Monday, June 9, 2003

Pills might have saved explorer

Ky. stop was turning point for Lewis

By Berry Craig
For The Associated Press

PADUCAH, Ky. - If it weren't for Rush's Pills, America might be celebrating just the "Clark Expedition."

Before they began their famous trek west, Lewis and Clark came down the Ohio River. Near Paducah, Lewis came down with severe chills and fever.

"He was very sick," said Sheila Richey, site interpreter at Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis, Ill. "Apparently it was malaria."

Lewis gobbled a dozen Rush's Pills, which were a potent purgative. He recovered, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06 went down in history.

The pills were popular panacea in Lewis' day. "They were invented by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a famous physician at the time," Richey said. "They used a lot of Rush's pills on the Lewis and Clark Expedition."

President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark to find out what was in the new Louisiana Purchase, a vast territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. The duo also were to cross the Rockies to the Pacific.

Lewis, Jefferson's private secretary, started west in 1803. He picked up Clark at Louisville, where he lived with his family.

En route to St. Louis, where the expedition began and ended, Lewis and Clark recruited a small "Corps of Discovery." The explorers included "nine young men from Kentucky," according to Clark, who made 10.

The others were Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor and Pvts. William Bratton, John Colter, brothers Joseph and Reubin Field, George Gibson, John Shields, Joseph Whitehouse and Alexander Willard.

Lewis and Clark spent Nov. 11-13, 1803, at Fort Massac, a small wooden-walled frontier bastion. The site is just downriver from Paducah. Before arriving at Fort Massac, Lewis and Clark camped in western Kentucky below Smithland, where the Ohio and Cumberland rivers merge. The actual spot is not known.

At Fort Massac, Lewis and Clark signed up two volunteers, and possibly a third, Whitehouse. "He may have been recruited at Kaskaskia" in Illinois, near St. Louis, Richey said. Whitehouse served as a tailor and tanner in the Corps of Discovery. "He also was one of seven men who kept a journal," Richey said.

It was almost sundown on Nov. 13 when Lewis, Clark and the growing Corps of Discovery departed Fort Massac aboard a keelboat and a pair of large canoes called pirogues, Richey said.

Richey said the all-but-forgotten campsite is in McCracken County, of which Paducah is the seat.

The expedition shoved off at sunrise Nov. 14.

"I took a doze of Rush's pills which operated extremely well and I found myself much to my satisfaction intirely clear of fever by evening," a relieved Lewis wrote.

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