This biography details the childhood adventures of George Rogers Clark, the older brother of William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. George was a courageous explorer and Revolutionary War hero whose bravery and leadership helped win the Battle of Vincennes, saving what would become Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin from British occupation. George’s boyhood curiosity and zest for exploration are described, including his adventures while camping, riding horses, and playing with his childhood friend Thomas Jefferson. Young explorers follow George into the woods, where he rescues a baby raccoon, outwits a hapless thief, saves a money bag, and hunts his first deer. Special features include a summary of Clark's adult accomplishments, fun facts detailing little-known tidbits of information about Clark, and a timeline.
About the Author
Katharine E. Wilkie was the author of five titles in the original Childhood of Famous Americans series from which the Young Patriots were derived. Her books include Mary Todd Lincoln, Simon Kenton, Will Clark, and Zack Taylor. Cathy Morrison is the illustrator of Ignacio's Chair and the Young Patriots series. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and Picturebookartists.org. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
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George Rogers Clark
Boy of the Northwest Frontier
By Katharine E. Wilkie, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison
Patria Press, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Estate of Katharine E. Wilkie
All rights reserved.
Goodbye to the Mountains
On a cold Virginia morning in 1757, five-year-old George Rogers Clark went over to the first of the two wagons in front of his family's house. His father was adjusting the harness on the lead horse.
"Why do we have to leave Albemarle County?" George asked again. "I'm not afraid of Indians."
John Clark looked at his second son. "I've told you," he said. "It will be safer back in Caroline County. That's just good sense."
"But there won't be mountains, you said."
"And there won't be Indian attacks, either," his father interrupted.
George ignored this. "Tom Jefferson won't be there."
"I forgot!" his father exclaimed suddenly. "I forgot to ride over with the receipt for the money Mrs. Jefferson paid me for that horse last week."
"I could take it!" George said eagerly.
Jonathan, George's older brother, poked his head out of the front of the wagon. "Do you want me to take it for you, Father?" Jonathan called.
George had already mounted his black pony, Soldier.
"Thanks, Jonathan," their father said. "But George is ready, so he may as well go." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
"Now I'll get to see Tom again!" George said. Eagerly he turned the pony toward the gate.
"Wait," his father called. "Didn't you forget something?"
George looked back. His father stood with the receipt still held in his outstretched hand. George laughed and rode back to get it.
Mr. Clark hid a smile as his son took the receipt. "You might not have to ride all the way to Shadwell," he said. "I heard Tom say he might go to the mill today. Stop by to see whether he's there. And hurry."
"I will." George started away.
John Clark watched his son ride down the road. George sat his pony well.
Jonathan yelled after George, "Be careful!"
George turned in the saddle and waved. Sometimes he thought his older brother worried about him as much as his father did.
Soldier broke into a faster gait. His father had given George the pony for his fourth birthday, on November 19, 1756. In a year George had learned to ride as well as many adults.
The wind whipped at the young rider's face. It was a brisk December wind, but George liked the way it stung his cheeks.
When he had gone about a mile he came to the mill. The large paddle wheel turned steadily in the stream. A horse stood tied to a rail in front. George was disappointed when he saw that the horse was Tom Jefferson's. Now he had no reason to ride all the way to Shadwell.
"Well, George Rogers!" Tom Jefferson, a tall boy in his early teens, came out the door.
George swung to the ground. "I have something for your mother." He handed the receipt to Tom. "It's for the horse."
Tom took it and smiled.
"Father almost forgot," George said.
"Mother always says your father's word is as good as a receipt," Tom replied.
Tom went to the hitching rail where his horse was tied. "I'll ride back with you," he said. "I want to tell your folks goodbye."
George quickly climbed up on Soldier. "Race!" he cried. And he was off down the road. He bent low and let the pony run. The pony's hoofs pounded on the frozen earth.
When he could hear Tom's horse coming up even with him, George let Soldier slow down. Tom always gave George a head start when they raced. George usually went full speed until Tom passed him. But he didn't want to hurry now. The family would be ready to leave by the time he got back.
