Go West With Lewis and Clark!

Lewis and Clark Expedition

Grandeur Of The Rockies by Albert Bierstadt

"America is one of the finest countries anyone ever stole."
Bob Goldthwaite

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was the first United States overland exploration of the American West and the Pacific Northwest, beginning in May 1804 and ending in September 1806. The expedition was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and led by army officers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. It covered about 13,000 km (about 8000 mi), from a camp outside Saint Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean and back.

Although the expedition's primary goal was to locate a Northwest Passage (water connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans), Jefferson also itemized more than a dozen areas of inquiry, ranging from astronomy and botany to linguistics and zoology. The president sought information about plants, animals, rivers, mountains, and native cultures. An army officer and experienced naturalist, Lewis had the background, energy, and dedication to fulfill the challenging assignment. He soon turned to William Clark, a friend from his army days in Ohio, to act as co-commander.

In 1803, while preparations for the expedition were underway, the United States acquired a vast portion of the central North American continent from France in the Louisiana Purchase. This purchase increased the importance of the expedition. Lewis and Clark now had the added duty of announcing American sovereignty in the new territory. The two men recruited a sizable number of civilian hunters, army soldiers, and French sailors for the Corps of Discovery, as the expedition party was properly known. On May 21, 1804, the Corps and its supplies embarked up the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark informally divided leadership responsibilities: Lewis became the party's naturalist, and Clark served as the mapmaker and negotiator.

From May to October the expedition made its way up the Missouri; it spent the winter in present-day North Dakota. The second travel season from April to December 1805 proved far more challenging as the expedition moved into unknown country. A Native American woman, Sakajawea, joined the group at Fort Mandan. Sakajawea, a Shoshone, helped the party as an interpreter and peacemaker, and she proved instrumental in negotiating for horses and supplies along the way. The expedition struggled around the Great Falls of the Missouri, searched for a pass over the Continental Divide, and labored in deep snow in present-day Montana before finally reaching the Snake River and then the Columbia River. It reached the Pacific Ocean in November 1805 and built Fort Clatsop, near present-day Astoria, Oregon.

On the return journey from March to September 1806, Lewis and Clark divided the Corps into two parties. Clark led one group on a reconnaissance of the yellowstone River. Lewis took a small detachment into present-day Montana. In August the groups reunited on the Missouri River and proceeded to St. Louis.

After the journey, Jefferson appointed Lewis as governor of the Louisiana Territory, and Clark became a Native American agent. After Lewis's death in 1809, Clark and American diplomat Nicholas Biddle took over the task of publishing the journals of the trip. They published an abridged, two-volume collection in 1814. A more complete version was published in 1905 by American historian Ruben Gold Thwaites.

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