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The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) was the first overland expedition undertaken by the United Statesmarker to the Pacific coast and back. The expedition team was headed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and assisted by Sacajawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. The expedition's goal was to gain an accurate sense of the resources being exchanged in the Louisiana Purchase. The expedition laid much of the groundwork for the Westward Expansion of the United States.

Earlier exploration

The Lewis and Clark expedition was only the third recorded transcontinental crossing of North America, having been preceded to the Pacific coast (on July 20, 1793) by a Canadianmarker expedition led by explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Mackenzie had previously crossed North America in 1789 as well, but had turned north at the Continental Divide, also becoming the first European to reach the western Arctic Oceanmarker. In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca and four others of the Narváez expedition reached the Pacific Ocean after crossing the continent through parts of what later became the United States.

Louisiana Purchase and a western expedition







The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 sparked interest in expansion to the west coast. The United States did not know precisely what it was buying and Francemarker was unsure of how much land it was actually selling. A few weeks after the purchase, President Thomas Jefferson, an advocate of western expansion, had Congress appropriate $2,500 for an expedition. In a message to Congress, Jefferson wrote:

Thomas Jefferson had long thought about such an expedition, but was concerned about the danger. While in France from 1785–1789, he had heard of numerous plans to better explore the Pacific Northwest. In 1785, Jefferson learned that King Louis XVI of France planned to send a mission there, reportedly as a mere scientific expedition. Jefferson found that doubtful, and evidence provided by John Paul Jones confirmed these doubts. In either event, the mission was destroyed by bad weather after leaving Botany Baymarker in 1788. In 1786 John Ledyard, who had sailed with Captain James Cook to the Pacific Northwest, told Jefferson that he planned to walk across Siberiamarker, ride a Russianmarker fur-trade vessel to cross the ocean, and then walk all the way to the American capital. Since Ledyard was an American, Jefferson hoped he would succeed. Ledyard had made it as far as Siberia when Empress Catherine the Great had him arrested and deported back to Polandmarker.

The American expedition to the Pacific northwest was intended to study the Indian tribes, botany, geology, Western terrain and wildlife in the region, as well as evaluate the potential interference of Britishmarker and French Canadian hunters and trappers who were already well established in the area.

Jefferson selected U.S. Army Captain Meriwether Lewis, his aide and personal friend, to lead the expedition, afterwards known as the Corps of Discovery. In a letter dated June 20, 1803, Jefferson wrote to Lewis

Lewis selected William Clark as his partner. Because of bureaucratic delays in the U.S. Army, Clark officially only held the rank of Second Lieutenant at the time, but Lewis concealed this from the men and shared the leadership of the expedition, always referring to Clark as "Captain".

Journey

Route of the expedition
"Left Pittsburghmarker this day at 11 o'clock with a party of 11 hands 7 of which are soldiers, a pilot and three young men on trial they having proposed to go with me throughout the voyage." With those words, written on August 31, 1803, Meriwether Lewis began his first journal entry on the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Oceanmarker.

Lewis declared the mouth of the river Dubois (on the east side of the Mississippi across from the mouth of the Missouri river) to be the expedition's official point of departure, but the two and one-half months spent descending the Ohio River can be considered its real beginning.

Clark made most of the preparations, by way of letters to Jefferson. He bought two large buckets and five smaller buckets of salt, a ton of dried pork, and medicines.
Reconstruction of Camp Dubois, Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, Illinois
The party of 33 included 29 individuals who were active participants in the Corps' organizational development, recruitment and training at its 1803–1804 winter staging area at Camp Dubois, Illinois Territory. They then departed from Camp Dubois, near present day Hartford, Illinoismarker, and began their historic journey on May 14, 1804. They soon met up with Lewis in Saint Charles, Missouri, and the corps followed the Missouri Rivermarker westward. Soon they passed La Charrette, the last caucasian settlement on the Missouri River. The expedition followed the Missouri through what is now Kansas City, Missourimarker, and Omaha, Nebraskamarker. On August 20, 1804, the Corps of Discovery suffered its only death when Sergeant Charles Floyd died, apparently from acute appendicitis. He was buried at Floyd's Bluffmarker, in what is now Sioux Citymarker, Iowamarker. During the final week of August, Lewis and Clark had reached the edge of the Great Plainsmarker, a place abounding with elk, deer, bison, and beavers. They were also entering Sioux territory.

