In the summer of 1803, a twenty-eight year old Virginian was preparing to lead a field expedition into some of the most rugged wilderness on the North American Continent. It would be a perilous undertaking. The platoon traveled by boat, horse and foot for approximately 8,000 miles- venturing beyond maps, traveling into the headwaters of the great Missouri river, across the fearsome Rocky Mountains, and through the unforgiving western plains. The crew explored an undiscovered route to the pacific and back; encountering cold, hunger, danger, and wonders beyond belief.
No expedition had ever attempted such an arduous undertaking, no one thought it was possible. Dear Mother, The day after tomorrow I shall set out for the Western Country; my absence will probably be equal to fifteen or eighteen months; the nature of this expedition is by no means dangerous, my route will be altogether through tribes of Indians. For it’s fatiegues I feel myself perfectly prepared, nor do I doubt my health and strength of constitution to bear me through it; I go with the most perfect preconviction in my own mind of returning safe and hope therefore that you will not suffer yourself to indulge any anxiety for my safety.
Adieu and believe me your affectionate Son, MERIWETHER LEWIS The American West had always been a particular interest of President Jefferson, and in 1802 planning began for the marvelous adventure. Being influenced by the expeditions of Captain James Cook and Captain George Vancouver, Jefferson envisioned an expedition which combined diplomatic, scientific, and commercial goals. If American was to posses the water passage through the continent, the nation would have full control of the continents density securing America as a global force. On January 18, 1803, Pres.
Jefferson sent a secret message to Congress. He asked for $2,500 to send an officer and a dozen soldiers to explore the Missouri River. With the objective to make diplomatic contact with Indians, expa American fur trade, along with locating the Northwest Passage, a water route to the Pacific Ocean. d the On May 2, 1803, Napoleon sold 828,000 square miles of French territory to the United States for 27 million dollars, the purchase of the land lead to a heightened importance to the expedition. This entailed the added duty of announcing American sovereignty in the new territory.
In preparation for the journey, Jefferson requested his personal secretary, and Army Officer Meriwether Lewis for expedition leadership. The experienced naturalist, headed to Philadelphia for training in botany, celestial navigation, medicine, and zoology. After acquiring weapons, Lewis supervised the construction of a 55-foot keelboat, and obtained possession of smaller vessels. Jefferson sought information about the plants, animals, rivers, mountains, and native cultures of the west. The overwhelming magnitude of the expedition led Lewis to turn to a friend from his army days, William Clark, to act as a co-commander of the expedition.
From the launch in St. Louis Missouri in 1804, to the pacific Ocean and back, the Corps of Discovery traveled approximately 8,000 miles. The posse consisted of 48 men when it left St. Louis and headed up the Mississippi river. These men traveled 10 to 20 miles a day, forcing the Keelboat up the Missouri River. During the expedition, the crew kept detailed journals of their findings, and over the course of the journey, 178 new plants had been identified, including Douglas fir and bitterroot and 122 new animals had been distinguished some of which included prairie dogs, and grizzly bears.
During the expedition, the crew encountered many animal herds and ate well consuming one buffalo or equivalent in meat everyday. Unfortunately, the trip was not consistently easy, during the expedition the crew experienced dysentery, venereal disease, boils, tick bites, and injuries from prickly pear. The Corps commanding officers, Lewis and Clark, divided the responsibilities on the expedition; Lewis became the party’s naturalist, while Clark served as the mapmaker and negotiator. The expedition set sail on May 21, 1804, and started making its way west.
In the first season (May to October of 1804), the expedition made its way up the Missouri River, this stretch of the river was already well known to St. Louis merchants and traders. Arriving at the Mandan and Hidatsa villages, the Corps constructed Fort Mandan in which to spend the winter. After the weather broke, the crew headed up the Missouri river. The departure scene was described by Lewis in his journal: “This little fleet altho’ not quite so respectable as those of Columbus or Capt.
Cook were still viewed by us with as much pleasure as those deservedly famed adventurers ever beheld theirs… we were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden; the good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine, and these little vessels contained every article by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves. ” The Corps experienced more challenges in their second season (April to December of 1805) due to their movement into lands that were unknown to non natives.
The Corps of Discovery now contained 33 members in the permanent party, including: a Native American woman named Sacagawea, her husband, a French-Canadian interpreter, Toussaint Charbonneau, and their infant son Baptiste. Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who helped the party as an interpreter and peacemaker. She proved very instrumental in negotiating for horses and supplies along the Corps’ journey. In June 2, 1805, the expedition party arrived at a fork in the river. Unsure of which route to take, the party split up and explored both forks.
