Stroll through history at William Clark’s monument

By Gary Kimsey

Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Mo. A bit chilly this morning. We’re at an isolated, tranquil spot in the far corner of the beautiful, tree-laden cemetery. All is quiet except for a lovely rustling sound created by a soft breeze whispering through the leaves of an ancient oak tree.

Jerry Garrett steps out of the cool soft shade given off by the oak and into a warmer sunny spot. Before him is the impressive bust of an American icon positioned in front a towering granite obelisk. The obelisk is mostly awash in grays from the shadows of the oak tree. The top few feet of the the peak are transformed into bright white from sunshine. It’s time for Jerry to help others learn about the life, death and burial and, well, also the reburial of explorer William Clark…   

Jerry Garrett at William Clark Monument

Jerry Garrett at the William Clark Monument.

…And so began the tour of William Clark’s gravesite with Jerry Garrett. He has given many tours of this cemetery where people of fame are buried. Always, he includes the final resting place of his favored person in history, William Clark of the 1803-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition. How Jerry reached this point—where his time is spent educating people about Clark’s monument—is an interesting story dating back almost four decades.

In his 30s in the mid-1980s, Jerry had a sudden urge to go exploring. It swept upon him after reading William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highway, an account of the author’s extended road trip throughout the United States. For Jerry, the book stirred up feelings of adventure. He wanted to experience what’s out there in America. He quit his job, bought a van and set off from his hometown of St. Louis.

He had two goals: to visit the 48 contiguous states and go as far south, east, north, and west as possible in the continental United States. By the time he finished, he accomplished the goals, spent almost 100 days on the road and traveled 22,672 miles. As a comparison, the circumference of the globe is 24,901 miles.

During his journey, Jerry visited Fort Clatsop, a replica of a fort constructed by the Lewis and Clark explorers at the Columbia River mouth in Oregon. The encampment was where they stayed during the 1805-06 winter. Jerry’s visit inspired his interest in the explorers simply because, he relates with a laugh, “They made it to the Pacific and I made it to the Pacific, too.”

William Clark: best known as expedition co-captain. Expedition members: the “wild bunch.” And their journey summarized. Click here to read.

The interest led to reading a version of the expedition’s journals edited by John Bakeless. “And that just hooked me,” Jerry recalls.

The interest also led to becoming a member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit citizen organization dedicated to telling the story of Lewis and Clark. He was the group’s treasurer for several years and  involved in the Lewis and Clark National Bicentennial Commemoration from 2003 to 2006. Still an active member, Jerry gives the Clark monument tours and talks about the explorers. (To view one of Jerry’s talks, watch a fun YouTube video about how the explorers spent their Christmases. Jerry and another member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Barb Kubik, gave the Zoom talk together.)

Jerry is a gentlemen you instantly like. As he says about himself, he’s “an outgoing person.” Indeed, he is. He has a quick smile, a sharp wit and casual, interesting manner that encourages people to pay attention to what he says. Especially when he talks about Clark and the monument.

Obelisk at Clark monument

Obelisk at Clark’s monument shaded by an oak tree.

Little did Jerry suspect decades ago that his Lewis and Clark interest would take him on a path to Bellefontaine Cemetery. A host of  famous individuals are among the 87,000 people buried in the 314-acre cemetery. Among them: Adolphus Busch, co-founder of Anheuser-Busch; Sen. Thomas Hart Benton; radio commentator Rush Limbaugh; and writer William S. Burroughs. There, too, rests Manual Lisa. Lisa became Clark’s partner in a fur-trading business after the expedition.

But the special Bellefontaine spot for Jerry is William Clark’s monument, erected and dedicated in 1904. The site is on a forested bluff overlooking the Mississippi River that Lewis and Clark traveled up in December 1803 from the Ohio River. They reached the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and, a few miles from today’s St. Louis, built a winter encampment, Camp Dubois. (Today, there is a re-created encampment, the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site. It’s not far their original campsite, which long ago was washed away by the shifting rivers.)

In full sunlight: The monument in “imposing in grandeur and simplicity.” Photo courtesy of Bud Clark.

In full sunlight: The monument in “imposing in grandeur and simplicity.” Photo courtesy of Bud Clark.

