This brief section on Lewis and Clark is meant to fill the gap between colonial trappers and wilderness men and the American trapper and mountainman.  Although their ultimate goals were similar, these two careers were very different.  This first Chapter in the Mountainman way of living and engaging in some form of personal health care is meant to define the baseline for where the knowledge of health and medicine fit into the trapper or mountainman’s mindset. 

Fortunately for the trapper, medicine had evolved into a profession that paid very close attention to natural history and the natural events whenever these had any relationship with people’s health.  Some of the older and seemingly archaic theories of the colonial years subsided after the revolutionary ware, and were immediately replaced by a naturalist interpretation of health in which our health was in part determined by our body’s internal nature, and the natural elements out there impacting the steady state our body tries to maintain in order to remain healthy.  Fortunately for this period in time, Lamarckianism was the predominant belief for the time.  According to Lamarck, we can acclimate or adapt to our new environmental settings as time passes and our parents can in turn pass on these adaptations to the next child.  As time passed, and more children were born and raised by the same family, the youngest were more adapted than their older brothers and sisters.

To take advantage of the unique huamn ability to adapt to new environments and become healthier by doing so, people who were sick took to the woods, those who were afraid they could become sick took to the woods ever more.  It wasn’t unusual for a trapper, mountainman, or self-proclaimed “explorer” travelling by horseback into new territories to take advantage of this claim to good health and possibly improved longevity.  Lewis and Clark set the stage for large numbers of people to begin to practice this way of living.  Lewis and Clark brought with them their wants and needs when it came to practicing medicine in this new wilderness setting. 

A generation later, the trappers and mountain men were learning that they did better by discovering new ways to improve upon their health by increasing the ability of their bodies to adapt to these new environmental settings.  This philosophy of the trapper was a perfect display of how much Lamarckianism and Lamarck’s philosophy came to play an important role in whatever decisions people made about career choices and ways of living.   Lamarckianism stated that you could adapt to your new environment, become capable of living longer, and then pass on these newer traits to your children.   The trapper or mountainman made the best use of this philosophy without ever receiving any education about this scientific theory in the formal sense.  To the trapper, this proof expressed itsself  in an experiential sense.   A successful trapper lived a longer healthier life, and even found a wife in the Wilderness, someone who was also very healthy and better adapted to meeting the local climate-related needs. 

In this way, the trapper or mountainman’s way of life became evidence for the rest of the human population uncertain about the healthiness of this new living setting.  Our incentives for learning this particular feature of life were essential if our goal was to live a much healthier life.  This Lamarckian philosophy meant that we could prevent disease onset by making up for losses in our abilities to adapt, such as through the development of much warmer clothing for cold climate settings.  We could also use this natural philosophy argument to lay claim to the possibility of getting rid of our various diseases such as consumption by living in healthier environments, located in higher, drier natural settings.  By eliminating our other weaknesses and frailties along the way, we became healthier and lived a much longer, more prosperous life.  Most importantly, if we were lucky, we could even pass on these new traits to our children.  To some, this way of life seemed much more beneficial than remaining in an urban setting, where epidemics often prevailed year after year.  Lewis and Clark’s expedition opened the door to this new way of life.


Fortunately for Lewis and Clark, unfortunately for us researchers, not that much can be said about medicine during the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Perhaps this is good news for an expedition that would later become on of the most important explorations in American history.   Relatively speaking, fairly little was documented about ethnobotany and ethnomedicine for this expedition.  Those few items that were documented however add greatly to value of this story in any Northwest history or Pacific Northwest culture and ethnobotany story.  There are on occasion some interesting ethnobotany insights we are provided with, but these entries are only occasional and can be frustrating for those in search of deep insights into the Pacific Northwest cultural history.  

