For decades people thought the dog’s name was Scannon, because making out Lewis’ handwriting was always a challenge. However, in 1984 a researcher discovered a clear reference to Seaman Creek, which was named after the dog.
Seaman proved his value to the Corps of Discovery early on. The men encountered what seemed to be a mass migration of squirrels on the Ohio River, September 11, 1803. Lewis commanded the dog to get a squirrel. He jumped right in, grabbed one, and brought it back. He kept jumping in and retrieving squirrels until they had enough for a meal. “They wer fat and I thought them when fryed a pleasant food,” Lewis wrote.
Later, while on the Mississippi, Lewis refused an offer for Seaman. He wrote, “One of the Shawnees a respectable looking Indian offered me three beverskins for my dog with which he appeared much pleased, the dog was of the newfoundland breed one that I prised much for his docility and qualifications generally for my journey and of course there was no bargan.”
The members of the Corps of Discovery soon learned to trust Seaman’s superior senses. He could tell when hunting parties were returning to camp or when a stranger was approaching. He got excited when he smelled bison. Seaman often accompanied Lewis on hunts, sometimes retrieving game he had shot.
Though Seaman was a skilled squirrel chaser he had no luck with prairie dogs. He loved to chase them but they always darted into burrow before his jaws could snap shut around them.
When the Corps of Discovery finally entered present day Idaho on August 12, 1805, Seaman was there. He was there, too, lying beside little “Pomp” on August 17 when Sacajawea was reunited with her brother. He was probably the only member of the party that was happy to see the snow fall in early September when they were short of food. The dog romped and played in it, insulated from any thought of cold by his thick coat.
As the men came closer to starvation, some may have eyed the dog as a possible source of food. No one would dare bring it up with Lewis, though the expedition did dine on some 200 dogs during their trek.
Meeting up with the Nez Perce later in the month solved the hunger problem. The canoes the expedition built on the Clearwater gave the dog a chance to skim across the water in the bow of one, or splash and play when they stopped to camp.
The dog was briefly stolen by Clatsop Indians when the expedition was working its way up the Columbia on the way back to home. They released Seaman when they saw they were being pursued.
Oddly, what ultimately happened to Seaman is a mystery. Newfoundlands live only eight or 10 years, but we have no record of when he died. The last mention of him in Lewis’ journal was on July 14, 1806 when he noted that mosquitos were terrible and that “My dog even howl’s with the torture he experiences from them.”
One clue seems to bolster the notion that he made it all the way back with the Corps of Discovery. A large dog collar on display in a Virginia museum has a plate on it with the inscription "The greatest traveller of my species. My name is SEAMAN, the dog of captain Meriwether Lewis, whom I accompanied to the Pacific ocean through the interior of the continent of North America."
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