The first tribe of Sioux they met, the Yankton Sioux, were more peaceful than their neighbors farther west along the Missouri River, the Teton Sioux, also known as the Lakota. The Yankton Sioux were disappointed by the gifts they received from Lewis and Clark—five medals—and gave the explorers a warning about the upriver Teton Sioux. The Teton Sioux received their gifts with ill-disguised hostility. One chief demanded a boat from Lewis and Clark as the price to be paid for passage through their territory. As the Indians became more dangerous, Lewis and Clark prepared to fight back. At the last moment before fighting began, the two sides fell back. The Americans quickly continued westward (upriver) until winter stopped them at the Mandan tribe's territory.

Reconstruction of Fort Mandan, Lewis & Clark Memorial Park, North Dakota
the winter of 1804–05, the party built Fort Mandan, near present-day Washburn, North Dakotamarker. Over the course of the winter the expedition enjoyed generally good relations with the Mandan Indian tribe who lived alongside the Fort. It was at Fort Mandan that Lewis and Clark came to employ a French-Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, whose young Shoshone Indian wife, Sacajawea, translated for the expedition among the Shoshone and Nez Perce. Sacajawea would also serve sometimes as a guide for the expedition.

In April 1805, some members of the expedition were sent back home from Mandan in the 'return party'. Along with them went a report about what Lewis and Clark had discovered, 108 botanical and zoological specimens (including some living animals), 68 mineral specimens, and Clark's map of the United States. Other specimens were sent back to Jefferson periodically, including a prairie dog which Jefferson received alive in a box.

The expedition continued to follow the Missouri to its headwaters and over the Continental Divide at Lemhi Passmarker via horses. In canoes, they descended the mountains by the Clearwater River, the Snake River, and the Columbia River, past Celilo Fallsmarker and past what is now Portland, Oregonmarker. At this point, Lewis spotted Mount Hoodmarker, a mountain known to be very close to the ocean. On a big pine, Clark carved

"William Clark December 3rd 1805. By land from the U.States in 1804 & 1805"


Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia by C.M.
Russell
Clark had written in his journal, "Ocean in view! O! The Joy!". One journal entry is captioned "Cape Disappointment at the Entrance of the Columbia River into the Great South Sea or Pacific Ocean". By that time the expedition faced its second bitter winter during the trip, so the group decided to vote on whether to camp on the north or south side of the Columbia River. The party agreed to camp on the south side of the river (modern Astoria, Oregonmarker), building Fort Clatsopmarker as their winter quarters. While wintering at the fort, the men prepared for the trip home by boiling salt from the ocean, hunting elk and other wildlife, and interacting with the native tribes. The 1805–06 winter was very rainy, and the men had a hard time finding suitable meat. They did not consume much Pacific salmon because the fish only return to the rivers to spawn in the summer months.

The explorers began their journey home on March 23, 1806. On the way home, Lewis and Clark used four dugout canoes they bought from the Native Americans, plus one that they stole in "retaliation" for a previous theft. Less than a month after leaving Fort Clatsop, they abandoned their canoes because portaging around all the falls proved terribly difficult.

A reenactor describes the bicentennial commemoration of the expedition.
On July 3, after crossing the Continental Divide, the Corps split into two teams so Lewis could explore the Marias River. Lewis' group of four met some Blackfeet Indians. Their meeting was cordial, but during the night, the Blackfeet tried to steal their weapons. In the struggle, two Indians were killed, the only native deaths attributable to the expedition. The group of four: Lewis, Drouillard, and the Field brothers, fled over 100 miles (160 km) in a day before they camped again. Clark, meanwhile, had entered Crow territory. The Crow tribe were known as horse thieves. At night, half of Clark's horses were gone, but not a single Crow was seen. Lewis and Clark stayed separated until they reached the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers on August 11. Clark's team had floated down the rivers in bull boats. While reuniting, one of Clark's hunters, Pierre Cruzatte, blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other, mistook Lewis for an elk and fired, injuring Lewis in the thigh. Once reunited, the Corps was able to return home quickly via the Missouri River. They reached St. Louis on September 23, 1806.

