From George Drouillard to his Sister

George Drouillard, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, wrote this letter to his sister on May 23, 1809. It was probably transcribed in about 1900 by Eva Emery Dye, a chronicler and novelist who lived in Oregon City.

Drouillard was born in 1776 or 1777 near present-day Sandwich, Ontario, the son of a Shawnee mother and a French Canadian father. He joined the Lewis and Clark Expedition in late 1803 as an interpreter. Unlike most of the men on the Expedition, he was not in the military.

Drouillard’s skills as an outdoorsman and diplomat proved to be even more valuable than his proficiency at French and Indian sign language. During the Expedition, he hunted game, tracked down a deserter and lost horses, bartered for canoes at Fort Clatsop, and fought Piegans alongside Meriwether Lewis. Lewis considered Drouillard his right-hand man and judged that he was a “man of much merit” who “acquitted himself with honor” as a member of the Corps of Discovery.

After the Expedition ended, Drouillard worked in the Missouri River fur trade with Manuel Lisa, a St. Louis-based trader. During an expedition in May 1807, Lisa ordered Drouillard to find a deserter and bring him back “dead or alive.” Drouillard shot the man, who died the next day, and he was put on trial for murder in St. Louis. The jury deliberated for fifteen minutes before finding him “not guilty.” Nevertheless, Drouillard was financially and emotionally devastated by the incident, which he discusses in this letter.

Drouillard returned to the fur trade and joined an expedition into the territory of the Blackfeet. In early May 1810, he was setting traps with two Delawares when they were attacked by a large party of mounted Blackfeet. According to a contemporary account, Drouillard put up a “most obstinate resistance” with rifle, pistol, knife, and tomahawk. He and the two Delawares were overwhelmed, and “one of the two or three most valuable men” on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as historian Robert Lange described him, was killed.

Written by Cain Allen, 2005; revised 2021

Further Reading

Lange, Robert E. “George Drouillard (Drewyer): ‘One of the Two or Three Most Valuable Men on the Expedition.’” We Proceeded On 5 (May 1979): 14–16.

Skarsten, M. O. George Drouillard: Hunter and Interpreter for Lewis and Clark and Fur Trader, 1807-1810. Bison Books edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Morris, Larry E. The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis and Clark Explorers after the Expedition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.

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This entry was last updated on March 24, 2021