Writers have described Clark’s monument with such glowing words as “imposing in grandeur and simplicity.” It is, certainly. The obelisk—41 feet tall from the ground to peaked tip—towers above the bronze bust of Clark. The bust is done in heroic style, a sculpturing term meaning grand and larger than life. The obelisk was fashioned from gray granite, but in sunshine becomes starkly white. Standing in the middle of a circular parapet 22 feet in diameter, the obelisk emerges from a 9-foot-square granite base. Flanking the parapet are stone piers, giving, as one writer suggested, a military appearance.

Charles Wilson Peale's portrait of Clark. The portrait was used as a model for the Clark bronze bust at his monument.

Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of Clark. The portrait was used as a model for the Clark bronze bust.

W. Liance Cottrell of the Harrison Granite Company, New York created the monument design. He was an artist, architect and designer of notable monuments in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Among his better-known designs is the 110-foot-tall Pennsylvania State Memorial located at the Gettysburg battlefield.

William Ordway Partridge, a celebrated sculptor who lived in New York, sculpted Clark’s bust. In covering the news of the 1904 monument dedication, the St. Louis Republic called the bust “one of the very best productions of Partridge.”

Partridge felt challenged to provide facial accuracy to the bust. Clark had died six decades earlier, so Partridge used as a model a portrait of Clark hanging in a room at Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia. Charles Wilson Peale painted the portrait in 1807. His portraits of Clark and Lewis are today iconic images of each explorer.

From Peale to interpretation by sculptor William Ordway Partridge

William Clark’s bust: From Peale’s portrait to bronze interpretation of Clark by sculptor William Ordway Partridge.

Peale showed Clark with his “head turned slightly but looking at the artist, open-faced, approachable, no-nonsense, taking it all in, with a suggestion that he is in on the joke,” according to a description on, the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation educational website.

In contrast, Partridge’s bronze bust of Clark has a serious facial look. It seems as if the sculptor believed the weight of Clark’s life after the expedition was far too demanding. Clark has a focused stare that captures the attention of visitors. Jerry likes to note on his tours that Clark’s bust faces toward the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, from where the expedition launched its journey in 1804.

The stone piers display sculpted buffalo and wolf heads. Both animals played important roles in the expedition’s story. It’s unknown now why Partridge chose them. He may have intended them to be watchful guardians. Or it’s possible he picked a buffalo because it is a symbol of abundance and honor among some Native American cultures. Meanwhile, a wolf symbolizes courage, strength, loyalty, and success at hunting.

The monument has engraved information about Clark’s life as a soldier, explorer, statesman, and patriot, with inscriptions covering much of the stone piers and the obelisk’s base. Clark’s life is summarized in the stone: “Born in Virginia, August 1, 1770. Entered into Life Eternal September 1, 1838. Soldier. Explorer. Statesman and Patriot. His Life is Written in the History of His County.”

Buffalo head as part of the monument

Buffalo head as part of the monument

Another inscription: “William Clark received his commission as Lieutenant from George Washington in 1791. He was appointed Brigadier General of the Territorial Militia, and principal Indian Agent for All Tribes West of the Mississippi by Thomas Jefferson in 1807, and reappointed as such by James Madison in 1811. He was made Governor of Missouri Territory by this President in 1813, and recommissioned twice by him, being again appointed governor by James Monroe in 1820, who also made him superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1822. His great fame as an explorer was won on the expedition of 1804-5-6.”

(Author’s note about the “1804-5-6” dates: For many decades, the federal government recognized the official years of the expedition as 1804, 1805 and 1806. However, in 2019, Congress changed the official years to include 1803. Congress also revised the expedition’s official starting point from the St. Louis area to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)

Symbols and Inscriptions

With so little space available on any monument, decisions to engrave inscriptions or symbols are typically well-thought through. As years pass, there becomes the risk that meanings of and reasons for engraved messages can be lost to the public. Clark’s monument is not immune from such a possibility. Jerry doesn’t delve too deeply into the possibilities of deeper meanings behind symbols and inscriptions. After all, such information can be chancey—esoteric at best and boring at worst. But looking a bit deeper may help to flesh out some of Clark’s thoughts and reasonings. Consider:

Wolf's head in the monument

Wolf’s head on the monument

The most recognizable symbol for visitors today is engraved on the obelisk. Partway up the front is the square-and-compasses symbol of Freemasonry. This signifies that Clark was a Freemason, inducted in 1809 into the St. Louis Lodge No. 111. Lewis, a Mason since the age of 22, helped to establish the lodge the previous year.

