Arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River
in 1804-06, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led about 40 soldiers and boatmen on an epic journey. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned this "Corps of Discovery" to find a route to the Pacific Ocean through the newly acquired Louisiana territory. Along the way, they mapped the land, recorded its resources, and contacted its native inhabitants.
The landscape has changed since Lewis and Clark explored it: rivers have been dammed, forests cut over, prairies plowed under, and roads built to the horizon. Although remnants of the wilderness still exist, imagine this land as Lewis and Clark first saw it two centuries ago.
When Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States in 1801, the country basically stopped at the Mississippi River. France controlled much of the land to the west of this waterway.
President Jefferson wanted to acquire the Port of New Orleans, in what is now the state of Louisiana, from the French. Its prime location made it a key spot for trade. In 1803, Jefferson made what's known as one of the greatest real estate deals in history: the Louisiana Purchase.
U.S. Doubled in Size:
After negotiations, France agreed to sell the entire city of New Orleans, which included the port, to the United States for $10 million; they threw in the rest of the territory they owned for an additional $5 million. The agreement—which gave the United States approximately 828,000 square miles of land—almost doubled the size of the now 30-year-old United States. The land stretched from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north.
Spain still owned much of the southwestern part of what's now the United States, stretching from the area that would become Texas to present-day California.
The Voyage of Discovery:
Purchasing this enormous amount of land was one thing, but exploring it was another. Jefferson wanted to plan an expedition to investigate the territory. He called the proposed mission the Voyage of Discovery and began assembling a team of explorers called the Corps of Discovery. The president chose Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark to lead the expedition.
Lewis, President Jefferson's personal secretary, was an officer in the United States Army and spoke several Native American languages. Lewis recommended Clark (a retired officer who had served alongside him in the Army) as the expedition's co-leader.
Preparations:May 14, 1804 Expedition Begins:
Armed with Jefferson's letter of instructions, Lewis traveled to Pittsburgh and then set out on the Ohio River. At Clarksville, in present-day Indiana, he met up with William Clark. They packed the keelboat, which Lewis had designed, and two pirogues (canoe-like boats) with supplies and headed downriver. They were accompanied by some recruited soldiers, Clark's African-American slave York, and Lewis's Newfoundland dog Seaman.
Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1803-04 at Camp Dubois on the east bank of the Mississippi River, upstream from St. Louis. Here the captains recruited more men, increasing the ranks of the "Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery" to more than 40. As spring approached, the members of the Expedition gathered food and supplies and packed them into barrels, bags, and boxes. The boats were loaded and the party made ready to depart. On May 14, 1804, the Lewis & Clark Expedition began its trip up the Missouri River.
Mapping and naming everything:
Lewis, Clark, and other members of the Expedition began writing in their journals, a practice that continued throughout the journey. Map-making was equally important, particularly in the previously unexplored regions. As the explorers encountered new rivers and streams, they were responsible for naming them. They named some for famous Americans, such as Jefferson and James Madison, and others for friends and members of the Expedition. The same was true for some of the new plants and animals they encountered. Many of these names are still in use today.
Ruptured appendix = the only death:
In late July the explorers camped north of the mouth of the Platte River, at a site they called Council Bluff. Lewis noted in his journal that the location was good for a trading post. It was here on August 3 that Lewis and Clark had their first council with Native Americans, a small group of Oto and Missouri Indians. During this time Sergeant Charles Floyd, one of the soldiers, became ill and died of a ruptured appendix on August 20. He was the only member of the Expedition to die during the journey.
- June 20: Clark spots pelicans at a sand bar.
- June 25: They passed an area with a great amount of coal.
- June 26: The team reaches the mouth of the Kansas River, 366 miles from Camp Dubois.
- July 4: The first Fourth of July west of the Mississippi is celebrated, and the expedition captains name Independence Creek.
- July 21: They reach the mouth of the Platte River at the modern Nebraska-Iowa border, 630 miles from Camp Dubois.
- August 3: Near present-day Omaha, Nebraska, Lewis and Clark meet Otoe and Missouri Indian chiefs, handing out peace medals, in the first official parlay between the United States and western Native American nations,
- August 8: The expedition reaches Pelican Island 100 miles further.
- August 12: The explorers see their first coyote.
- August 20: Sergeant Charles Floyd is the first and only member to die on the expedition, possibly from a ruptured appendix.
- August 27: They meet members of the Yankton Nakota Indians in South Dakota and later hold a council with them, in which the Yankton entertain the idea of meeting the president. Dorion stays behind.
- September 7: The explorers see their first prairie dog town; the next day, Clark kills his first bison.
- September 25: Hostility arises in a council with Teton Lakota Indians when they demand a boat from the expedition, but their chief, Black Buffalo, managed to calm them.
- October 13: Private John Newman mutinies, but is court-martialed and banished to be a manual laborer for the party until he can be sent back in the spring.
- October 20: They see their first grizzly bear.
- October 27: The crew arrives at the Mandan and Hidatsa Indian villages which is home to more people than Washington, DC is at the time.
- November 2: They begin to build Fort Mandan 6 miles south of the Knife River to stay in for the winter, and enlist French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea to join them as interpreters.
