Courts-Martial on the Lewis and Clark Expedition

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A cat-of-nine-tails made from rope, commonly used for flogging. 

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Because the Corps of Discovery was a mission of the U.S. Army, strict military protocol was expected to be followed. But between falling asleep while on watch, stealing whiskey, and deserting, the young men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition didn’t always follow the rules.

There were seven official courts-martial throughout the expedition, all taking place within a short 10-month period:

Colter, Frazer, Shields

In March 1804, John Colter, Robert Frazer, and John Shields were called before the court. No details were recorded and no record was entered in the Orderly Book. It seems the three begged for forgiveness and promised to do better in the future.

Werner, Hall, Collins

William Werner, Hugh Hall, and John Collins were tried for being absent without leave while in St. Charles, in May 1804. While they were sentenced to 25 lashes each, the punishment was suspended. Collins, however, received 50 lashes at sunset, for additional charges.

Collins, Hall

Collins and Hall were tried for stealing whiskey in June 1804 – Collins got drunk and was sentenced to 100 lashes; Hall just stole a bit of whiskey (at the encouragement of Collins), so just received 50 lashes.


Alexander Willard received 25 lashes for four straight days as punishment for being asleep while on guard duty in July 1804.


In August 1804, Moses Reed was court-martialed for deserting and had to run the gauntlet four times, then was discharged and sent home in April 1805.


John Newman for charged with subordination in October 1804 for which he received 75 lashes. He also was discharged and sent home in the spring of 1805.


Thomas Howard was court-martialed for climbing over the Fort Mandan fence in February 1805. He was sentenced to 50 lashes, but mercy was granted and the penalty suspended.

No further incidents are mentioned for the duration of the Expedition. It seems the lessons of military rule were quickly learned.

Last updated: January 19, 2022