Freemasonry, an extremely powerful force in early America, reflected the idea of “truth, justice and the American way” that is ingrained in the American psyche. Freemasonry dovetailed nicely with the Age of Enlightenment of Lewis and Clark’s time. Enlightenment exalted the idea that freedom, democracy and tolerance are central to human existence—and, it’s easy to believe, to Clark’s general personal philosophy.

By some accounts, however, Clark did not appear to embrace the Masonic ways as enthusiastically as Lewis. But his attitude may have evolved later in life as he made a room in his house available for lodge meetings. Clark was given an elaborate Masonic funeral.

Go Up and Possess the Land

Engraved on the obelisk’s backside is a phrase that may have a meaning which most visitors today may not fully understand. The phrase from Deuteronomy 1:XXI states: “Behold the Lord Thy God Hath Set the Land Before Thee: Go Up and Possess It.”

The phrase is part of a message by Moses when he stood on Mount Horeb and addressed followers to offer a clearer view of their quest for the Promised Land. The entire quotation—depending on which Bible version is read—is, “Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.”

On the surface, there seems to be little reason to dwell on the meaning of the Deuteronomy inscription. But there is a good reason. Discover why…

“Through the Narrow Way”

William Clark later in Life. Painting by George Caitlin. The painting hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute.

William Clark later in Life. Painting by George Caitlin. The painting hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute.

Meanwhile, above the Deuteronomy inscription is a short phrase engraved in Greek lettering. The phrase might be translated as “Through Difficulty.” This saying is believed to be part of the coat of arms of the English ancestral line of the Clark family.

However—and this is an interesting twist—a University of Illinois professor in Greek and Latin languages has another interpretation. So, too, does another expert who teaches classic languages at a private school. Their thought: The Greek phrase could instead mean “Through the Narrowland,” Jerry points out.

On this subject, Bud Clark, a great-great-great grandson of William Clark, offers a delightful anecdote that speaks to the commitment of the Clark family to maintain the truth of events related to the William Clark’s life. Bud’s anecdote, which he provided via email from his Michigan home, is also a playful observation of William Clark’s creative grammar and unique spellings in the expedition journals that he and Lewis kept.

“The worst speller in America”

To appreciate Bud’s anecdote, it’s necessary to learn a bit about Clark’s educational background. By all accounts, he was a highly intelligent fellow. However, his family moved from Virginia to Kentucky when he was 14. This essentially ended his formal education.

He lived in a young nation where word pronunciations were not standardized and spelling was often confusing. The rule of thumb of those times seemed to be: “Spell it like it sounds.” And Clark did just that. For instance, the expedition’s journals show that he used 14 different spellings for the name of Charbonneau, Sacagawea’s husband, and 27 for the name of the Indians the French called Sioux.

“As my Dad told us,” Bud says, relating the anecdote, “it (the Greek phrase) means ‘Through the Narrow Way,’ meaning to take the righteous path. Dad also pointed out there is a misspelling in the Greek inscription. Years ago a stone carver offered to correct the mistake by simply adding a line to one letter. Dad thought it was a fitting coincidence that the worst speller in American history should have a misspelled word on his memorial. Accordingly, the change was never made.”

Coins of Respect

After viewing all of the engravings on the monument, a visitor can easily imagine the depth of public admiration and respect for Clark during his times.

Left by visitors to the monument, coins of respect on the ledge under Clark's bust.

Left by visitors to the monument, coins of respect on the ledge under Clark’s bronze bust.

Just as telling now in our times is a multitude of tiny, respectful honors placed on the narrow edge of the stone base holding up Clark’s bust. The edge is lined with coins—pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters—left by visitors. The leaving of coins at a gravesite originated with ancient Greeks. The custom became popularized in the United States during the Vietnam War. Like the ancient Greek tradition, it demonstrates a sign of respect for a person buried in a grave.