Tom rode up beside him.
"I wish you were coming with us, Tom," George said.
Tom smoothed his horse's mane. "I'll miss riding over from Shadwell every week."
"Can you come to take me fishing sometime?" George asked. "After we move, there won't be anyone to teach me."
"You couldn't find a better woodsman than your father," Tom said. "He can tell you more about fishing and tracking and trail blazing than I ever could."
"Yes," George agreed. "But he's too busy to go out with me very much. And anyway, I learn more when you explain things."
"Well, maybe you can come back here for a visit," Tom said. (Image 1.1)
"How will you know when I'm coming?"
"Why, I'll just watch for that red hair of yours," Tom chuckled. "I'll be able to see you five miles off."
George laughed. Tom Jefferson's hair was as red as George's. The two boys often joked together about the color of their hair.
Soon the boys turned into the trampled path where the Clark wagons and livestock stood.
Mr. and Mrs. Clark came out of the house. George's younger sister, Ann, marched after them.
"That was a fast trip," Mr. Clark said. "How are you, Tom?"
"Well, I'd feel better if all of you weren't leaving," Tom answered. He dismounted and took baby John in his arms while Mr. Clark helped Mrs. Clark onto the high wagon seat. Mr. Clark climbed up on the seat beside his wife. Then Tom handed up the baby.
George went around to help three-year-old Ann get into the back of the wagon. Tom took his horse's reins. "We're going to miss you," he said. He reached up and shook hands with Mr. Clark.
"Tell your mother we send our best regards. We hope to see her soon," Mrs. Clark said.
"And tell her we wish the Jeffersons would move back to the Tidewater with us," added Mr. Clark.
Mrs. Clark leaned across her husband and took Tom's hand. "Take care of your mother and the girls. And remember, the door will always be open for you at our house."
"I'll come if I can," Tom answered. "But it's a two-day trip, and I'm pretty busy these days. As Mother says, I'm the man of the family now." Tom's father had died a few months before.
The horses tugged at the reins till the wagons started rolling. After one more goodbye, Tom headed back to the Jefferson plantation.
Mr. Clark cracked his whip over the horses' heads. "Good-by, mountains," he sang out. "We're on our way. Lead on, George!"
For days George had been looking forward to leading the procession. Soldier pranced and danced. George sat up straight in the saddle. The wagons began to roll.
Jonathan rode in the second wagon with York, one of the family's slaves. York let him drive. Ann snuggled under a bearskin rug in the first wagon.
George turned in his saddle and looked back to make sure everything was right. Jonathan waved and yelled, "Lead the way, George!"
"We should be halfway there by nightfall," his father called out.
The morning passed slowly for most of the family. There seemed to be no end to the pines and oaks on either side of the rough road. Only now and then did they see a settler's cabin. (Image 1.2)
But George liked the woods. The journey went too quickly for him. Sometimes he rode ahead like an advance scout. Then he would come back and tell them that all was clear ahead.
At midday the family stopped for a meal. York built a fire of brush and dry limbs. George helped York gather the wood. As soon as they had eaten, they were on their way again.
George looked around at the trees. Then he looked at the miles of country stretching out ahead. He felt proud to be leading his family through the woods to their new home.
That night they camped by the trail. It was the best part of the trip for George. He had never camped out overnight before. The flickering campfire made exciting shadows in the trees.
After supper everyone went to bed in the wagons. They went to sleep early, because they wanted to start out again as soon as the sun rose. They had another long journey ahead of them tomorrow.
George was as eager the next morning as he had been on the first day. Though the weather had turned colder, it didn't bother him.
But as evening came on, even George felt the cold. He was hungry, too. Baby John began to cry. George heard Mother try to comfort him. Ann gave an unhappy sniffle now and then. Even Jonathan complained a little.
The baby's cries became so loud that Mr. Clark stopped the wagons. George halted Soldier and walked back to the front wagon. He reached up and put something in his mother's hand.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Some barley sugar," George said. "I was saving it for myself, but John likes it, too."
