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Jefferson had once discussed a similar mission with George Rogers Clark. But now, leaving George in his family's care, William accepted "chearfully," and "with much pleasure"--just in time to prevent Lewis from signing up his backup choice, an Army lieutenant named Moses Hooke.
Lewis and Clark got along well from the start. When Clark's anticipated commission as a captain instead came through as second lieutenant--a misstep that still rankled years later--they never told their men and treated each other as equals--placing them among the few effective co-CEOs in organizational history.
They apportioned their operating responsibilities: Clark was the better boatman and navigator, Lewis the planner and natural historian, often walking ashore far ahead of the vessels being laboriously hauled against the Missouri's current. Clark clearly had the cooler head. He brokered the crucial early compromise that ended a staredown with the Teton Sioux. The more mercurial Lewis hurled a puppy into the face of an Indian who angered him, and killed a Blackfeet in the corps's only violent incident.
During their long winter at Fort Mandan, near today's Bismarck, N.D., Lewis and Clark encountered Charles McKenzie, a British trader who later wrote,"[Captain Lewis] could not make himself agreeable to us. He could speak fluently and learnedly on all subjects, but his inveterate disposition against the British stained, at least in our eyes, all his eloquence. [Clark] was equally well informed, but his conversation was always pleasant, for he seemed to dislike giving offense unnecessarily."
Nothing reveals the captains more than their treatment of Sacagawea. Lewis could be aloof, dismissing their interpreter's wife as "the Indian woman," observing that "if she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear I beleive she would be perfectly content anywhere." But the less formal Clark nicknamed her "Janey" and treated her warmly. She repaid him with gifts, including "two Dozen white weazils tails" on Christmas Day 1805. At the expedition's end, Clark offered to educate her son Pomp, "a butifull promising Child."
Either captain could assume sole leadership in a pinch--and often did. When Clark was waylaid with a boil on his ankle and abrasions on his feet from dragging the boats up the shallow Beaverhead River, Lewis forged ahead to find the Shoshone and the horses they desperately needed to cross the mountains. But just a few weeks later, when the entire party was near starvation on the Lolo Trail, it was Clark's turn to strike out ahead to hunt for food. If there ever was tension between them along the way, it was not recorded. Each captain consistently referred to the other as "my friend Capt. C." or "my worthy friend Capt. Lewis" and seemed to mean it. After he was accidentally shot in the backside by Pierre Cruzatte on a hunting trip, Lewis spent the next three weeks lying on his stomach in a canoe while Clark cleaned and dressed his wounds every day. The party trusted both leaders completely. Perplexed at the junction of the Missouri and Marias rivers, the men unanimously "pronounced the [north] fork to be the Missouri," Lewis noted. But when the captains overruled them (correctly), "They said very cheerfully that they were ready to follow us any wher we thought proper to direct."