On May 14 at 4pm on 1804 The Corps of Discovery departed from Camp Dubois marking the beginning of the expedition across the Louisiana Purchase which had been acquired the year before from France. President Jefferson had chosen Army Captain Meriwether Lewis and former soldier William Clark to lead the endeavour to find a northwest passage and explore the northwest.
Several years ago we were commissioned to produce some weapons as props for a miniseries about this expedition. We made swords and polearms to depict the pieces carried by the party. The production ran into difficulties as they filmed across the prairies of western Canada. Chiefly some very harsh winters and a horrific couple of summers of forest fires. Sadly the production was never completed and released, something that happens far more often than folks outside the world of film production realize. Since May 14th marks the anniversary of the start of their journey, we thought we'd take the opportunity to share these reproductions with you.
Spontoons in the style of the period
Captain Meriwether Lewis was known for carrying a spontoon. This is something that would allow one to have a walking staff as well as a weapon for hand to hand with excellent distance. Not to mention in case one would interact with a bear, it would prove the "espontoon" was a choose that would have been appreciated. Spontoons were also a sign of rank in the army during this period.
The spontoon of the day was of sufficient length to be used as a pole weapon. Captain Meriwether Lewis carried his throughout the journey across the west.
Soldiers hanger with scabbard
Soldiers of this period often carried single edged hangers. These sturdy weapons would work well for personal defense as well as clearing minor brush and blazing trails. We created simple hangers based on colonial pieces with sturdy hilts and scabbards for the soldiers in the Corps.
Simple hanger with belt and scabbard
Officers Smallsword with scabbard, Arms & Armor Smallsword with custom scabbard and belt.
Officers of the period would have used smallswords in contrast to the single edged swords of the soldiers. The thrusting blade of the smallsword would have been good in personal fights but may have been a bit out of place as a weapon for the wilderness of the trek west.
The Corp of Discoveries trek across the Louisiana Purchase was a formative development in the history of the United States. It also was an epic journey of discovery and an exceptional accomplishment by a small group of explorers.
Route of expedition from St Louis to the west coast and back.
Statue in Greatfalls MT
While we have no idea if the film will ever be released, the quest this group took on and accomplished is an interesting part of our history. It was a fun project to craft and we hope you like the results.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.