Narratives at the Museum

Thomas Jefferson

I have sometimes asked myself whether my country is the better for my having lived at all. I do not know that it is. Of the public transactions in which I have borne a part, I have kept no narrative with a view of history. A life of constant action leaves no time for recording.

Born in 1743, I was the son of a prominent Virginia land owner. I attended William and Mary College and studied the law under George Wythe. I served as governor of Virginia, U.S. envoy to France, and Secretary of State under President Washington. As President, I encouraged and authorized the purchase of Louisiana from France.

All my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello. Let them say, "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia."

William Clark

I was born in Virginia in 1770, and moved with my family to the rolling hills of Kentucky in 1784. I grew to be six feet tall, with red hair and a love of the outdoors. I served in the army on the Ohio frontier, but resigned my commission in 1796. An army friend, Meriwether Lewis, invited me to serve as co-leader of a government-sponsored exploration to the Pacific Ocean in 1803. During the trip, I kept a daily journal, saw to the discipline of the men, and produced maps of the areas we saw. The expedition returned to St. Louis in 1806 after nearly two and a half years in the wilderness.

After the expedition, St. Louis became my home, where I was involved in the fur trade and real estate. I served as superintendent of Indian affairs as well as three terms as governor of the Missouri Territory. In 1808 I married Julia Hancock, and we had five children. I have had a full and vigorous life, exploring the wonders of our country.

Buffalo Soldier

During the Civil War, over 186,000 men of color volunteered to fight, not only to save the Union, but also for their rights as human beings. In 1866, Congress established two cavalry and two infantry regiments made up entirely of colored soldiers commanded by white officers. I volunteered for service with one of these units, and was sent into the American West. We eventually acquired the nickname "Buffalo Soldiers" from the American Indians, who thought our hair looked like that of the buffalo.

The Army sent us to some of the worst posts in America. They often gave us broken-down horses and rotten food. But despite these hardships, we had a record second to none. More than 12,000 colored men served five-year enlistments. We garrisoned forts, protected settlers, guarded mail routes and built roads. We fought more than 125 engagements with American Indians, and eighteen of us were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

1846 Overlander

In 1839, Narcissa Whitman became the first non-Indian woman to travel into the American West. During the next three decades, 300,000 people hastened across the Great Plains and over the mountains after the Whitmans. They included women homesteaders like myself, Mormon women eager to escape religious persecution, and the occasional woman headed for the goldfields of California. Most were mothers, some even mothers-to-be who gave birth along the trail. We were tough - we had to be! We somehow suffered heat, cold, dust, lack of food and water, disease and death as we walked over 2,000 miles beside covered wagons.

Many of us kept diaries. More often than the men, we wrote about our children and daily events, preserving for history the part families played in the overland experience. As I think back, those six months along the trail were the worst experience of my life. But they were also the most exciting. Those scenes will stay in my mind for the rest of my life.







Last updated: April 10, 2015

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