With regard to native American ethnobotany for example, we are provided some news about the edibility of Lomatium cous, one of the most definitive findings in Northwest ethnobotany history for this expedition.   Because their medical provisions were fairly detailed, and perfect for meeting the medical needs of the expedition, there is little mention of any herbal remedies they might have felt the need to identify and collect.  For Meriwether Lewis, the search for plants was more an intellectual exercise  as he made every effort possible to apply Benjamin Smith Barton’s 3 volume series on botany to his expedition.  Too bad Barton didn’t provide Lewis with his other book he began publishing on American herbal medicines.  The exploration of herbal remedies was obviously not that high on the list of activities that these explorers needed to or seemed to be engaged in throughout much of their expedition.  As stated in the purpose for these travels, their goal was to reach the west coast, and perhaps along the way gather as much documentation and evidence as possible, keeping as many notes as possible regarding anything and everything that was seen or experienced.

The fact that there are not that many medical stories to tell about the expedition doesn’t rob us completely of trying to learn more about this part of the exploration experience.  One of the most important reasons this expedition adds little insight to the topics is that the expedition was governmentally directed, and the medical needs and medicines well provided for.  A number of the materials and recipes provided are a direct result of the lessons learned during the Revolutionary War.  The various official recipes such as the unguents, plasters, essences and tinctures are a result of what was learned about shelf life and the stability of herbal medicines.  For this reason the emphasis on medicines shifted heavily towards favoring fairly concentrated and potent remedies like the various salts and mineral remedies provided in the medical kit.  Two ounces of laudanum, 6 ounces of tincture, 12 ounces of essence, lasted much longer and had a much stronger effect than 16, 32 or 64 ounces of a dried bulky herbs, the shelflife for which pretty much depended on the weather.  Another major emphasis was placed on premanufactured items like the plaster and unguent materials.  Compresses and bandaging materials ready for immediate use in case of an injury sustained during a fall, during an attack by hostile Indians, or during a battle with the great grizzly bear.  

One particular recipe, Benjamin Rush’s recipe Bilious Fevers provides us with some interesting insights.  In terms of a possible need for producing a recipe for bilious fever, Rush thought he was doing right.  This recipe was meant to assist mostly in the treatment of bilious or yellow fever, a kind of fever spread by mosquitoes, like malaria, which unknown to Rush and the explorers would rarely if ever become a problem during the expedition.   This is because yellow fever is imported for the most part by ship and therefore way of the port cities.  Its first cases are people residing close to the shipping docks and next to sailors’ and captains’ quarters.  Valentine Seaman included some of this reasoning in his analysis of yellow fever patterns in the years and months before the expedition.  But due to some uncertainties about this ongoing debate, Rush probably had his own theory as to how the yellow fever might be generated out west, and so provided Lewis and Clark with a very long supply of a medicine that he probably claimed could be used for everything from yellow fever to the spotted fever of the New Jersey area (Dengue), or the Mountain Fever some had possibly mentioned out there in the Far West (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever). 

As for the plants and their values in this exploration history, there are two plants that have east coast-west coast associations.  The Ginger noted in the medical list, if it were Wild Ginger, would have been available to the members once they finally reached the Northwest Coast Range.  Another very generic plant use that in the end did play an important role in the expedition was the pine tree, for the use of the pine resin.  This use of the pine resin as a remedy by members of the team was straight out of the textbooks for the time–that is text books for east coast plants. But no matter, this use of the resin was no doubt not at all that risky to engage in should such a need arise.  In this case, a pine in the Far West is more than likely going to be just as good as a pine from the East. 

Another value of this materia medica provides us with yet a little more insight into another piece of American medical history.   The Lewis and Clark Expedition immediately precedes the era of trapping as we have come to learn about it as a unique United States vocation.  United States trapping industry was very different from the colonial trapping experience.  Each trapper was involved as an individual rather than as just another of many providing their services for the King, trying to maintain a distinct relationship from the Indian as agents and representatives of the Colonial government.  (Excluding of course those unique individuals who lived in the wilderness and fended for themselves, for whom we have little information to learn about them unfortunately except for that penned for or by Hudson’s Bay Company.)   The Lewis and Clark findings and teachings provide us with an understanding of the knowledge base trappers were working with as they decided to change their style of living, thinking and practicing medicine, in such a way that they became more adapted in their skills at work, surviving in the wilderness as mountainmen.



