His name was Seaman, probably in recognition that his breed, the Newfoundland, was well known as a sailor’s dog. Seaman is mentioned frequently in the journals of Lewis and Clark. He belonged to Meriwether Lewis. Historians thought his name was Scannon because the journal entries seemed to say that. Historian Donald Jackson discovered the error of interpretation when closely examining a map from the expedition that called a creek Seaman Creek. Knowing that the explorers often named features after members of the Corps of Discovery, he put it together that the stream was named in honor of dog.
The dog is usually described as black, but that is only an assumption. Seaman’s color is not mentioned in any of the writings of Lewis or other members of the Corps of Discovery.
The big dog was much admired by people they met along the way. Early in the journey, Lewis wrote, “[O]ne of the Shawnees a respectable looking Indian offered me three beverskins for my dog with which he appeared much pleased...I prised much for his docility and qualifications generally for my journey and of course there was no bargain.”
It was a harrowing journey for all, no less for the dog. He suffered a beaver bite that almost killed him. He had a close call with a bison and was frequently in a state of panic because of bears. Seaman suffered from grass seeds in his paws and fur, an affliction known well to dogs today romping around in the outdoors in Idaho. He also suffered terribly from mosquito bites.
But what happened to Seaman? The journals of the expedition don’t help us here. A book written in 1814 that contains some information about the Corps of Discovery mentions a dog collar in a Virginia museum 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."
The collar seems to have been lost to time, but the inscription gives more weight to Seaman being the proper name.
We can hope that given several entries about his health and the dangers he faced that Lewis would surely have mentioned the death of the dog if it happened on the expedition. In any case, he lives on in stories and statues. Seaman is a popular figure with sculptors. The photo is of the statue of Seaman at the Sacajawea Center in Salmon, Idaho.
Do you know of a dog who played a role in Idaho history? I can think of one other. I’d like to hear what you think.