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On the rivers, they traveled into the unknown

Strict justice borne of necessity
Sunday, May 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:24 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

In the course of walking, boating and canoeing nearly 3,000 miles, it was inevitable that the more than two dozen men of the Lewis and Clark expedition would encounter trouble.

Sometimes it came from within.

Fights were common, and some men didn’t want to follow orders from anyone below captain status. Improper activities on the first leg of the journey alone resulted in three court martials for men in the party.

One night in 1804, the corps stopped at the mouth of the Kansas River and suffered a raid on their whiskey supply by one of its own. Pvt. John Collins decided to tap the keg while on night duty. By the next morning, both he and Pvt. Hugh Hall were drunk.

Capt. William Clark called for a court martial the following day. Collins was charged with stealing whiskey and getting drunk on duty, and Hall with taking whiskey contrary to rules. Collins pleaded not guilty and was sentenced to 100 lashes with a whip. Hall pleaded guilty to the offense and got 50 lashes.

As the privates learned, discipline within the corps was firm, and punishment was quick and harsh. Hundreds of miles from any judge or jail, they had to be.

At the court martial of Pvt. Alexander Willard, he was sentenced to 100 lashes a day for four days. He had fallen asleep while on guard duty and was caught by Sgt. John Ordway.

The third court martial occurred after Private Moses Reed deserted the expedition for two weeks. He returned only when George Drouillard found him and brought him back with a couple of Oto Indians. In trial, Reed was found guilty of desertion.

Under military law, he could have been sentenced to execution. Instead, he was to run the gauntlet, in which the men formed two lines to flog the offender as he ran between them. Reed had to run it four times, and then he was discharged from the expedition.

The discipline might seem barbaric in today’s society, but in the early 1800s it was standard military procedure.

Mark Ayers, professor and chair of military science at MU, says now, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, each member of the military is accountable for their actions.

“Discipline is dependent on the violation,” he says.

Someone caught drinking, for example, is dealt with administratively, which most likely would be extra duty. But if the person who was drinking is under-age, it would be dealt with in a non-judicial punishment. Under the code, non-judicial punishment may consist of detention, suspension, forfeit of pay and extra duties.


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