- April 7: 31 men plus Sacagawea and her son Pomp set out westward in canoes. Lewis and Clark send a return party back to St. Louis with pelts, skeletons, soil, plants, minerals, artifacts, maps, letters, journals, and even live animals (most of which didn't make it) intended for the President.
- April 25: The Corps of Discovery arrives at the Yellowstone River, 1888 miles from St. Louis.
- May 3: The crew makes it 2000 miles from base camp on the Poplar River, naming a tributary the 2000 Mile Creek.
- May 14: One of their boats capsizes, but Sacagawea saves the journals and other valuable papers from the water. Lewis and Clark name a creek after her as thanks.
- June 2-8: at 2508 miles, the Missouri River forks and progress is halted as they try to determine which is the true Missouri; Lewis and Clark correctly decide on the south fork.
- June 16-July 14: The crew must drag thousands of pounds of equipment, which had previously been transported by canoes, on an 18-mile detour around the Great Falls. The facts that Lewis tried and failed to build an iron-frame boat and that many men were injured in the ordeal created significant delays.
- August 11: At the newly named 3000 Mile Island near the Idaho-Montana border, a foot party briefly encounters a mounted Shoshone Indian.
- August 12: Lewis becomes the first white American to cross the Continental Divide at Lehmi Pass.
- August 17: Clark holds a council with the Shoshone with the help of Sacagawea and are able to enlist one of them, Old Toby, to help them.
- September 11-22: The expedition makes a difficult journey crossing the Bitterroot Mountains, facing starvation before arriving at Weippe Prairie where they encounter the Nez Perce Indians.
- October 7: They set out on the Clearwater River along with Nez Perce chiefs Twisted Hair and Tetoharsky
- October 16: They reach the Columbia River, 3,714 miles from Camp Dubois. Old Toby has left at this point, and they meet numerous Plateau Indians.
- November 2: The explorers pass the furthest point reached by George Vancouver's 1792 expedition.
- November 7: In his journal, Clark writes, "Ocian in view! O! the joy", but the sea still 20 miles away and bad weather slows their progress.
- November 18: Lewis and Clark reach Cape Disappointment (previously named in 1788), the westernmost point of the expedition, in present-day Washington, 4162 miles from St. Louis.
- December 7: The crew begins work on their winter camp named after the local Clatsop Indians on the south bank of the Columbia.
- December 25th: The crew moves into Fort Clatsop.
The two shared equal responsibility:
Lewis knew that exploring the Louisiana Territory would be no small task and began preparations immediately. He studied medicine, botany, astronomy and zoology and scrutinized existing maps and journals of the region. He also asked his friend Clark to co-command the expedition.Lewis & ClarkEven though Clark was once Lewis' superior, Lewis was technically in charge of the trip. But for all intents and purposes, the two shared equal responsibility.
On July 5, 1803, Lewis visited the arsenal at Harper's Ferry to obtain munitions. Some of the supplies collected:
- Surveying instruments including compasses, quadrants, telescope, sextants and a chronometer
- Camping supplies including oilcloth, steel flints, tools, utensils, corn mill, mosquito netting, fishing equipment, soap and salt
- Weapons and ammunition
- Medicines and medical supplies
- Books on botany, geography and astronomy
Lewis also collected gifts to present to Native Americans along the journey:
- Face paint
- Ivory combs
- Bright colored cloth
- Sewing notions
Lewis entrusted Clark to recruit men for their "Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery." Throughout the winter of 1803-1804, Clark recruited and trained men at Camp DuBois north of St. Louis, Missouri. He chose unmarried, healthy men who were good hunters and knew survival skills.
The expedition party included 45 souls:
- 27 unmarried soldiers
- a French-Indian interpreter
- a contracted boat crew
- a slave owned by Clark named York
Lewis & ClarkTo maintain discipline, Lewis and Clark ruled the Corps with an iron hand and doled out harsh punishments such as bareback lashing and hard labor for those who got out of line.
The expedition made notable contributions to science, but scientific research was not the main goal of the mission
President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to:
The campaign's secondary objectives were scientific and economic:
- Explore and to map the newly acquired territory
- To find a practical route across the western half of the continent
- To establish an American presence in this territory before European powers attempted to establish claims in the region.
The expedition returned 3 years later to St. Louis to report its findings to Jefferson; with maps, sketches, and journals in hand
- To study the area's plants, animal life, and geography
- To establish trade with local Native American tribes.
- To find the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce
- Declaring US sovereignty over the land occupied by the many different Native American tribes along the Missouri River
- Getting an accurate sense of the resources in the recently completed Louisiana Purchase
Lewis and Clark Expedition:
- From August 31, 1803 to September 25, 1806
- Also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition
- It was the United States expedition to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase
- The Corps of Discovery was a select group of U.S. Army and civilian volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark
- The expedition made its way westward, and crossed the Continental Divide of the Americas before reaching the Pacific Coast
How long was the expedition in North Dakota?
The expedition spent 214 days in North Dakota on two separate visits. The group spent 146 days on its outbound trip in October of 1804, when it set up a winter camp near Washburn. The second visit was on its return from the Pacific. The expedition stopped again in August of 1806, which was when Sakakawea was returned to her home.North DakotaOne quarter of the expedition was spent in what is now called North Dakota.