Two Fiddle Tunes
he journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition contain references to some two dozen occasions when the men turned to music for recreation. It also served an important function in some of their diplomatic negotiations with Indian tribes.
The principal catalyst for their musical diversions was undoubtedly Private Pierre Cruzatte, whose official duty was as a boatman, but who also played the fiddle. George Gibson, who specialized as a hunter and sign-language interpreter, played the fiddle too, on at least one occasion — at the party and dance the Walulas held for the Corps on October 19, 1805.
Gibson, a young Kentuckian, might have known "The Rose Tree," which was among the standard popular tunes of the day. The song had apparently earned its place on the "charts" of popular music when it was heard in a little comic opera entitled The Poor Soldier, presented in Philadelphia in 1783, and known to have been a favorite of George Washington's. To this day, the tune is fairly well known among "Old-Time" fiddlers in several slightly different versions.
Cruzatte, who was half French and half Omaha Indian, might have been better acquainted with traditional French tunes suchas "Old French."
The company's baggage contained a supply of jews harps, ostensibly as gifts to young Indian men. These, along with the numerous percussion instruments that might have been improvised from the company's kit of blacksmith tools, combined to make a spirited accompaniment to the men's singing and dancing.
Robert R. Hunt, "Merry to the Fiddle: The Musical Amusement of the Lewis and Clark Party," We Proceeded On, Vol. 14, No. 4 (November 1988).
Joseph Mussulman, "In Greatest Harmoney: 'Meddicine Songs' on the Lewis and Clark Trail," We Proceeded On, Vol. 23, No. 2 (August 1997).