Eldon G. Chuinard.  Only One Man Died.  The Medical Aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale, Calif., 1980.  p. 153: text and fn 11.



      “Bill of Gillaspay and Strong for Medicine”  [1804]

  • 15 lb     Pulv. Cort. Peru       $30.00
  • 1/2 lb      ”   Jalap              .67
  • 1/2 lb.     ”   Rhei (Rhubarb)          1.00
  • 4 oz. ”   Ipecacuan               1.25
  • 2 lb. ”   Crem. Tart.        .67
  • 2 oz.     Gum  Camphor              .40
  • 1 lb.      ”   Asafoetic           1.00
  • 1/2 lb.     ”   Opii Turk. opt          2.50
  • 1/4 lb.     ”   Tragacanth         .37
  • 6 lb.       Sal  Glauber, .10       .60
  • 2 lb. ”   Nitri    .33 1/2   .67
  • 2 lb. Copperas                      .10
  • 6 oz.       Sacchar. Saturn. opt.   .37
  • 4 oz.       Calomel                       .75
  • 1 oz. Tartar emetic                 .10
  • 4 oz. Vitriol Alb.                  .12
  • 1/2 lb.     Colombo Rad.                 1.00
  • 1/4 lb.     Elix. Vitriol                 .25
  • 1/4 lb.     Ess. Meth. pip.         .50
  • 1/4 lb.     Bals. Copaiboe                .37
  • 1/4 lb.    ”       Traumat.               .50
  • 2 oz. Magnesia                      .20
  • 1/4 lb.   Indian Ink               1.50
  • 2 oz.       Gum Elastic             .37
  • 2 oz. Nutmegs                       .75
  • 2 oz. Cloves                        .31
  • 4 oz. Cinnamon                      .20

                               (SUM)  $46.52

  • 4 oz.       Laudanum                      .50
  • 2 lb.       Ung. Basilic Flav., .50  1.00
  • 1 lb. ”   e lap Cailmin.,.50   .50
  • 1 lb. ”   Epispastric       1.00
  • 1 lb. ”   Mercuriale         1.25
  • 1.          Emplast. Diach. S.            .50
  • 1.          Set Pocket Insts. small  9.50
  • 1.          ”  Teeth   ”       ”    2.25
  • 1.          Clyster Syringe         2.75
  • 4.          Penis do.               1.00
  • 3.          Best Lancets      .80         2.40
  • 1.          Tourniquet              3.50
  • 2 oz. Patent Lint             .25
  • 50 doz.   Bilious Pills to Order of Dr. Rush .10         5.00
  • 6           Tin Canisters     .25         1.50
  • 3           8 oz. Gd. Stopd. bottles 1.20
  • 5           4 oz. Tinctures  do           1.85
  • 6           4 oz. Salt Mo.                2.22
  • 1           Walnut Chest                  4.50
  • 1           Pine   do.              1.20

                               (SUM)  $90.69

Letter. From Dr. John McLoughlin, Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Vancouver, Nov. 18, 1830, to Capt. William Ryan:

  • 1/2 lbs.    Gum Camphor
  • 1/2 lbs.    Sulphar Quinine
  • 12 lbs      Best Peruvian Bark
  • 1 lbs.      acetate Lead
  • 1 lbs.      Crude Opium
  • 20 lbs.     Epsom salts
  • 4 lbs.      Rhubarb Powder

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]



