George Drouillard (1773-1810) was a civilian interpreter, scout, hunter, and cartographer, hired at the age of 30 for Lewis and Clark's Voyage of Discovery to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804-1806, in search of a water route to the Pacific Ocean. He later worked as a guide and trapper for Manuel Lisa on the upper Missouri River, joining his Missouri Fur Company in 1809. Drouillard was believed to have been killed in what is now the present-day state of Montana while trapping beaver, in an attack by the Blackfeet or Gros Ventre tribes.
At the time of the American Revolutionary War, Pierre Drouillard was employed by the British Indian Department as a trader and interpreter of the Huron language, of the Iroquoian language family. (Note: Other accounts say he was born in 1775.).
Pierre Drouillard was commissioned as a captain by the British army. Drouillard is credited with saving the life of colonist and explorer Simon Kenton, held as a prisoner of the Shawnee at Sandusky, Ohio, in 1778. He brought gifts to trade for Kenton's life and said the British needed to interrogate the man about revolutionary activities on the frontier.
As a boy, George Drouillard learned to read and write. He then acquired frontier skills by becoming a hunter, a trapper, and a cartographer. He grew up speaking Shawnee, an Algonquian language; French and English. He also was proficient at the sign language common among Native American peoples of different language families.
Lewis and Clark Expedition
At the age of 28, George Drouillard was hired by Captain Meriwether Lewis for the United States' official expedition into the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. He went to Tennessee in late 1803 to escort eight volunteers of the party to St. Louis, where the Corps of Discovery was wintering at Fort Dubois outside the city. Only four were accepted by Lewis and Clark.
The expedition departed St. Louis, Missouri in early 1804. Lewis, who mentioned Drouillard often in his journals (referring to him as "Drewyer" in a transliteration of his French name), praised the young man highly as the most skilled hunter among all the men of the party. Drouillard often brought in six elk a day and one day he killed eleven elk.
Both his hunting and interpretive skills helped the expedition survive the severe winter of 1804-1805. Drouillard established good relations with the Mandan people, who aided the members of the expedition. The Corps built Fort Mandan as their winter quarters.
“The means I had of communicating with these people was by way of Drewyer [Drouillard] who understood perfectly the common language of jesticulation [sic] or signs which seems to be universally understood by all the Nations we have yet seen. It is true that this language is imperfect and liable to error but is much less so than would be expected. The strong parts of the ideas are seldom mistaken.”
In 1807 Drouillard traveled again up the Missouri River as part of an expedition led by fur trader Manuel Lisa; others in the party included John Potts and Peter Weise, both of whom had also been part of the Lewis and Clark expedition. During the winter of 1807-1808, Drouillard traveled the lands of the Crow Indians in the Big Horn Mountains. He gathered information which he gave to Clark after returning to St. Louis; Clark improved his maps of the area with the additions.
In 1809 Drouillard joined Lisa's Missouri Fur Company, based in St. Louis. The city was developing rapidly based on revenues from the western fur trade. Lisa sent his trappers to the upper Missouri River for furs.
In 1810, Drouillard failed to return from a beaver-trapping trip in the Three Forks region of the upper Missouri River, where the expedition had already encountered hostilities from the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre peoples. A search party found the remains of him and his horse. Drouillard had been beheaded and his entrails were strewn about in ritual mutilation. From evidence at the site, his comrades said that he must have fought and killed several Indians before his death. The Americans hastily buried him in an unmarked grave.
Legacy and honors
- Mount Drouillard (formerly Mount Drewyer) in Teton County, Montana, is named in his honor.
- The George Drouillard Museum was established in 1996 near Bellefontaine, Ohio by the Shawnee Nation, URB, a state-recognized tribe, as part of their complex including the Zane Shawnee Caverns.
- March 2013, the Grundy County Heritage Museum in Morrison, Iowa had an exhibit and program featuring the life of George Drouillard. Darrel Draper of Nebraska performed as the interpreter and hunter.
In popular culture
James Alexander Thom wrote a novel, Sign-Talker (2000), about the life of George Drouillard.
- Inside the Corps: "George Drouillard", Lewis and Clark Expedition, PBS
- "De Remarquables oubliés" Radio-Canada program on George Drouillard
- Denis Vaugeois, America 1803-1853 : L'expédition de Lewis et Clark et la naissance d'une nouvelle puissance, Sillery, Septentrion, 2003, ISBN 2-89448-342-2
- Denissen, Christian. (1987). Genealogy of the French Families of the Detroit River Region. Detroit Society for Genealogical Research. ISBN 0-943112-02-8
- "Jean Backs, "Simon Kenton"". Archived from the original on March 4, 2006. Retrieved March 29, 2014., Explore, Fall-Winter 2003
- Inside the Corps: "George Drouillard", Lewis and Clark Expedition, PBS, accessed 11 January 2014
- "Interpreter George Drouillard", Lewis and Clark Trail, accessed 21 June 2007
- "Grundy County Heritage Museum to feature George Drouillard", Reinbeck Courier, 3 March 2013, accessed 11 January 2014