Photo:  Missouri Department of Conservation, Jim Rathert

On December 12, 1803, Captain Clark and the men settled to make camp along the mouth of the Wood River, north of today’s Hartford, Illinois. He sent out hunters in different directions to examine the area and to collect game for the evening’s meal. They reported that the “Countrey was butifull and had great appearance of Gaim.” The game they brought back included turkeys and opossums.

This is the only mention of opossums throughout any of the journals.

Opossums, or more normally called possums in North America, were common mammals to the men of the Corps.

But today, possums are one of the most misunderstood animals in the continent. They’re often believed to be stupid, dirty creatures, but the truth is just the opposite – possums are smarter, cleaner, and more beneficial to humans than many of their wild neighbors.

While they’re not the cutest creatures, they should be a welcome addition to your backyards. Unlike other mammals that carry ticks, and potentially spread Lyme Disease, possums gobble up more than 90 percent of the ticks they encounter. Since they constantly self-groom with their tongues and paws, they’re one of the cleanest critters you’ll come across. And while they’re not totally immune to rabies, they rarely carry it. As a marsupial, possums have a lower body temperature than most other mammals, so their bodies don’t provide a suitable environment for the virus.

So when you come across an opossum, don’t fear – just give it a little room to wander away so it can continue being a good, helpful neighbor.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Last updated: May 19, 2020