"That's nice of you," his mother said. "Thank you, George."
George looked ahead, trying to see through the darkness.
"Look, Father!" he shouted suddenly. "What's that?" He pointed to a spot of light that shone faintly on a distant hill.
"Where?" his father asked. It was too dark for him to see George's pointing finger.
"Over there," George cried. "See?"
"Why, I think that's our new home!" his father said. "I hope Dilsey and Harry have everything ready for us."
Dilsey and her husband were slaves who had worked for the Clark family for a long time. They had gone ahead two days before to get the house ready.
George forgot his cold feet and hands. "I'll ride ahead and tell them we're coming!" he shouted. He nudged Soldier's flanks with his heels. The pony broke into a canter.
The moon peeked through the clouds, and George could see the trail plainly. In a short while he came to a lane that branched off the main road. Soldier was winded now and trotted slowly up the hill.
As soon as he reached the big house, George slid from the pony's back. He ran to the door, threw it open, and rushed in.
It was a real plantation house. The big room had a high-beamed ceiling. There was a cheery fire blazing on the hearth. George could tell he was going to like his new home.
Suddenly he smelled hot food.
"Dilsey!" he yelled. His face felt funny when he moved his mouth. The cold had made his face stiff, and now the heat made it tingle.
Dilsey came out from the kitchen. "Mercy on us! Close that door, Mister George, before we all freeze to death," she said.
She pulled him over to the hearth and began to unbutton his coat. He didn't like being fussed over, and he twisted away. "I'm hungry!" he said. "We're all hungry. The others will be here right away!"
Dilsey chuckled. "We're ready for you."
George said, "If you'd looked, you'd have known a long time ago that we were coming."
"Now, how would I have known that?"
"Why, you can see my red hair five miles off!" he laughed.
An hour later all the Clarks were sitting around the fireplace in their new home. Mr. Clark had just thrown another log on the flames. Dilsey had served them a good supper. The baby was asleep in his cradle. The warmth of the room felt good after the long, cold trip.
"Back in the Virginia Tidewater at last," George's mother said, sounding pleased. "Now I will see my parents and my brothers and sisters more often."
"And George will meet the uncle he's named after," his father added.
"I'd like that," said George.
"We'll go for a visit soon," his father said. "Uncle George and Aunt Frances have two boys, you know — Joseph and John. Maybe they'll go camping with you, George."
George didn't answer. He wasn't sure that camping with his cousins would be like camping with Tom Jefferson. He wasn't sure that anything here would be like the foothills in Albemarle County.
His father noticed his solemn face. "Never mind, son. Caroline County is a fine place to hunt and fish, too. There are miles and miles of forest around here."
George's face brightened. "Good," he said.
He watched the dancing flames in the fireplace. He grew sleepy. He thought about all these forests he had never seen. There would be lots of things to explore. He yawned and closed his eyes.CHAPTER 2
The Best Medicine
George didn't know what was wrong with Ann, but he had heard his mother say something about "fever." For the last week Ann had rested on the couch by the fireplace. But for a week before that she had been in bed. The family had been at their new home for over a year, and this was the first time that any of them had been seriously ill.
This spring morning George and Jonathan were just finishing one of Dilsey's good breakfasts. The boys drank the last of their milk and went into the sitting room. Their mother was reading to Ann and little John. Their father had already gone out for an early-morning ride over the plantation.
George looked at Ann lying on the couch. He felt strange when he saw how pale and quiet she was. She used to run and laugh all the time.
Their mother was different since Ann had become sick. She was quiet and sighed a lot. George wished Ann would get well.
"Where are you two going?" their mother asked.
"We're going to look for raccoons!" George said.
"You weren't supposed to tell," Jonathan said. He poked his younger brother.
Their mother frowned. George was afraid she might say they couldn't go. Since Ann had fallen sick their mother seemed to worry more about them.
Suddenly Ann began to whimper.
Their mother got up and went over to the couch. "What's wrong, dear?" she asked. She smoothed Ann's hair.
