Thursday, January 18, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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William Clark finally receives his promotion

The Associated Press

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WASHINGTON - It took almost 200 years, but explorer William Clark finally has been promoted from Army lieutenant to captain, the same rank held by his equally famous partner, Meriwether Lewis.

Calling it time to right a wrong, President Clinton promoted Clark during a White House ceremony yesterday.

"Unfortunately, issues of budget and bureaucracy intervened - some things never change - and Clark never received his commission," Clinton said. "Today we honor his service."

Clinton presented a plaque to two of Clark's great-great-great-grandsons, who agreed the commission was a bit overdue but better late than never.

The Lewis and Clark odyssey was "probably one of the best examples of what makes this country what it is," said Peyton "Bud" Clark, from Detroit. "The foundation of this country was built on the kind of stuff that ... the Corps of Discovery had."

In 1803, Congress approved $2,500 for President Thomas Jefferson's corps, a small expedition ordered to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and press onward to the Pacific.

Lewis invited Clark to join him on the expedition that eventually would travel thousands of miles, encountering hundreds of new species and mapping uncharted lands.

Although Lewis offered Clark co-command of the expedition, Clark's appointment in Washington made him subordinate to Lewis. Lewis simply ignored that, and the two leaders never told the men under their command that they were anything but equals. The men referred to both as "captain."

They started from St. Louis in May 1804, following the Missouri River toward its headwaters. They spent the winter of 1804-05 encamped in North Dakota and reached the mouth of the Columbia River in fall 1805. The following spring, they headed back to St. Louis, arriving on Sept. 23, 1806.

Among other things, Lewis and Clark dispelled the myth of a "Northwest Passage" - an easy water crossing of the continent sought by Jefferson.

Last fall, Congress passed legislation to give Clark his promotion.

Clark "shall be deemed for all purposes to have held the grade of captain, rather than lieutenant, in the Regular Army, effective as of March 26, 1804, and continuing until his separation from the Army on February 27, 1807," read the bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb.

The congressman, who has a long-held interest in the expedition, thought the time had come to rectify Clark's rank as the bicentennial of the journey approached.

Along with Clark's promotion, Clinton announced the creation or expansion of eight national monuments, including Pompey's Pillar and the Upper Missouri River Breaks, important stops on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

The pillar, a 150-foot sandstone monolith where Clark carved his name in 1805, is the only archaeological evidence of Lewis and Clark's expedition. Clark named the pillar, east of Billings, Mont., after the son of their Indian interpreter, Sacagawea.

The president also awarded Sacagawea and Clark's slave, a man known as York, with the titles of honorary Army sergeant.


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