The Lewis and Clark Expedition
On May 14, 1804, an expedition led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark left Camp Dubois, near present-day Hartford, Illinois, to begin a historic journey of discovery across North America. As not much was known about the Pacific Northwest in the late 1700s, Thomas Jefferson decided to commission such an expedition amongst rumors that the French King, Louise XVI, was considering sending a French expedition to the area.
The Louisiana Purchase
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 further contributed to the interest in western expansion, when President Jefferson, who had always been an advocate of western expansion, got $2500 from Congress to send an expedition to the western ocean. Although British and French-Canadian hunters and trappers were already well established in the area, and Alexander MacKenzie had already become the first European to almost reach the Pacific Ocean across North America in 1793, the “Corps of Discovery” led by Lewis and Clark would become the first politically motivated expedition with definite economic benefit to the people of the U.S.
The Missouri River
The Lewis and Clark expedition set off to follow the Missouri River westward and soon passed the last white settlement on the river at La Charrette. They followed a route along the Missouri River, which passed present-day Kansas City, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska. At Floyd’s Bluff, the Lewis and Clark expedition remarkably suffered their only casualty with the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd, who died of acute appendicitis. Near what is today known as Sioux City, Iowa, the explorers reached the edge of the Great Plains and were starting to enter Sioux territory.
The Yankton Sioux
The Yankton Sioux, the first tribe of Sioux Lewis and Clark met, were peaceful, although not very satisfied with the gifts of five medals they received from the Lewis and Clark expedition. Albeit, they still gave a stern warning to the explorers against their western neighbors, the Teton Sioux. The Teton Sioux received the Lewis and Clark expedition with much hostility and it was not before long that Lewis and Clark were prepared to fight back. Luckily at the last minute, both sides backed off and the expedition soon continued westward until they reached the Mandan tribe. Here they spend the winter of 1804-05 and built Fort Mandan. Trapped in the fort without food, when a violent rainstorm struck, the expedition was largely saved by a Shoshone native woman, Sacajawea, who joined the expedition at Fort Mandan. She and her French Canadian husband brought the starving men fish and continued with the expedition further west.
With the help of Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark's expedition was able to talk to the Shoshone tribes, further west and establish good relations with the Shoshone, as Sacajawea was the sister of one of the chiefs. In April 1805 a return expedition was sent home from Mandan with a report from Lewis and Clark, together with various specimens found along the journey. The explorers continued westward along the Missouri River, over the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass. They descended the mountains via the Clearwater River, the Snake River, and the Columbia River, past what is now known as Portland Oregon. Here Lewis spotted Mount Hood, which was known to be close to the ocean. Lewis wrote in his journal: “Ocian (sic) in View! The Joy!”
Winter on the Columbia River
This was to be the second winter the Lewis and Clark expedition would spend in the wild. They decided to camp on the south side of the Columbia River near modern-day Astoria, Oregon, where they built Fort Clatsop. The party used the time to prepare for their trip home, boiling salt from the ocean, hunting, and trading with the native tribes. On March 23, 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition started its journey home. Following the Missouri River east, they reached St. Louis on September 23, 1806.
The Corps of Discovery
“The Corps of Discovery” not only paved the way for westward expansion by Europeans but also contributed to the discovery of the wonderful landscapes, Fauna and Flora of the North American Continent. The Lewis and Clark expedition also brought back with them a better understanding of the North American Native tribes, still largely undiscovered at those times.
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
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