Joseph Whitehouse was one of nine young men from Kentucky who were part of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
He produced the only surviving record from an Army private of what was known as Corps of Discovery.
Whitehouse was born in 1775 in Fairfax County, Virginia, and moved to Kentucky with his family in 1784. He joined the Army, and while stationed at Kaskaskia in the Illinois territory, he worked on the Missouri River and had extensive contact with traders and American Indians.
In 1803, he transferred to Capt. Russell Bissell’s company, also in Kaskaskia, and volunteered for the Lewis and Clark journey that left the following year.
Capt. William Clark listed Whitehouse as a 29-year-old tailor and tanner who had an interest in Indian trade, when he joined the corps in 1804.
Originally, Clark listed Whitehouse as a corporal, but in April 1804, he was one of a group of men who were punished for misconduct while the party was still at Camp DuBois, Ill., the expedition’s 1803-1804 winter staging area. Whitehouse and other expelled members were allowed to return to the party after repenting, but he came in at a lower rank.
Whitehouse’s diary provides a vivid account of the expedition’s fretful journey to the Bitterroot Valley. He described the tough passage over the mountains leading out of what is now Idaho. (September 3: “We lay down to sleep … Wet hungry and cold”) and the rapidly approaching winter (September 4: “Our mockersons froze hard.”)
Finally, the terrain improved and their spirits rose. On Sept. 20, the expedition entered the valley floor and, Whitehouse reported, “towards evening we arrived at a large encampment of the flat head nation [Salish].” Similar to the Shoshones, these Indians were en route to the buffalo country. But they had horses and were eager to form an alliance with the Americans.
After the expedition returned, Whitehouse sold his warrant for land of 160 acres to George Drouillard for $280. In 1807, a St. Louis court ordered him arrested for debt. Then, he rejoined the army and served in the War of 1812.
Whitehouse deserted the army in 1817, and Clark in his account of the members made during the years 1825 to 1828, lists the name, Joseph Whitehouse, without comment. This could mean that Clark did not then know the whereabouts of Whitehouse or whether he was still living.