Lewis named the north fork Marias River and instructed the party to continue up the south fork. This choice proved correct when the expedition arrived at the Great Falls approximately two weeks later. An 18-mile passage around the falls was made additionally more difficult by terrain, prickly pear cactus, hailstorms, and bears. On July 4, 1805, the party finished the passage. This accomplishment along with the fact it was Independence Day, the group consumed the last of their 120 gallons of alcohol and sashayed into the night.
The Corps arrived at the three Forks of the Missouri River, at this point Sacagawea recognized Beaverhead Rock and informed the others they would soon encounter the Shoshones. Lewis climbed the Lemhi Pass, only to realize how difficult the journey was going to become, his view from the Pass consisted of endless mountains stretching before him, “I discovered immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow. ” Fortunately, in mid-August he met a Shoshone band led by Sacagawea’s brother Cameahwait, who provided the expedition with horses.
The Shoshone guide Old Toby joined the expedition and led them across the Bitterroot Range. Cold and hungry, the expedition finally reached the Weippe Prairie, homeland of the Nez Perce. Upon the recommendation of a respected elderly woman, Watkuweis, the Nez Perce befriended the expedition. The Corps, hollowed out 5 cottonwood canoes and floated down the Clearwater and Snake rivers, reaching the Columbia River on October 16. They finally arrived at the Pacific Ocean in mid-November, with Clark recording in his journal, “Ocian in view! O! the joy. ” Fierce storms delayed their progress for nearly a month.
After a vote, the crew decided to build Fort Clatsop and endure a wet, miserable winter by journal writing, drying meat and making salt. After stealing a Clatsop Indian canoe, they headed up the Columbia on March 23, 1806. They arrived at the Nez Perce villages, gathered up their horses, and waited for the snows to melt. On July 3, after re crossing the Bitterroots, the expedition divided into several groups to better explore the region and two major tributaries of the Missouri. Several groups floated down to the Great Falls, digging up supplies they had cached on their journey.
Meanwhile, Clark arrived at the Yellowstone River after crossing the Bozeman Pass, the route suggested by Sacagawea. After constructing two canoes, he carved his name and the date in a sandstone outcropping, Pompey’s Tower, named for Sacagawea’s son, whom Clark called Pomp. In the meantime, Lewis and three men met eight Blackfeet On July 26 on a tributary of Maria’s River near present-day Cut Bank, Montana. A deadly altercation occurred the next morning when the explorers shot two warriors who had stolen their horse guns.
Fleeing on horseback for 24 hours straight, the foursome arrived at the Missouri River to rejoin other members of the expedition who were floating downstream. Farther on, this group reunited with Clark, bid farewell to the Charbonneaus, and floated downstream, completing the journey. Another primary objective involved diplomacy with Native Americans. The expedition held councils with Indians, in which the corps had military parades, handed out peace medals, flags, and gifts, delivered speeches, promised trade, and requested intertribal peace.
There also was something of a magic show (magnets, compasses, and Lewis’s air gun) and an invitation for Indian representatives to travel to Washington, D. C. Most tribes welcomed trading opportunities and provided the expedition with food, knowledge, guides, shelter, sex, and entertainment. The Corps of Discovery had many interactions with the Native people on their journey, and it is unlikely they could have survived, without the help of many native people.
Native Americans provided Lewis and Clark with geographic information, food, shelter, and transportation. Sacagawea symbolized the cooperation between native people and the Corps of Discovery, assuring many Natives that the Corps was not a hostile war party as they passed through. There was only one fatal encounter between Native Americans and the Corps of Discovery in the 2 and 1/2 years that they had traveled. Most native people say the expedition more as an opportunity for trade than a threat to tribal sovereignty.
Upon their return to St. Louis on September 23, 1806, Lewis and Clark received a hero’s welcome, despite the fact that they had not found an easy water route to the Pacific. Congress rewarded them with double pay and public land. The captains each received 1,600 acres, and their men received 320 acres. The final cost for the expedition totaled $38,000. Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of Upper Louisiana Territory and appointed Clark an Indian agent. Some of the expedition stayed in the military, others entered the fur trade, while still others took to farming in the region or returned to the East.
Some insist Lewis and Clark’s legacy is insignificant because they were not the first non-Indians to explore the area, did not find an all-water route across the continent, and failed to publish their journals in a timely fashion. Although the first official account appeared in 1814, the two volume narrative did not contain any of their scientific achievements. Nevertheless, the expedition contributed significant geographic and scientific knowledge of the West, aided the expansion of the fur trade, and strengthened U. S. claims to the Pacific.
Clark’s maps portraying the geography of the West, printed in 1810 and 1814, were the best available until the 1840s. No American exploration looms larger in U. S. history. The Lewis and Clark Expedition has been commemorated with stamps, monuments, and trails and has had numerous places named after it. St. Louis hosted the 1904 World’s Fair during the expedition’s centennial, and Portland, Oregon, sponsored the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. In 1978 Congress established the 3,700-mile (6,000km) Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.