Seaman: Dog of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Seaman, called the Dog of Discovery, became famous for his travels with Lewis and Clark on their historic journey into the unknown.

Before Lewis and Clark started their great expedition across North America, Captain Meriwether Lewis purchased a Newfoundland dog for $20. It is unsure why he chose that breed of dog, but some believe Lewis was influenced by the breed's reputation of size, strength and swimming abilities. The dog was named Seaman - in 1916 the dog's name was believed to have been Scannon (Lewis's handwriting was misinterpreted by a historian) and in 1987 the mistake was discovered and the dog's name was proved rightly to be Seaman.

Lewis, Second Lieutenant William Clark and their crew departed from Pittsburgh on August 30, 1803 (the official launch took place just outside St. Louis in the summer of 1804). On the long and difficult journey Seaman was of great help to the men during their adventure. He retrieved game, including fat squirrels that Lewis thought was pleasant food when fried, and he guarded their camps against animal intruders, particularly grizzly bears and buffalo. According to one journal, Seaman was credited with saving several lives from a buffalo bull. The great beast charged through the camp one night and the dog was able to steer him away from the men. The Native American Indians were fascinated by Seaman, having never seen a dog like him before. One Indian offered three beaver skins for the dog, which Lewis refused.

Life wasn't easy for Seaman during the expedition. He often suffered from the heat due to his heavy coat and at times the mosquitoes were so abundant Lewis wrote "my dog even howls with the torture he experiences from them." Another burden was the barbed seeds of the foxtail that would penetrate the skin causing much pain. Once, a beaver bit Seaman in his hind leg, severing an artery. Lewis feared his dog would not survive. However, with extraordinary medical measures, Seaman made a full recovery.

The last entry in Lewis's journal regarding Seaman was written on July 15, 1806. No one is certain what happened to Seaman after that, but a book published in 1814 by educator Timothy Alden leads us to believe that Seaman survived the trip and continued to make his life with Lewis. In the book, Alden mentions an inscription on a dog collar that was donated to a museum in Alexandria, Virginia. The inscription read (exact wording):

"The greatest traveller of my species. My name is SEAMAN, the dog of captain Meriwether Lewis, whom I accompanied to the Pacifick ocean through the interior of the continent of North America."

Unfortunately the collar cannot be found. Many artifacts were lost when the museum suffered a fire in 1871.

The following was also noted in Alden's book:

“The fidelity and attachment of this animal were remarkable. After the melancholy exit of gov. Lewis [who died in 1809], his dog would not depart for a moment from his lifeless remains; and when they were deposited in the earth no gentle means could draw him from the spot of interment. He refused to take every kind of food, which was offered him, and actually pined away and died with grief upon his master’s grave.”

Several statues and monuments have been dedicated to Seaman, the adventurous dog who helped explore new land.