May 21, 1804: Lewis and Clark Expedition Begins
When President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to find a water route across North America and explore the uncharted lands of the American West, he thought they would encounter woolly mammoths, volcanoes about to erupt and a mountain of pure salt.
L&C Trail Map
Up to that time explorers had only penetrated North America up to Fort Mandan near the middle of North Dakota and spotty points as far as where present day Portland, OR lies off the Columbia River.
Jefferson hoped that Lewis and Clark would find a water route linking the Columbia and Missouri rivers. Thinking they would discover a route from the Mississippi River system to the Columbia River, to the Pacific. Imagine, a water route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. With a connection to the Ohio River linking the Eastern cities.
President Jefferson chose Captain Meriwether Lewis as its leader mainly because he already had some knowledge of the west and was an experienced Army officer. Lewis decided he wanted a co-captain and selected another Army officer, William Clark.
Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River
Lewis and Clark’s expedition officially began on May 21, 1804 when they and the 33 other men making up the Corps of Discovery departed from their camp near St. Louis, Missouri. Lewis and Clark’s first report to President Jefferson chronicled 108 plant species and 68 mineral types.
Although they did not find a direct waterway from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, their expedition brought a wealth of knowledge about the newly purchased lands in the west. They were able to document over 100 animal species and over 170 plants, also recording information on the size, minerals and the geology of the area.
Compass from the Expedition
Sacagawea has been discussed frequently in literature though much of the information about her has been exaggerated or fictionalized. She was an important member in the expedition, especially as interpreter and other ways. The sight of an indigenous woman and her infant were reassuring to the native peoples, talking to chiefs and easing tensions. But she was not the guide for the Expedition.
In his writings, Lewis presented a somewhat negative view of her, though Clark had a higher regard for her and provided some support for her children in subsequent years.
Then there was Seaman
Seaman: Discovery Dog of Lewis and Clark’s overland expedition. Seaman was a black “Newfoundland” dog that became famous for being a member of the Expedition. Captain Lewis purchased Seaman for $20.
Seaman experienced many hardships including a beaver bite, mosquito bites (which were so bad they made Seaman howl from the pain) and was stolen by the Indians…Captain Lewis threatened the Indians by saying he would send three armed men to kill the Indian tribe. Seaman had a creek named after him in Montana named Seaman Creek. Today called Monture Creek. Seaman laid on the grave of Meriwether Lewis when he died and is believed to have died there from dehydration and malnutrition.
Monument to Lewis, Clark & Seaman
Long Haul The expedition traveled over 8000 total miles over a period of 2 years, 4 months and 10 days.
Good Guess When the expedition reached the Pacific, Clark estimates they have traveled 4,162 miles from the mouth of the Missouri to the Pacific. His guess was within 40 miles of the actual distance.
What a Deal Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory, 820,000 square miles, for $15 million. After interest the final total came to be $27,267,622. That still works out to be only about 3¢ an acre!
An Equal Opportunity Expedition When the expedition reached the Pacific the party voted on where to spend the winter. York, Clark’s slave, is allowed to vote, nearly 60 years before slaves in the U.S. would be emancipated. Sacagawea is also allowed to vote, more than a century before either women or Native Americans are granted full rights of citizenship.
Oops While hunting in present day North Dakota, Lewis was accidentally shot (in the behind) by Pierre Cruzatte, a nearsighted member of the crew.
What’s for Dinner? When game was plentiful, each man ate about 9 pounds of meat per day.
The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition: http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/
Lewis & Clark Rap – MC LaLa
Lewis & Clark depart from the Woods River