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William Clark: Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis, 1813–1838

Jay Harry Buckley, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Much has been written of William Clark's involvement in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but relatively little has been devoted to his career as Indian agent, territorial governor, and superintendent of Indian affairs. From 1807 to 1838, Clark was the most important representative of the federal government to the Indian nations in the West. He was perhaps the most seasoned and accomplished superintendent to ever serve in this position, personally signing thirty-seven or one-tenth of all treaties ratified between Indians and the United States. The initial treaties negotiated under Clark's leadership sought to establish peace and friendship, while later treaties usually involved land cessions. As principal Indian agent for nearly all western tribes, he designed Fort Osage, supervised the beginnings of Indian removal in Arkansas Territory, quelled hostilities during the War of 1812, and joined the Missouri Fur Company. Clark became Missouri's territorial governor in 1813, commanded the Prairie du Chien campaign, and conducted the Portage des Sioux Treaty Council in 1815. After Missouri's statehood, President Monroe appointed Clark superintendent of Indian affairs headquartered at St. Louis in 1822. Clark exercised jurisdiction over western tribes and eastern nations being removed west. He expressed great sympathy for those removed tribes and promoted their interests as he understood them. Nevertheless, Clark agreed with and helped implement Indian removal. His ethnocentrism caused him to preclude the notion Indians could maintain their identity and culture within the advancing American frontier. Clark promoted St. Louis's greatest commercial enterprise—the fur trade. This patriarch of the West helped St. Louis earn its reputation as the economic “Gateway to the West.” He issued trading licenses, gathered information for his monumental map of the West, and acted as a patron to artists and explorers. When the Department of Indian Affairs was created in 1834, Clark retained his influential position despite being in his sixties. For more than three decades, Clark's service as the federal government's official representative to Indian nations west of the Mississippi placed him in the key position to encourage expanding trade networks, temper white settlement, and oversee Indian affairs—important themes that affected Missouri, the West, and the entire nation.

Subject Area

Biographies|American history

Recommended Citation

Buckley, Jay Harry, "William Clark: Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis, 1813–1838" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3004608.