  • Nearly all of these medicines are imports.  
  • The apothecary remedies were probably both local and foreign 
    • locally made for most of the official recipes bearing latin names, such as emplastrums, balsams, tinctures, elixirs, vitriols, and perhaps even essences
    • some French companies perfected the essences industry;
    • German companies perfected some tincture and other apothecary processes, and so provided some of these apothecary products premanufactured as imported goods (although this is more likely not a big industry until around 1850.)
    • Certain vitriols may have also been imported; these are typically very strong common acids.
  • The following were very likely east coast products:
    • Slippery Elm bark, native grown, wildcrafted,
    • Cherry, farm grown, imported species
    • Rhubarb radix (Turkish Rhubarb), farm grown, imported species
    • Quinine extracted from cinchona, imported species
    • Laudanum extracted from Turkish Opium latex bricks, or from locally grown species (the local growth of opium was still being experimented with at this time; see my Shadrach Ricketson note on this part of the local opium history, late 1780s, when he tried growing and testing them for efficacy.)
    • Bear’s Oil
    • Bees Wax
    • Rush’s Bilious Fever Pills
  • The newly discovered native plants of the Great Plains and further west are
    • Lomatium cous or Cous
    • Asarum caudatum (resembles A. canadense back east), commonly called Wild Ginger
    • “Wild Onion” either Allium spp. or a Camas or Camas look-alike.
    • Edible root crops: Lupin for example.
  • Other Plant Notes:
    • A variety of Pinus and even Picea species may have served as resin sources when they were in dire need.  At least one such attempt to use pine resin as a medicine is documented.  The same may be true for Western Hemlock trees (Tsuga sp.), the resins of which would be of questionable value.  (These are not covered in the listing below.)
    • The Cherry tree is non-native, and so could not be replaced by a Prunus in the wild.
    • Wild cucumbers later served as Colocynth substitutes (see Oregon Trail materia medica history for this), but are not noted by Lewis and Clark as such; the Colocynth they brought was imported.
    • The use of Dogwood (Cornus florida)  as a substitute for Peruvian Bark was known and promoted in the Revolutionary War.  Although bitter, Cornus lacked the quinine that made Peruvian bark work for the malaria cases.  Rush and others knew this and were more familiar now with the reasons and evidence out there that Cinchona was better; cinchona was by now being purified to produce a quinine-rich product.   Since Cornus florida did not spread into the Far West back then, other Cornus species may have served as cinchona substitutes, if such a need arose, but there is no evidence for this.
  • Bear Oil of course has local sources.
  • Mineral Remedy Notes:
    • Mineral remedies are very effective in small amounts and less bulky; they are preferred.
    • Sal Glauber had substitutes in the prairie next to mineral springs, but the team already had a sizeable supply of this essential medicine.
    • With the exception of the thermal hotsprings settings, the remaining mineral remedies lacked natural substitutes for the most part.  If such substitutes for the mineral drugs did exist (i.e. Magnesia alba), their purification in the field would have been an issue. 
    • Sal glauber is the most likely mineral remedy for which a natural replacement would be found
    • The identification of “Sal Mo.” may be Sal ammoniac, a very common medicinal salt that is very frequently used; this common use makes one wonder why it was not on the list.  This is “smelling salts” though and may be too evaporative.   Other possibilities for Sal appear in Robley Dunglison’s Dictionary of Medical Science, ca. 1877.  This is the best source for identifying medicines from chemical and apothecary names.
    • It is unlikely natural sources for Epsom Salts and Tartar could be found and utilized, but chemical equivalents did exist in the Far West.


Acetate Lead–see Lead Acetate





1 lb.      ”   Asafoetic           1.00

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Balsam Copaiba

1/4 lb.     Bals. Copaiboe                .37

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Cooley’s Cyclopædia of practical receipts…, Volume 2, 1892.  p. 1694.   By Arnold James Cooley

Balsam Traumaticum

1/4 lb.    ”       Traumat.               .50

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



2 lb.       Ung. Basilic Flav., .50  1.00

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Bear’s Oil

Bear’s Oil, Beeswax, Gunpowder unguent.

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Bear’s Oil, Beeswax, Gunpowder unguent.

