Monday, October 13, 2014

Lewis & Clark(e) County

At the top of the stone tablet carved into the north entrance of the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse in Helena, you’ll find the name Lewis and Clarke County. It’s the only county in the United States with the name of both explorers. But you’ll also notice that on the tablet, Clarke is spelled with an “e” at the end. That’s because our forebears often spelled their names in various ways. Captain William Clark couldn’t seem to make up his mind, and so sometimes he used the final “e” and sometimes he didn’t. Which spelling was the most correct became a matter of concern. In 1900, Montana Historical Society librarian Laura E. Howey settled the question, researching Clark’s official records.

Laura E. Howey. From Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana
with Its Transactions, Officers, and Members
, vol. 6. Helena, 1907
Both as a military officer and as governor of Missouri Clark’s name has no final “e.” Further, publication of Lewis and Clark’s journals at the turn of the twentieth century regularized the spelling of Clark without the final “e.” That meant—oops—the county had the wrong spelling. It took an act of the Montana legislature to allow dropping of that final “e,” but the memory of the older spelling remains on the courthouse tablet.

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