Rural Cemetery Movement

It’s not an exaggeration to say Jerry Garrett has a love affair with Bellefontaine Cemetery—in the sense of how many of us love one place above all others. Jerry—now 78 years old and retired since 2000 after an accounting career in the medical profession—slipped into his gig as a master tour guide, a volunteer position, after attending a lecture in the late 1990s about the rural cemetery movement in America.

The idea behind the movement was to build cemeteries one to five miles outside of a community, but close enough for visitors. The popular trend was to construct these cemeteries in landscaped park-like settings and include elaborate monuments, memorials and mausoleums.

Even though it's now surrounded by an urban area, the Bellafontaine Cemetery in St. Louis is one of the more beautiful cemeteries in the nation. It was started due to the Rural Cemetery Movement.

Even though it’s now surrounded by an urban area, the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis is one of the nation’s more beautiful and peaceful cemeteries. Photo by the National Audubon Society.

The movement began in 1831 with the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass. This launched the nationwide effort that stopped burials in church cemeteries and small family plots within urban areas. It led to the relocation of 22 small St. Louis cemeteries to rural settings like the land that became Bellefontaine. But St. Louis continued to grow. Bellefontaine is now a calm, magnificent island surrounded by a busy, crowded urban ocean.

“The lecture I attended made me aware of the significance of this cemetery (Bellefontaine),” Jerry recalls. And for him it led to the discovery of interesting information about some of the cemetery residents. With a self-depreciating chuckle, he adds, “I had lived in this town for 20 years and I had no idea that someone of such historical prominence as William Clark was buried here.”

For a while, Jerry gave group tours of 20 to 30 people, but now he prefers touring with groups of far fewer people. His tours focus on burial sites of noted individuals, but sometimes he just gives tours of the Clark monument.

It took considerable research and study for Jerry to learn about lives of the past. But it has been worth it, he points out. “I enjoy showing what I know. I’ve found that many people are fascinated not only about the stories of deceased people but also by the astounding size of monuments, the cemetery itself, the towering trees, the beauty. It’s amazing. This helps to open up the world of the past for people.”

As a person inextricably familiar with Clark’s monument, Bud Clark, long-time friend and admirer of Jerry, couldn’t agree more. For Bud, the monument has much more importance than being an impressive structure.

“I think it stands as a great testimonial not only to William Clark but also to everyone who made up the Corps of Discovery,” Bud says in a telephone interview from his home. “Beyond that, it spurs people on to learn more about Clark and all of the explorers, and also how Clark’s post-expedition life impacted western expansion and in some ways was more important than the expedition itself.”

Students Learn

As if foreshadowing Jerry and Bud’s comments above, on the day of the tour with Jerry Garrett, a yellow school bus drives along the narrow cemetery road near Clark’s monument and stops along the roadside a few minutes before Jerry arrives. The bus is from St. Paul Lutheran School of Des Peres in the Greater St. Louis Area.

Dan Sterling, a teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School of Des Peres in the St. Louis area, talks to his students about the life of William Clark

Dan Sterling, a teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School of Des Peres in the St. Louis area, talks to his students about the life of William Clark.

Students flock from the bus with great joy and enthusiasm. They chatter as youth will. It takes only a glance at the impressive Clark monument for them to realize this isolated place of solitude is also a place of reverence. They quiet down and follow their teacher, Dan Sterling, to the monument. They gather around as the bust of Clark’s face seems to scrutinize them. The obelisk towers above the students as Mr. Sterling gives a good lesson about the importance of Clark’s role in the histories of Missouri and our nation.

Connection with the Deceased

Jerry notes that it is one thing to read books and study a deceased person’s life, but you will always be “separated by time and geography.” At one point earlier in his life, Jerry studied the Civil War. But he realized he was, indeed, separated by time and geography in the real understanding of those times. So he visited the McClean House in Appomattox County, Virginia, where in April 1865 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Commanding General of the U.S. Army Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War.

Jerry realized at the McClean House the importance of visiting historic sites, particularly tombs, monuments and gravesites when trying to understand a person in history. “Even though you may never have met the deceased person, when you visit a tombstone you end up at the last stop of the person’s journey,” Jerry says, “and there’s a connection that happens between the visitor and the deceased.”

As he strolls from headstone to headstone encircling the Clark monument, Jerry talks about Clark’s life during the expedition and afterwards when Clark entered public life. Jerry also focuses on others of the Clark family lineage buried at the monument: children, grandchildren and so on to present times. He points out the headstones of two persons who are believed to have been beloved servants of the William Clark family.

