West, pg.162) Reuben died in 1822.

Sergeant Nathaniel Hale Pryor

Nathaniel Pryor-Virginia Lewis and Clark trail highway marker, Virginia-born member of the expedition

Sergeant Pryor was born in 1772 in Amherst County. His parents were John and Nancy Floyd Pryor. Nancy was the sister of Robert Floyd, father of Charles, also a Virginia-born member of the expedition. Charles and Nathaniel were first cousins. When he was eleven years old in 1783, he moved to Kentucky with his parents. William Clark recruited him as a Virginia-born member of the expedition which he joined on October 20, 1803, and is another one of the “Nine young men from Kentucky.” Characterized by his leaders as “a man of character and ability,” he was one of the few married men on the expedition. Afterward, he remained in the Army where he became a 2nd. Lieutenant in 1810 and a Captain in 1814. He served in the Battle of New Orleans and was discharged afterward. He set up a trading post on the Arkansas River and married a member of the Osage tribe with whom he had several children. The couple lived with the tribe until his death in 1831. He is buried in Mayes County, Oklahoma, where a historic sign has been erected in his memory.

Private John Shields

John-Shields-Virginia Lewis and Clark historic site marker, Virginia-born member of the expeditionThe oldest and a married member of the Corps of Discovery, Private John Shields was born in 1769 near Harrisonburg, then Augusta County, now Rockingham County. He had ten brothers and one sister, and in 1784, at the age of 15, he moved with his family to Pidgeon Forge, Tennessee. Here he operated a mill and blacksmith shop and married around 1790. Leaving a wife and daughter behind, Private Shields enlisted as a Virginia-born member of the expedition in 1803 in Kentucky and is considered one of the “Nine young men from Kentucky.” He is remembered as “one of the most valuable men on the expedition,” having served a variety of roles such as head blacksmith, gunsmith, boat builder, and general repairman. There is some evidence that the Shields and Clark families were acquainted. Jonathan Clark, William’s older brother, and Clark’s business agent in his absence sent Shields’ wife, Nancy, 21 bushels of corn and four dollars while Shields was away. After the Expedition, Captain Clark wrote about Shields’ value to the Corps of Discovery. “Nothing was more particularly useful to us, in various situations, in repairing the guns, accouterments, etc. and should it be thought proper to allow him something [extra] as an officer, he has well deserved it.” Upon his discharge, Shields spent a year trapping in Missouri with his friend, Daniel Boone. In 1807, the Shields family moved with Daniel Boone’s brother, Squire Boone, to Indiana. They settled around Corydon where John Shields died in December 1809.


Private Joseph Whitehouse

Private Whitehouse was born about 1775, “probably” in Fairfax County. In 1784 he migrated with his family to Kentucky and located around Boyle and Mercer Counties. He, too, is listed as one of the “Nine young men from Kentucky.”  He enlisted in the Army, and at one point was stationed at Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory. Here he became familiar with traders who knew the Indians on the lower Missouri River. Since his interest was in trading, he volunteered to join the Corps of Discovery. He was transferred from Fort Massac to the expedition, and by January 1, 1804 had been placed on the rolls of Lewis & Clark. Whitehouse was known as the “hide-curer” and “tailor” and mended or made many of the clothes for members of the Corps of Discovery during the trip. He kept a journal, had intentions of publishing it, but never did. Later, either his field notes or the actual diary was found and are printed in the history of the journals published by Reuben Gold Thwaites in 1904. In 1807 he was arrested for debt, rejoined the Army and served in the War of 1812, then deserted the Army in 1817. (Biography of Joseph Whitehouse, University of Virginia, In his 1825-1828 account of the expedition members, William Clark made no comment by Joseph Whitehouse’s name indicating he either did not know where Whitehouse was, or whether he was still living.  


Ben York

Ben York - Lewis and Clark expedition - historic highway markerBen York was born in 1770 into slavery in Caroline County. His parents had worked for the Clark family for many years, and upon the death of John Clark, III, York was bequeathed to William Clark. The two of them had been life-long companions. On the Expedition, he was described as the “wag, a wit, and delight” of the party, and Indians thought of him as “Great Medicine.” According to Charles Clarke in the “The Men of the Lewis & Clark Expedition”, York was freed after the Expedition and was given a dray and six horses by Clark “who was concerned for his welfare as long as he lived.” He died in Tennessee of cholera.

Another account of York’s life after the expedition was offered in the PBS series “Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.” Director Ken Burns states that York continued to work for Clark as a slave after the expedition. York asked for his freedom, and at first Clark refused but did send him to Kentucky so he could be closer to his wife. Ten years after the expedition, Clark granted York his freedom and York worked in the freighting business in Tennessee and Kentucky.


Other:  Private William Werner (Warner)

(Note: Earlier information about William Werner presented on this website hinted at the possibility that he was also an Expedition Member with Virginia ties.  Also mentioned was the fact that area historians were busy researching this possibility. With great appreciation to Virginia’s Pulaski Co. historian and Lewis & Clark Committee Chair, April Martin, we are now happy to share the following information about William Werner.)

William Werner

Corp of Discovery Member William Werner is not a well-documented figure in American history; however, enough clues remain to help piece together some of his story.   It appears William Werner was born in or around 1779 in land that would have most likely been the western counties of Virginia, indicated by some as land that eventually became the state of Kentucky.  His formative years are not identified, but at some point, he joined the United States Army and would have been an active serviceman when the members of the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery were being selected.  Only the fittest and skilled members of the army who volunteered for this assignment were chosen.  Werner, sometimes spelled Warner, was considered a good cook, knew how to render salt, and was a capable and competent tracker that both Clark and Lewis chose for several independent tasks during the expedition.  He is listed as travelling with Clark to negotiate whale blubber in January of 1806 and completing his time at the command’s salt camp.  Later, on the return trip, Lewis sent Werner to help transport canoes across a critical river crossing.  After the expedition, William Werner sold his land gift for service to Sgt. Ordway and may have been considered for the position of Indian Agent.  He did not accept this role, or only did for a short period, because by October of 1807, William Werner is in Augusta County, Virginia for his marriage to Polly Halliert (Halbert).  By 1810, William Werner is first documented in the Montgomery County census.  The 1810 census indicates Werner was near the Christiansburg enumeration area, which was a large area.  The following 1820 and 1830 census returns for Montgomery County continue to show William Werner Sr. and his household in the New River Valley.  The 1830 census helps to pinpoint his home closer to the Newbern enumeration area, at that time still part of Montgomery County.  His son William Werner Jr. also had a separate household in the same area by 1830.  By 1839, parts of Montgomery County and Wythe County separate to become Pulaski County and in that same year it is suggested William Werner passed away.  He nor his wife are found in the 1840 census or any to follow.  His home site and burial site are still undetermined. His son, William Werner Jr. married Nancy Emmons from Montgomery County, the daughter of Revolutionary War Veteran Captain John Emmons. It is suggested that William, Jr. obtained his father’s second land grant given to Corp of Discovery Members that was in Palmyra, Missouri.  William Werner Sr. and his wife Polly may have had other children, but more research is needed to determine names and details of their lives.  Also, not confirmed is how William Werner Sr. made a living in the Newbern area. However, from a short entry scribbled by William Clark about the post expedition life of his Corp of Discovery, Clark, himself, lists William Werner as alive and living in Virginia. Likewise, in The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis & Clark Explorers After the Expedition, Larry E. Morris states about Werner that “Upon marrying…he farmed in the western part of his home state, Virginia, where he and his wife raised their family.”