Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"I am going away": The Death of Charles Floyd

Charles Floyd (Kentucky, America, 1782 – Iowa, America, 20th August 1804) 

In May 1804, the famed Corps of Discovery Expedition set out to explore the uncharted west of America. Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, the iconic Lewis and Clark expedition lasted for two years, four months, and ten days and today marks the anniversary of the death of the only fatality on that trip.

Charles Floyd was just 21 years old and served as the expedition's quartermaster. He kept a journal of his experiences and was well aware of the importance of the work, taking his own role extremely seriously. In late July 1804, Floyd confided in his diary that he was suffering from an unexplained illness. Although he appeared to recover, within days he was deathly ill, his condition deteriorating at a frightening speed.


The Obelisk

William Clark reported that the young man was suffering from bilious colic and bore his illness with stoicism and bravery. Clark was with him at the moment of his death, reporting his last words as, "I am going away. I want you to write me a letter."

Modern medical historians believe that Floyd died as the result of a ruptured appendix that led to peritonitis. Having suffered from both of these conditions, I cannot imagine how much Floyd must have suffered. There was certainly nothing that could be done to save him and the young quartermaster was buried atop a bluff beside the newly-named  Floyd River, a tributary of the Missouri River near what would one day become Sioux City, with full honours. A simple cedar post was driven into the ground to mark the spot of Floyd's Bluff and inscribed "Sergt. C. Floyd died here 20th of August 1804." 

In the years that followed the cedar post was whittled away by souvenir hunters and replaced on more than one occasion; eventually an obelisk was erected on the spot, a permanent memorial of Sergeant Charles Floyd.

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