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Tales Through Time: Lewis and Clark Expedition

Rehmat Kaur

Volume 4 Issue 4

May 29, 2024

Tales Through Time: Lewis and Clark Expedition

Image Provided by the Library of Congress

Painting of the Lewis and Clark expedition in a canoe meeting some Native Americans (1905), by Charles Marion Russell 



In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States asked for $2,500 to send an officer and a dozen troops to explore the Missouri River, establish diplomatic relations with Indians, increase the American fur trade, and find the Northwest Passage. The voyage became significant when the United States consented to the Louisiana Purchase, which involved Napoleon selling 828,000 square miles of French land for $27 million. Jefferson nominated Meriwether Lewis as expedition commander, who gathered weaponry, built a keelboat, and obtained smaller boats. William Clark, his military superior, was appointed as co-commander. Congress sponsored the expedition before the discussions with France were finalized. Lewis and Clark shared equal responsibilities and were given the opportunity in 1796 to embark on a historic journey that would help shape the country. 



The Expedition 

The expedition, including four dozen men, traveled 10 to 20 miles every day. Lewis discovered 178 new plants and 122 animals, naming them Philadelphus lewisii, Lewisia rediviva, and Clarkia pulchella. The expedition met enormous herds of animals and ate well, despite the Lakota tribe's unwillingness to compete with Americans. Despite suffering from diarrhea, venereal disease, boils, tick bites, and bruises, only one person died. The expedition conducted conferences with Native Americans, offering commerce and food. The Lakota tribe tried to stop the expedition from moving upstream, but Chief Black Buffalo's diplomacy calmed the situation. The expedition landed in Mandan and Hidatsa settlements near Bismarck, North Dakota, and prepared supplies for Jefferson. 


In June 1805, the expedition group arrived at a river fork and elected to take the south branch, which was thought to be the main route. They named the north fork Maria's River and arrived at the Great Falls. The portage was difficult given the rough terrain, prickly pear cactus, hailstorms, and grizzly bears. The crew landed in Knife River Village in what is now North Dakota. They encountered Sacagawea, a Shoshone Native American woman, and her fur trader husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, who accompanied the expedition as interpreters. Sacagawea assisted the crew in obtaining necessary supplies, identifying edible plants, and avoiding conflict with neighboring tribes. The group moved west at 15 to 20 miles per day and landed near the Pacific Ocean in November 1805.  


The Return 

In 1806, the Corps of Discovery departed Fort Clatsop, traversed the Missouri River Basin, and broke up at Lolo Pass. Lewis and Clark's crews investigated the Maria’s River and the Yellowstone River, with Lewis's group building Pompey's Pillar, which was named after Sacagawea's son. The corps landed in St. Louis in September 1806 and departed for the Pacific Ocean in November. Due to heavy storms, they were forced to build Fort Clatsop near Astoria, Oregon. They intended to return via the Columbia and Missouri rivers but encountered neither. They broke into parties to investigate the region and two important Missouri River tributaries. In March, Sacagawea and her husband were brought home to North Dakota before continuing their journey. Later the groups rejoined and traveled downstream to complete their quest. 


The Legacy 

Despite various obstacles, Lewis and Clark completed their goal to explore the Louisiana Territory from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean in 1806. They traveled over 8,000 miles, created informative maps, and established friendly connections with Native American groups. Both earned double salaries and 1,600 acres of land in exchange for their services. Lewis was appointed Governor of the Louisiana Territory, while Clark was named Brigadier General of Militia and federal Indian Agent. Despite Lewis's terrible death in 1809, Lewis's expedition is still one of America's most renowned. The Corps of Discovery Expedition carved out a primitive route to the Pacific and laid the groundwork for the nascent nation's westward expansion. The mission gave major geographic and scientific information about the West, helped to expand the fur trade, and enhanced the United States's claims to the Pacific. 




Lewis and Clark: Expedition, Purpose & Facts | HISTORY 

Lewis and Clark Expedition | Summary, History, Members, Facts, & Map | Britannica 

Lewis & Clark Expedition | National Archives 

Lewis and Clark's Expedition ( 

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