The first written account of the expedition was published by Patrick Gass in 1807. Lewis and Clark's much more extensive official report of the expedition wasn't released until 1814.

The Corps of Discovery returned with important information about the new United States territory and the people who lived in it, as well as its rivers and mountains, plants and animals. The expedition made a major contribution to mapping the North American continent.

Achievements

Camp Dubois in Illinois opposite the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers


In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery as a scientific expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. The expedition's goal as stated by President Jefferson was "to explore the Missouri Rivermarker and such principal stream of it as by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Oceanmarker, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river that may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce". In addition, the expedition was to learn more about the Northwest's natural resources, inhabitants, and possibilities for settlement. Although Lewis and Clark were not the first explorers to travel west and they did not achieve their primary objective of finding a waterway across North America, the significance of the expedition can be measured in other ways.

Geography and mapping

One of the most significant contributions of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was a better perception of the geography of the Northwest and the production of the first accurate maps of the area. During the journey, Lewis and Clark prepared approximately 140 maps. Author Stephen Ambrose states that the expedition "filled in the main outlines of the previously blank map of the northwestern United States". Before the expedition, most Americans were not aware of the size and extent of the Rocky Mountains. They believed that the Rocky Mountains could be crossed in a single day and that the Rockies separated the source of the Missouri River from a great "River of the West" that would empty into the Pacific Ocean. However, the expedition found that the supposed single day of traveling was instead an 11 day ordeal that nearly cost them their lives and that an easy water route across the continent did not exist.

Natural resources

A second achievement of the expedition was a better understanding of the Northwest's natural resources. During the journey, the expedition documented over 100 species of animals and approximately 176 plants. The expedition even sent a caged prairie dog, which had never been seen before in the East, to President Jefferson as a gift. Over the two year journey, the expedition had made more discoveries of landscapes, rivers, native cultures, zoology, and botany of North America than any scientific expedition.

Native American relations

Another achievement of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was that it established friendly relations with some of the Native Americans. Without the help of the Native Americans, the expedition would have starved to death or become hopelessly lost in the Rocky Mountains. The expedition was especially indebted to a Shoshone woman named Sacagawea, who served as a guide and interpreter. The sight of a woman and her infant son would have been a reassuring sight to Native Americans who might have mistaken the armed explorers as a group on a warlike mission. For the most part, encounters between the three dozen Indian tribes and the expedition were successful. Author James Ronda states "Lewis and Clark matter today because they act as a benchmark by which we can measure change and continuity in everything from the environment to relations between peoples".

Lewis and Clark may not have found the elusive Northwest Passage and were not the first to explore the west, but as Robert Archibald states, "they were the first United States citizens to have described the place officially". The fact that they were a scientific expedition was extremely important, especially during the Age of Enlightenment. The new knowledge they obtained about the Northwest's geography, natural resources, and native inhabitants sparked American interest in the west, and strengthened the nation's claim to the area.

Ella Elizabeth Clark has written, "It was the Missouri River, not the young Indian mother, that served as the Expedition's "principal guide." Sacagawea had seen only a small part of the area explored and not since her childhood....Though she was not the guide for the Expedition, she was important to them as an interpreter and in other ways. Two days into the journey, Sacagawea collected edible roots hidden by small animals in piles of driftwood. The roots were a welcome addition to meat....Captain Lewis ended his report of the mishap with praise of Sacagawea: 'the Indian woman, to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution with any person on board at the time of the accident, caught, and preserved most of the light articles [that] were washed overboard.'"

See also



References

  1. Ambrose, Stephen. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the opening of the American west. (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996). p. 69.
  2. Lewis' first journal entry Retrieved on March 24, 2007
  3. Bernard deVoto (1962), The Course of Empire (Boston:Houghton Mifflin); p. 552
  4. Dugout Canoe description Retrieved on March 24, 2007
  5. , originally published in 1807
  6. Even then, all of the report wasn't completely made public until recently: Lewis and Clark Journals
  7. Clark, Ella Elizabeth. Sacagawea of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Berkeley, Calif: University of California P, 1979.


Further reading



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