“A walking historian”

A month after the interview for this article, Jerry took Jeff McElroy on a full cemetery tour that concluded at Clark’s gravesite. Jeff, 61, was on his own Lewis and Clark expedition. His adventure became a 10,247-mile auto excursion from his home in Sequim on Washington’s Olympic peninsula. Jeff visited Lewis and Clark sites and took along his kayak so he could paddle in the same rivers the explorers traveled.

Jeff says the two-hour tour with Jerry Garrett was a highlight of his trip. “It was spectacular,” Jeff acknowledges in a telephone interview. “Jerry has so much knowledge. He’s all about history. He’s a walking historian of Lewis and Clark. He knew the answer to every question I asked. When we drove around the cemetery and saw all of the monuments and mausoleums, he talked about how some of these people were directly or indirectly involved with William Clark.”

Learn how Jeff McElroy’s young daughter shaped his interest in Lewis and Clark…and Jeff’s comparison of the Clark monument with the Meriwether Lewis monument in Tennessee.

“Shining light” on Statues

Statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea in Charlottesville, Va., before it was removed by the city

Statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea in Charlottesville, Va., before it was removed by the city

During his tours, Jerry says that he keeps up with a relatively new trend across the nation that calls for the removal of public statues of historical figures whose lives and actions were less savory than what some people today would have liked for them to have been. Slavery tops the list.

His interest in the trend revolves around Clark’s post-expedition life. How, for example, might some observers in today’s world view some of Clark’s post-expedition activities with Indian treaties, as well as the fact that Clark—as with many Americans in his time—kept slaves? The slaves included York, an expedition member who, along with others of Clark’s slaves, was treated harshly by Clark at times after the expedition.

To date, the most publicized Lewis and Clark statue removal occurred in July 2021 at the same time that the city of Charlottesville, Va., removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Confederate General Stonewall Jackson because they were seen as symbols perpetuating racial inequality in America. The city removed from public viewing a Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue because of the positioning of Sacagawea on the statue. Some Native Americans and others said she was shown in a subservient and demeaning position. In opposing views, other observers of the statue say Sacagawea, who was greatly respected by the two captains, particularly Clark, is resting on a rock with her arm cradled around her baby—a position that could be interpreted as stemming from a mother’s tiredness rather than subservience.

Learn more about Sacagawea and the Charlottesville statue.

Jerry turns briefly to reflection when he broaches the topic of statue removals. Will the time come when Clark’s monument makes a hit list? The same, too, can be asked about statues and monuments of Jefferson and other early American leaders.

He thinks that removing statues and monuments has less benefit to the public than using them as learning tools. “Monuments like Clark’s can help educate people by shining light on how and why they did what they did, and how we evolved as a country from their times to now,” he points out.

Bud Clark offers an enthusiastic thumb’s up to Jerry’s assessment. “A lot of healing needs to be done in our country over slavery and how Native Americans were treated,” Bud emphasizes. “The healing can only be done through sincere approaches where people sit down and speak from the heart. We can’t erase what has been done by tearing down statues. We need to use them to provide information that helps people understand what happened and to promote dialogue among people so we can help with the healing and move forward as an American Family.”

Click here to learn how Clark’s post-expedition years have resulted in  debates over his role in Indian treaties.

Death, Burial and Reburial

Taken in 1889, the photo shows Minoma, the home of Meriwether Lewis Clark and his wife Abby where William Clark passed away in 1838. Minoma was built at Fifth an Olive Street in what is now downtown St. Louis. The site is now a newsstand that sells tobacco, beer, wine, candy, and lottery tickets. Photo courtesy of William Clark.

Taken in 1889, the photo shows Minoma, the home of Meriwether Lewis Clark and his wife Abby where William Clark passed away in 1838. Minoma was built at Fifth and Olive Street in what is now downtown St. Louis. The site is now occupied by a brick building that has a street-level newsstand which sells tobacco, beer, wine, candy, and lottery tickets. Photo courtesy of Bud Clark.

Clark lived to the age of 68. The cause of death is unknown. His demise may likely have been from natural infirmities related to aging, Jerry suggests.

