Lewis and Clark Expedition
Meriwether Lewis was tasked with exploring lands west of the Mississippi River, and his expedition was a huge success, providing new geographic, ecological, and social information about previously uncharted areas of North America.
Who Were Lewis and Clark?
President George Washington commissioned Meriwether Lewis as a lieutenant of infantry, and William Clark joined the Virginia state militia and then the United States Army at the age of 19. They embarked on an epic journey that would shape America’s history seven years later.
Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe negotiated a deal with France to buy the Louisiana Territory for $15 million in 1803. Surveyor John Lewis led an expedition to survey the lands of the so-called Louisiana Purchase.
Preparations for the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis studied medicine, botany, astronomy, and zoology, and enlisted the help of his friend Clark to lead the expedition, which included surveying instruments such as compasses, quadrants, telescopes, sextants, and a chronometer, as well as camping supplies.
The Expedition Begins
Lewis and Clark chose unmarried, healthy men who were good hunters and knew survival skills for their “Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery,” and they ruled the Corps with an iron fist, handing out harsh punishments such as bareback lashing.
Lewis and Clark: Native American Encounters
Around 50 Native American tribes were encountered by Lewis and Clark, who bartered goods and presented the tribe’s leader with a Jefferson Indian Peace Medal. Some Indians had previously met “white men” and were friendly and open to trade, while others were suspicious of Lewis and Clark and their intentions.
While Clark prepared new maps, the Corps spent the next five months hunting, forging, and making canoes, ropes, leather clothing, and moccasins. The men were in good health overall, according to Clark’s journal, with the exception of those suffering from venereal disease.
Sacagawea was kidnapped by Hidatsa Indians at the age of 12 and sold to Charbonneau, where she became an invaluable asset for Lewis and Clark. Sacagawea gave birth to a son named Jean Baptiste on February 11, 1805.
Lewis and Clark Cross the Continental Divide
Many of the party suffered from frostbite, hunger, dehydration, bad weather, and freezing temperatures. On April 7, 1805, Lewis and Clark sent some of their crew and their keelboat back to St. Louis, while the rest of the Corps headed for the Pacific.
Everyone struggled to keep themselves and their supplies dry and fought an ongoing battle with fleas and other insects near present-day Astoria, Oregon.
Lewis and Clark Journey Home
In 1806 Lewis and Clark crossed the Bitterroot Mountains to explore the Missouri River basin, with Lewis’ group exploring the Marias River and Clark’s group traveling south along the Yellowstone River, with the two groups planning to meet in North Dakota where the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers meet.
Near present-day Cut Bank, Montana, Lewis and Clark killed two Blackfeet warriors; the site is now a national monument managed by the US Department of the Interior. In 1806, Lewis carved Pompey’s Pillar on a rock formation near the Yellowstone River in honor of Sacagawea’s son.
Lewis and Clark Expedition Legacy
Lewis died in 1809 of two gunshot wounds, possibly self-inflicted, after traveling more than 8,000 miles and surveying the Louisiana Territory. Despite Lewis’ tragic end, his expedition with Clark remains one of America’s most famous, helping to strengthen America’s claim to the West.
How long had Lewis and Clark’s journey taken?
The so-called Corps of Discovery set out from St. Louis, then the capital of the Orleans Territories, in May of 1804, and traveled for about 18 months before reaching the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805, following the Missouri and Columbia Rivers for much of their journey.
How far did Lewis and Clark travel each day?
They traveled anywhere from 5 to 20 miles per day – a distance of 14 miles per day was considered adequate – with Clark frequently staying in a boat and Lewis walking along the shore.
What was Lewis and Clark’s salary?
Meriwether Lewis was paid a total of $2,776.22 (including his allowance) for 47 months of service, plus 1,600 acres of land*, while Captain Clark was paid a total of $2,113.74 (including subsistence allowance) for 47 months of service, plus the 1,600 acres of land.
How long did the entire journey take?
In fact, the expedition had to make its way across the vast Bitterroot Mountains, which were already covered in snow in September, on the Lolo Trail, which took 11 days and nearly put the men to sleep.
What happened to Lewis and Clark’s dog?
Seaman, Capt. Lewis’s dog, pursued them, caught one in the river, drowned and killed it, and swam to shore with it,” Clark wrote. Seaman continued to hunt in this manner until he was severely injured by a beaver in mid-May 1805.
How did Lewis and Clark decide to spend the winter?
The expedition overwhelmingly decided to follow the advice of the local Indians and investigate the possibility of spending the winter on the southern bank of the river. Lewis, however, decided to scout the area first, leaving Clark and the rest of the group behind.
What happened to the Mandan villages?
A smallpox epidemic devastated Mandan villages in 1781, forcing survivors to relocate north and establish two villages about five miles south of the Hidatsa villages, where they prospered until a smallpox epidemic in 1837 reduced the Mandan to as few as 125 people.
Why did Thomas Jefferson hire Lewis and Clark?
President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to explore and map the newly acquired territory, find a practical route across the western half of the continent, and establish an American presence in the territory before European powers attempted to take it over.
Why did Thomas Jefferson order the Lewis and Clark expedition?
The Lewis and Clark Expedition set out on the next leg of their journey in the spring of 1805, with high water and favorable weather. Jefferson hoped that Lewis and Clark would find a water route connecting the Columbia and Missouri rivers.
When did the expedition end?
From May 14, 1804, to September 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery, as the expedition company was known, traveled nearly 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean and back.