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



Bilious Pills

50 doz.   Bilious Pills to Order

            of Dr. Rush .10         5.00

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



4 oz.       Calomel                       .75

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



2 oz.     Gum  Camphor              .40

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

1/2 lbs.    Gum Camphor

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]


Cherry (Choke or Wild Cherry) (Prunus virginiana)


[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



4 oz. Cinnamon                      .20

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



2 oz. Cloves                        .31

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



1/2 lb.     Colombo Rad.                 1.00

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


2 lb. Copperas                      .10

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Cortex Peruviana [Peruvian Bark]

15 lb     Pulv. Cort. Peru       $30.00

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

12 lbs      Best Peruvian Bark

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]

See Quinine.



[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Cream of Tartar

2 lb. ”   Crem. Tart.        .67

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Diachylon [Plaster] (Emplastrum Diachylon S.)

1.          Emplast. Diach. S.            .50

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Elixir Vitriol (Sulphuric Acid Aromaticum, according to Dunglison, p. 346)

1/4 lb.     Elix. Vitriol                 .25

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Epsom Salts

20 lbs.     Epsom salts

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]



Essence of Peppermint

1/4 lb.     Ess. Meth. pip.         .50

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


2 oz. Patent Lint             .25

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Ginger–see Wild Ginger

Gum Asafoetida–see Asafoetida

Gum Camphor–see Camphor

Gum Elastic

2 oz.       Gum Elastic             .37

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Bear’s Oil, Beeswax, Gunpowder unguent.

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

India Ink

1/4 lb.   Indian Ink               1.50

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Instruments, Surgical and Medical

  • 1.          Set Pocket Insts. small  9.50
  • 1.          ”  Teeth   ”       ”    2.25
  • 1.          Clyster Syringe         2.75
  • 4.          Penis do.               1.00
  • 3.          Best Lancets      .80         2.40
  • 1.          Tourniquet              3.50
  • 6           Tin Canisters     .25         1.50
  • 3           8 oz. Gd. Stopd. bottles 1.20
  • 5           4 oz. Tinctures  do           1.85
  • 1           Walnut Chest                  4.50
  • 1           Pine   do.              1.20

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


4 oz. ”   Ipecacuan               1.25

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



1/2 lb      ”   Jalap              .67

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


(the compound to the right is the mercurial blue mass)


4 oz.       Laudanum                      .50

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Lead Acetate/Plumbum Acetum

1 lbs.      acetate Lead

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]

Magnesia [alba]

2 oz. Magnesia                      .20

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



2 oz. Nutmegs                       .75

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Onions/Wild Onions  (Allium spp. or Cammasia or look-alike)

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Opium, Turkish

1/2 lb.     ”   Opii Turk. opt          2.50

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

1 lbs.      Crude Opium

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]


1/2 lbs.    Sulphar Quinine

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]



1/2 lb.     ”   Rhei (Rhubarb)          1.00

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

4 lbs.      Rhubarb Powder

[McLoughlin, Ft. Vancouver, 1830]

Rush’s/Benjamin Rush’s Bilious Pills–see Bilious Pills

Saccharum Saturnum

6 oz.       Sacchar. Saturn. opt.   .37

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Sal Glauber

6 lb.       Sal  Glauber, .10       .60

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Sal Nitre

2 lb. ”   Nitri    .33 1/2   .67

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Salt Mo.

6           4 oz. Salt Mo.                2.22

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva)

      (for Poultices)

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Sulphur Quinine–see Quinine

Tartar Emetic

1 oz. Tartar emetic                 .10

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]



1/4 lb.     ”   Tragacanth         .37

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Ung. Basilic Flav.–see Basilicon

Unguentum e lapis Calamine

1 lb. ”   e lap Cailmin.,.50   .50

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Unguentum epispastricum

1 lb. ”   Epispastric       1.00

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Unguentum Mercuriale

1 lb. ”   Mercuriale         1.25

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]

Vitriol album

4 oz. Vitriol Alb.                  .12

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]


Wild Ginger (Western-Asarum caudatum (upper photos), and Eastern-Asarum canadense (lower photos))

[Lewis & Clark, 1804]