In late 1834, at 64 years of age, Clark suffered “palsy”—tremors that may have been caused by a stroke, according to historian Landon Y. Jones in his excellent book, William Clark and the Shaping of the West. Clark recovered enough that three years later he and son William Preston Clark traveled to New York City for a Fourth of July celebration and dinner honoring the 61st anniversary of American independence, an important milestone “that Clark could recall from firsthand experience,” wrote another top historian, William E. Foley, in Wilderness Journey: The Life of William Clark.

By the time he returned to St. Louis, Clark’s health began failing rapidly. He apparently had a penchant for falling. Foley cited a letter written by a friend who saw him in those days: “William is in very bad health…I think too he is imprudent, he has a predisposition to something like vertigo & he pays no attention to his diet.”

In early 1838, Meriwether Lewis Clark—one of Clark’s sons—and his wife Abby moved into a new house, which they named Minoma. They built it at Fifth and Olive Street in what is now downtown St. Louis.

William Clark moved in with them. By late August, death was imminent. One day he recognized his friends; the next day, he did not know his own family members. He died at 9 p.m., Sept. 1, 1838, outliving his good friend Meriwether Lewis by 29 years.

The small plaque that briefly notes the passing of Clark at this site

Outside of Gateway Newsstand on a busy downtown St. Louis street corner, a beer sign stands below a small gray plaque hanging on the side of the building. The plaque briefly notes the passing of Clark at this site.

Today, the site of Clark’s death is a short stroll from the Gateway Arch, which commemorates the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and westward expansion. On the former Minoma plot is a newer brick building on a street corner. The building has a street-level shop named Gateway Newsstand, which specializes in selling tobacco, beer and wine, candy, and lottery tickets. Outside, on a wall next to a bright sidewalk sign advertising “This Bud’s For You,” hangs an inconspicuous small plaque. The plaque’s 98-word message, almost unreadable due to weathering, states that Clark died on this site and he was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The plaque goes unnoticed by throngs of people who hurry by every day.

As Jerry Garrett notes on his tours, Clark was originally interned in a family mausoleum on the farm of his nephew Col. John O’Fallon. (Today, part of the farm is known as O’Fallon Park about four miles from downtown St. Louis.) The miles-long funeral procession that took Clark’s body to his eternal resting place became the largest ever up to that time in St. Louis for the numbers of people who lined the way to pay their respects. Cannons were fired as a military salute.


As it turned out, Clark’s eternal resting place did not remain eternal—and here’s where the rural cemetery movement came into play, Jerry says.

In 1850, St. Louis dedicated a new rural cemetery named after a road to a military post, Fort Belle Fontaine, about 20 miles north of St. Louis. Bellefontaine Cemetery became the first major rural cemetery established west of the Mississippi River.

Clark’s son, Jefferson Kearney Clark, mourning his late father who was temporarily interned in the O’Fallon Mausoleum

The new cemetery absorbed land where Clark’s original burial site was located. His sons arranged for a large family burial plot within Bellefontaine. In 1860, William Clark, his second wife, Harriet Kennerly Radford Clark, and three deceased Clark children were reburied there. Clark’s first wife, Julia Hancock Clark, had passed away in 1820 in Montgomery County, Va., while visiting family in hopes of recovering from a long illness. She is buried in Virginia, alongside her father on the family plantation.

The Clark monument of today dates back to 1904, a busy year for fans of Lewis and Clark. St. Louis hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair. Meanwhile, the nation prepared to celebrate the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, a worldwide event that would be held in 1905 in Portland, Oregon. The exposition would attract 1.6 million visitors and exhibits from 21 countries.

The Oct. 2, 1904, dedication and unveiling of the Clark monument in St. Louis created news on front pages of newspapers throughout the United States and elsewhere around the world. Of course, the most extensive coverage occurred in the local city nicknamed the “Gateway to the West.”

Jefferson Kearny Clark, who left money in his will to build the monument. He passed away before it was constructed.

One of Clark’s sons, Jefferson Kearny Clark, left money in his own will to build the monument.

