I remember the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06
from history class, but never heard of William Bratton, not until
last week anyway.
Meriwether Lewis and his friend William Clark were dispatched
by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase
Territory and try to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean,
a 6,000 mile journey that took more than two years to complete.
Listening to Dan Hamingson from Sycamore, who owns Blackhawk
Moving & Storage, tell the story of the expedition at a recent
DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society meeting made it
more interesting with a local twist.
Dan Hamingson points out his ancestors name
on their family tree chart to he his wife Karen. (Schrader photo
Dan found out his great-great-great-grandfather, William E. Bratton,
was a member of the Corps of Discovery and has pursued
the history of that trek during the years since. From historical
records, it is known that Bratton, then 25,was recruited with
eight other young men in Kentucky for the journey.
He was well qualified as he had skills as a hunter, blacksmith
and gunsmith. For his part in this arduous and dangerous foray
into unknown territory, he was given $178.11 and 320 acres of
Some trivia about him: He had lived in New Madrid, Missouri,
when the great earthquake of 1811 occurred; he had served in
the War of 1812 and was captured and held as a prisoner of war
by the British for a short time; at the ripe old age of 41 he
married Polly Maxwell in Greenville, Ohio, and they had two daughters
and eight sons. He remained a blacksmith but also was elected
as the first justice of the Peace in Wayne Township in Indiana.
After researching historical journals and using National
Geographic maps, Dan and his wife, Karen, decided to trace their
ancestors journey as closely as possible.
In 2006, they rented a 24-foot RV, leaving from Camp River
DuBois in Illinois the same day the original party of explorers
left in 1804, stopping at every interpretive center, historical
marker and museum along the Missouri River, even at some of the
As an aside, it was not difficult to identify the stops
made by the explorers since Lewis had brought along mercury,
which was used as a cure for many ailments, so when the men excreted
the mercury, it left evidence for researchers to track them 200
Dan said it was a fascinating trip of a lifetime. They
encountered hikers following the original trail, saw spectacular
lightning and thunderstorms, talked to local characters in the
small towns along the way and drank from the spring at the source
of the Missouri River near the Idaho-Montana border.
The farthest west they traveled was the Snake River, making
the return trip along the Expeditions Yellowstone River
route. They even found a creek named after Bratton in Sweetgrass
County, Montana. The Hamingsons RV trip was completed in
Very few of us can follow in the footsteps of an early
ancestor and experience the thrill at seeing some of the same
scenery that person did more than 200 years ago. I hope Dan writes
a book about all this someday.