William Philo Clark

William Philo Clark (July 27, 1845 – September 22, 1884) was a United States Army officer during the Plains Indian Wars.

Clark was appointed to the US Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1868. He was assigned as a Second Lieutenant with the U.S. 2d Cavalry Regiment, to which he belonged for the remainder of his short career. He joined the staff of General George Crook at the end of August, 1876, when Crook rejoined the columns of General Alfred Terry and Colonel John Gibbon after the Battles of the Rosebud and the Little Bighorn during the Great Sioux War of 1876. Clark was thus present for Crook's pursuit of the Lakota during the late summer and fall of 1876, including the so-called "Starvation March" and the Battle of Slim Buttes.[1] He served in a number of staff assignments for General Philip Sheridan and died suddenly at the age of 39, in Washington, DC in 1884 while on special duty with Sheridan.

He was the author of the 1885 book The Indian Sign Language[2] (published posthumously), to this day the definitive and comprehensive primary source on the rich sign language of The Great Plains tribes. He died young, not fulfilling what was generally agreed to be his extraordinary potential as an enlightened army officer, as conceived at the time.


  1. Jerome A. Greene, “Slim Buttes, 1876: An Episode of the Great Sioux War”, (1982), p.75.
  2. Clark, W.P. (1982). The Indian sign language. Lincoln [Neb.]: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803263093.

Further reading

Powers, Thomas (2010). The Killing of Crazy Horse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41446-6. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 

He Dog; McGillycuddy, Valentine (1988). Clark, Robert A., ed. The Killing of Chief Crazy Horse: Three Eyewitness Views. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-6330-9. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 

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