Newspaper accounts reported the day was ideal, sunny with a gentle fall temperature. Prayers were said; blessings, given. The Army Band played hymns. American flags wrapped the obelisk. Until the unveiling, the official flag of the upcoming Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition draped Clark’s bronze bust. The flag, brought specifically to St. Louis for the dedication ceremony, was four-colored, emblematic of the four nations—England, France, Spain, and the United States—that once vied for dominance in the new lands of America.

Five generations of the Clark family attended the dedication. So did local and national dignities, and other invited guests. World leaders sent representatives; others, messages of respect for Clark. England, for example, sent several representatives. The Chinese Imperial Vice Commissioner sent an accolade that praised Clark by stating he “had literally fulfilled the wording of the charter of the Pilgrim Fathers that their country was to extend ocean to ocean.”

Dignitaries gave glowing speeches about Clark. Family members and friends spoke. But perhaps—from our viewpoint of 118 years later—the more interesting speech was made by General Pleasant Porter, principal chief of the Creek Nation. His speech gave insights into how some Native Americans felt about Clark. “General Clark was a brave man and a man with mercy, and the Indians, who love a brave man, loved General Clark,” the St. Louis Republic quoted Porter as saying. “Everywhere he went he made friends of the Indians and they loved him.”

Considering the high public interest in the event, the number of attendees was rather small due to Bellefontaine Cemetery’s rules about crowd size. But, in the days after the ceremony, hundreds of people visited the monument.

Mary Susan Glasgow Clark, widow of Jefferson Kearny Clark, fulfilled her late husband's wish to have the Clark monument built.

Mary Susan Glasgow Clark, widow of Jefferson Kearny Clark, fulfilled her late husband’s wish to have the Clark monument built.

The St. Louis Republic applauded the monument as one of the “foremost testimonials of the world.”

Funding came from Jefferson Kearny Clark, Clark’s youngest son with Harriet Kennerly Radford Clark. Jefferson Kearny Clark passed away in 1900, but his wife, Mary Susan Glasgow Clark, had the monument completed. She personally supervised the monument’s construction.

Bud Clark says the monument’s construction cost at the time was $25,000. Today, the $25,000 would be the equivalent of about $800,000 due to inflation.

Let’s Stroll Forward a Century…

By the late 20th century, Clark’s monument had fallen into disrepair and needed major renovations. Endowment money left a century earlier by Jefferson Kearny Clark had run out. It looked bleak for the monument of one of America’s most well-known figures.

So the Clark family decided to gather donations to renovate the monument. Two Clark brothers—Bud and John, descendants of George Rogers Hancock Clark, a son of William Clark and Julia Hancock Clark—created and championed the fundraising campaign for the site where their ancestral line, all the way from Clark and his second wife through the brothers’ deceased father, is buried.

Initially, Bud and John thought the campaign might be readily supported by large corporations and historical societies that would see the public relations value for themselves.

Bud Clark in his reenactor's uniform as William Clark.

William Clark’s descendant: Bud Clark in his reenactor’s uniform as William Clark. Bud was the Clark re-enactor during the national 2003-06 Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration that retraced the historic trail and gave presentations to thousands of people.

“We assumed,” Bud says with a chuckle at his memory of being so incorrect, “that they would rise to the occasion and help fund repairs.” He pauses his thought, remembering. “But finally it became clear that if we wanted to get it (the renovation) done, it would be up to the Clark family to make it happen.”

After contemplation and brainstorming, the Clark family reached out to sculptor Cody Houston in Great Falls, Montana. Around that time, Cody had completed a bronze work, “The Explorers at the Great Falls of the Missouri,” to help fund a building campaign for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls. The piece depicted Clark, Lewis, Sacagawea, and her young son, Pompey.

Members of the Clark family asked Cody to allow them to include art of the statue on one side of a silver medallion that would be minted in a limited edition and sold to raise funds for renovating Clark’s monument. The other side of the medallion would feature art of William Clark’s bust at his monument. Bud Clark designed the medallion, with permission from Cody.

The Clark family announced the fundraising campaign in the early 1990s at an annual meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. It was an appropriate place for such an announcement. Bud was a member of the foundation and is now a former member of the board of directors.

In a glass case, William Clark on the medallion used to raise funds for renovating the Clark monument. Photo courtesy of Bud Clark.

In a glass case, William Clark on the medallion used to raise funds for renovating the Clark monument. Photo courtesy of Bud Clark.

