From: John Prior email@example.com
Sent: Wednesday, June 16, 1999 12:29 PM
Subject: Nathaniel Pryor US Explorer, Soldier, Trader and Indian Agent - Part 2
The following article is the second of a four part series on the life of Nathaniel Pryor (c.1775-1831). The first was sent to the Pryor List in
March 1999. These articles are currently being published by myself in "Family Connections", the newsletter of "The Prior Family History Society".
John Prior, Lincolnshire, England.
NATHANIEL PRYOR circa 1775-1831
U.S. Explorer, Soldier, Trader and Indian Agent (Part Two)
On the 14th May 1804 forty five men in a 55 foot keelboat and two canoes set sail up the Missouri River from its confluence with the Mississippi.
The expeditionary party were leaving known civilization behind. They were on their own on a journey that was to cover more than 8000 miles and last 2
years and 4 months.
We are fortunate in that both Captains and some of the other party members kept detailed diaries of day to day events.
Tragedy struck on the 20th August when Nathaniel Pryor’s cousin, Sergeant Charles Floyd, died of a suspected burst appendix. During the whole of the
journey Floyd was to be the only fatality.
The Corp of Discovery was by now deep in Indian territory. On the 27th August Nathaniel Pryor and two others were sent out to the camp of the
Yankton Indians in order to invite their chiefs to a council with the Captains. Reporting back to Lewis and Clark, Pryor described the tribe as
“extremely friendly”. The Indians had tried to carry him into their camp
on a painted buffalo robe thinking that he was the expedition leader. He said the camp was “handsum made of buffalo skins painted different colours,
all compact and handsomly arranged, their camps formed a conic
formcontaining about twelve or fifteen persons each and forty in number”. (In this
description Sergeant Pryor was the first American to describe the typical tepee of the Plains Indians). The Yanktons had prepared a fat dog for a
feast. Nathaniel thought it “good and well flavoured”. They had given him “a snug aptmt for to lodge”. He described the country they had crossed as
“covered in game”.
The first winter was spent with the Mandan Indians in present day North Dakota. The expedition built a headquarters which they named “Fort Mandan”.
This was to be their home for five months from November 1804 to April 1805. In the Spring they sent the keelboat and several men back to St.
Louis to describe what they had experienced so far and to take back scientific specimens.
The party faced a difficult decision on the 3rd June 1805 when they arrived at the junction of two large rivers. The problem was which river
they should follow in their journey west. Sergeant Pryor was sent to scout up the northern fork. He travelled some 10 miles before returning that
evening to report that the river’s course turned from west to north. In consequence, the party decided to take the southern fork and continued on
As the summer of 1805 proceeded, it became clear that there was no easy route from the east to the west coast. The Rocky Mountains lay before them
and the party faced treacherous waterfalls, rapids and ravines. By mid-July they had crossed the continental divide. An arduous journey still lay ahead
through the towering mountains, but on the 7th November 1805, the
expeditionary party finally arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.
It was now late in the year. Originally it had been hoped that they would reach the West Coast and be able to return east by the end of the
year. This was now out of the question. The winter months were to be spent near the mouth of the Columbia River with the Clatsop Indians who inhabited
the area. A camp, named "Fort Clatsop", was constructed and the explorers
remained there until the following spring. During their time at Fort Clatsop many of the men were sick or suffered injuries. Nathaniel Pryor had
a dislocated shoulder.
The long journey back home eventually commenced on the 23rd March 1806.
In June of 1806 Sergeant Pryor and two privates were given the task of going ahead of the main party and taking horses to trade with the Mandan
Indians. This was an assignment of great responsibility and high risk. One purpose of this mission was to deliver a letter from Captain Lewis to North
West Company agent, Hugh Henry, either at the Mandan villages or at Henry’s post in Canada. Amongst other things, the letter was to inform the British
government officials in Montreal of the expedition and the American claim to all the territories they had passed through.
Unfortunately Nathaniel Pryor’s party had their horses stolen by Indian horse thieves and they had to construct boats in order to proceed. As a
result the mission was abandoned and they rejoined the main expeditionary party.
The expedition arrived back in St. Louis on the 23rd September 1806. They had travelled over 8,000 miles and had accomplished their task. They had
confirmed America’s claim on the Louisiana Territory; discovered numerous new plants and animals for science; made friends with many Indian tribes;
and, for the first time, charted a route across the Trans-Mississippi West.
Note: Nathaniel Pryor was among the men of the Corps of Discovery who kept a Journal of events during the expedition. It is believed that this was lost
while on route to France for publication - a regrettable and tragic loss.
(to be continued)
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