Lewis & Clark Established a Winter Camp at River Dubois
On December 12, 1803 Clark and his men entered the River Dubois near the present city of Hartford, Illinois and pulled up on the southern bank. The river's mouth was a good harbor for boats and the location was very close to the mouth of the Missouri River, the route chosen for the expedition. Most importantly, the location was in United States territory on the east side of the Mississippi River, which would honor the Spanish Commandant's ruling that the expedition stay out of the Louisiana Territory until it was transferred to the U.S. Clark chose this spot for the expedition's winter camp.
Camp River Dubois was a military camp and the soldiers were required to participate in training and perform other military duties. U.S. military regulations governed how buildings and tents were to be laid out and how the soldiers were to function.
Soldiers had to maintain personal cleanliness and health, police the camp to maintain order and a healthy environment, and care for their equipment and clothing. They had inspections, marched and stood guard duty. In addition to marksmanship practice (offhand shooting at a fifty-yard target) and shooting competitions with neighbors, they hunted to supplement their military rations. Sgt. John Ordway was in charge of the camp during periods in which both Captains Lewis and Clark were away.
Military regulations provided for laundry support and included pay and housing for civilian employees. A woman volunteered to wash and sew: "Cloudy to day, a woman Come forward wishing to wash and doe Such things as may be necessary for the Detachment several men Come from the Countrey to See us & Shoot with the men," Clark noted on January 1, 1804. Clark hired the washer woman, Mrs. Cane, and had a cabin built for her.
The military drills and basic camp chores made for a long winter for the men, who were anxious to be underway. As a result, drunkenness, fighting and other inappropriate behavior occasionally occurred, in one case leading to a court-martial. It had been Lewis' policy to accept the best volunteers on a trial basis. Clark evaluated the soldiers and other volunteers at Camp River Dubois and selected those who would be the best men for the long journey to the Pacific Ocean. Once selected, Clark made sure the men functioned as a team. Rather than expel men for fighting, for example, he made the offenders work together to build the washer woman's cabin.
Camp River Dubois often had visitors such as traveling Indians, traders, military contractors, or local squatters. Many of these people provided information about the areas west of the Mississippi River where the expedition would soon be heading.