Long story short: It took years, but the necessary renovation funds—$100,000—were raised through donations and medallion sales.

Working closely with the Bellefontaine Cemetery staff, the Clark family oversaw all of the technicalities, legalities and contractors for renovating the Clark monument. It was a long, hard and commendable effort, primarily undertaken by the two Clark brothers.

At times, the effort seemed almost insurmountable, Bud remembers. “But, you know, when we Clarks decide to get something done, by God, we’re going to get it done.”

With an appreciative verbal nod to his great-great-great grandfather, he adds, “It must be hereditary.”


The renovated Clark monument was rededicated May 21, 2004—two centuries and seven days after the Lewis and Clark Expedition departed Camp Dubois. The rededication was held during the time of the Lewis and Clark National Bicentennial Commemoration. Shoshone, Osage and Mandan tribal members attended the rededication and spoke positively about Clark’s service to their nations.

During the rededication, a new stone marker was unveiled at the site to express three messages: One message, as part of the engraved description states, is to be “a testimonial to the admiration and gratitude of William Clark’s descendants and their fellow countrymen for his devotion to family and a lifetime of service to his country.” Secondly, the stone marker also recognizes principal donors that made the monument renovation possible.

The other side of the fundraising medallion. Featured is Cody Houston's sculptor. Photo courtesy of Bud Clark.

The other side of the fundraising medallion. Featured is Cody Houston’s sculpture. Photo courtesy of Bud Clark.

The third message is to call attention to visitors that four Clark family members are buried with William Clark under the obelisk. “Previously,” Bud points out, “visitors would have no idea that four other family members were buried with William Clark.”

(Note: A photograph of the stone marker can be seen at the end of this article.)

And now…

While standing in the shadow of Clark’s monument, Jerry Garrett emphasizes there is much to be said and thought about William Clark. Explorer. Civic servant. Negotiator. Statesman. Pragmatist. A friend of Indians, yet sometimes seen as a foe. He lived in times when life was tough, racism ruled and some decisions—as seen through the lens of today—were controversial. William Clark was a man of contradictions.

…Tour over, Jerry Garrett reaches into his pocket and pulls out a shiny nickel minted in 2004. The federal government minted millions of such coins to specifically honor the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and as a reminder of the Peace Medals that Lewis and Clark presented to Native Americans.

The nickel from Jerry Garrett.

The face of President Thomas Jefferson, who initiated the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was largely responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, is shown on one side of the coin. The other side has two shaking hands below a crossed axe and peace pipe, symbolizing the Peace Medal. One hand has a military uniform cuff, representing the U.S. government; the other, a silver band adorned with beads and a stylized eagle, representing the Native American community.

Jerry gives a nickel like this to every person who tours the Clark monument with him. Some people leave their coin on the ledge at Clark’s bust. Others take the coins along to deposit elsewhere. Jerry tells the story of a woman who carried a coin to Tennessee where she left it at the Lewis monument. “She was very proud that she was able to do this,” Jerry recalls.

License plate of Jerry Garrett's car.

License plate of Jerry Garrett’s car. “LWS” = Lewis. “CLK” = Clark.

Jerry walks out of the sun and through the cool shadows of the big oak tree near Clark’s monument. He strolls over to his Nissan parked nearby. As a tribute to Lewis and Clark, his Missouri license plate on the front of his car states, “LWS CLK.”

Yes, Jerry Garrett is a walking historian of Lewis and Clark, and a gentleman whose favorite stroll is through William Clark’s monument.

Stone marker unveiled at the 2004 rededication ceremony of Clark’s monument:


Learn more: 1904 newspaper articles about Clark’s monument and good books about Lewis and Clark

What about the other guys? And Sacagawea? And Pomp? Where are they buried? Learn about the burial sites of members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through Find a Grave.

About the author of this article: Gary Kimsey is a board member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and board member of the LCTHF’s Southern Prairie Region. His interest in the Lewis and Clark Expedition dates back to 1973 when he and four other men spent six months retracing the explorers’ route by backpack, canoe and foot from Fort Clatsop to St. Louis. Click on these links to read two of the articles that Gary has written about his journey: How Lewis and Clark Almost Got Me Murdered and What’s a Special Lewis and Clark Day Like?


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