Ann didn't answer. She buried her face in the quilt and went on whimpering.
Their mother picked up Ann's corncob doll. "Don't you want to play with Julia?" she asked. Julia was Ann's favorite doll.
"No," Ann cried. "Julia's sick."
"Well, we'd better nurse her and get her well."
"She's too sick," Ann replied.
All this carrying on made George restless. "Let's go," he said to Jonathan.
As they went out the door, Mother said, "Do your chores before you go. And be back in time for lunch."
George and Jonathan cut the firewood and carried it to the kitchen. Then they headed across the south meadow for the woods.
The woods were just turning green. Most of the trees had large buds that would soon become leaves. The spring rains had made the ground soft with mud and matted dead leaves.
George was bursting with excitement. It was hard for Jonathan to keep up with him. Jonathan liked the woods, but not as much as George did. Jonathan followed and occasionally pointed out an easier path.
"Nat Strong shouldn't have shot a mother raccoon," Jonathan said. Nat Strong was the oldest boy of the neighboring family who lived about a mile east of the Clarks.
"That's what I told him, when I saw him shoot her yesterday," George answered. "I told him there would be babies in the tree."
"I hope we can still get the babies," Jonathan said. "They make good pets."
"There's the raccoon tree!" George pointed at an enormous oak tree. "Let's climb it."
"What!" exclaimed Jonathan. "How are you going to climb a tree that big? We need a rope or something."
"I didn't think of that," George said.
They went over to the tree and walked around it. The first limbs were too high to reach, even if one of them stood on the other's shoulders.
"Look!" George cried. He pointed at a hollow in the tree about twenty feet from the ground. "That's where the nest is."
"That's way up!" Jonathan said.
George ran and stretched his arms around the tree trunk. They didn't reach halfway. He put the soles of his shoes against the rough bark and tried to push himself up. But he lost his grip and fell back in the mud.
Jonathan came over to help him up. He brushed at the mud on George's back. "You'll never get up that way." He laughed.
George looked with disgust at the tree. "How can we climb it?"
Jonathan tilted his head back. He squinted at the high limbs. "Can't climb it without a ladder," he said finally.
George sat down on a stump. "There aren't any ladders out here," he said sadly. "And we couldn't bring one from home very easily."
Jonathan was thinking. "Maybe we could make one," he said. "Remember that windbreak we made near here? We could get some of those long poles we cut for the windbreak and make a ladder with...."
But he was talking to the tree. George was racing toward the windbreak that he and Jonathan had built for shelter against wind gusts.
At the windbreak, George hunted around until he found the extra poles they had cut. There were three of them. Two were small and crooked, but the biggest one was about right. It was a long, straight sapling about four inches thick and fifteen feet long.
By the time Jonathan came up, George had begun to drag the pole toward the oak tree. "Come on," George grunted. "Help me."
Jonathan grabbed the other end and helped carry the pole. "Now what?" he asked.
"We'll lay it up against that fork," George said. He pointed at the main fork in the tree, about five feet above their heads. "And I'll climb it."
"You can't climb that pole," Jonathan said. "It's dead. It will break."
"No, it won't," George answered.
Jonathan disagreed, but he helped to lay one end of the pole in the fork. Then Jonathan stood on the lower end. "It will break," he warned again.
George took hold of the pole from underneath and swung his feet up to lock around it. Then his muddy shoes slipped, and he was left hanging by his hands. Crack went the pole. George dropped to the ground.
"You could climb better barefoot," Jonathan said. "But I still think the pole will break."
George was already taking off his shoes and stockings. "No, it won't," he answered. He started to climb again. Without shoes his feet didn't slip, but it was hard work to climb that way.
The pole bent, cracked, and popped. Jonathan yelled, "It's breaking! It's breaking!" George hurried to get to the fork before the pole broke, and skinned his hands and feet.
Excerpted from George Rogers Clark by Katharine E. Wilkie, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison. Copyright © 2004 Estate of Katharine E. Wilkie. Excerpted by permission of Patria Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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