DID LEWIS AND CLARK REALLY USE A CAST IRON DUTCH OVEN

In 1804 one of the greatest expeditions in history departed St. Louis to explore the United States newly acquired Louisiana territory. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was one of the most famous camping trips of all time. The cast iron Dutch oven would certainly be one of the choice cooking vessels of the expedition, or would it?

When I wrote the first edition of my book, The Complete Book Of Dutch Oven Cooking, the two year bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was about to begin. There was much written, and promoted, about this grand adventure, not the least of which was the cast iron Dutch ovens they used to cook for the men on the expedition. Like many writers, in the past I have written that the Dutch oven was carried by Lewis and Clark on their trip. Did I know it for sure or did I trust another writer? I trusted another modern writer. But as I was researching my book I wanted to write about their Dutch ovens based on solid historical facts.

I began my research by reading the published journals of the expedition written by Lewis. There was no mention of cast iron Dutch ovens, only brass kettles. Disappointed, I next read the published journal kept by expedition member Patrick Gass, and again no mention of Dutch ovens. Could it be that the Dutch oven didn’t make the trip and over the years all of us who have written the use of the Dutch oven on the expedition were wrong?

My next research was to obtain a list of the expedition supplies Lewis purchased and search the list for cast iron Dutch ovens. Upon careful examination I found Lewis purchased eight brass kettles but no mention of cast iron Dutch ovens. This was disappointing. Also, I knew of two cast iron Dutch oven manufacturers that were planning on making commemorative Dutch ovens to celebrate the expedition’s use of Dutch ovens 200 years ago. I wanted to establish that the cast iron Dutch oven went on the trip for the sake of these two companies as well as for myself.

I spent several weeks sending e-mails to anyone, or organization, that I thought might prove to me that a cast iron Dutch oven went along on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. No one had proof and I was shocked at the number that referred me to articles I had written in past years. “My bad research was coming back to punish me”, I thought.

In the summer of 2003 I attended a lecture by Professor Gary E. Moulton of the University of Nebraska. Dr. Moulton is a Lewis and Clark Expedition scholar and has researched and written more about the expedition than anyone. At the end of the lecture I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Moulton and told him the problems I was having with my research. He smiled and said there is only one source that proves that Dutch ovens went on the expedition. “Read the journal expedition member Joseph Whitehouse kept and you will find the proof you need,” Dr. Moulton told me.

I did, and it solved the mystery. Whitehouse writes of caching Dutch ovens on Tuesday June 11, 1805. There you have it, from someone who was there; the Lewis and Clark Expedition did have Dutch ovens on their trip.