Lewis And Clark Expedition: An Influential Event In American History And One Of The Biggest Legacies Of Thomas Jefferson
Lewis and Clark began a expedition that was very important for American discovery and the future of America. In 1803, United Sates’ purchase of the Louisiana Territory was announced. With Jefferson’s letter of instructions, Lewis traveled to Pittsburgh and then settled on the Ohio River. At Clarksville, Indiana, he met up with William Clark. They packed the keelboat, and two pirogues (canoe-like boats) with supplies and headed downriver. They were joined with some recruited soldiers and Clark’s African-American slave York.
Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1803-04 at Camp Dubois on the east bank of the Mississippi River. At Camp Dubois, Lewis and Clark recruited more men, increasing the ranks of the ‘Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery’ to more than 40. As spring came, the members of the Expedition gathered food and supplies and packed them into barrels, bags, and boxes. The boats were loaded and they were ready to depart. On May 14, 1804, the Lewis & Clark Expedition began its trip up the Missouri River.
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.
In late July, the explorers camped out at a site that they called Council Bluff. Lewis noted in his journal that the location was good for a trading post. On August 3, Lewis and Clark had their first meeting with Native Americans. During this time Sergeant Charles Floyd, one of the soldiers, died of a ruptured appendix on August 20. He was the only person to die during the journey.
As they traveled up the Missouri River during late August and into September, the landscape along the river changed greatly. They went from Forests to tall prairie grass and then shorter grass on high plains. Thousands of buffalo were seen and prairie dogs were first sighted. The evening temperatures became colder, with frost on the ground some mornings. Lewis and Clark planned to settle near villages owned by large numbers of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes around North Dakota. On October 26, 1804, they arrived at the Indian villages.
During the winter Lewis and Clark worked to establish good relations with the Indians, who had been dealing with English and French-Canadian traders for some time. One of these traders, Toussaint Charbonneau, was persuaded to join Lewis and Clark as an interpreter when it left in the spring. His young pregnant wife, Sacagawea, came along as well. Sacagawea became the only female member of the Expedition. Lewis and Clark realized Sacagawea would be useful as a guide as they proceeded west and believed the presence of the woman and her child would signal that the party is peaceful.
During the cold winter at Fort Mandan, the members of the Expedition prepared a shipment that was to be sent back to President Jefferson. The shipment included maps, written reports, items made by Native Americans, the skins and skeletons of unknown animals, soil samples, minerals, seeds, and cages containing a live prairie dog, a sharp-tailed grouse, and magpies. The large keelboat and about a dozen men departed downriver on April 7. The shipment was received at the President’s House in Washington four months later. Many of these items were eventually put on display in Jefferson’s ‘Indian Hall,’ at his home near Charlottesville, Virginia. Other objects were later displayed in Charles Willson Peale’s museum in Philadelphia. The same day the shipment was sent downriver, the ‘permanent party’ of the Expedition left Fort Mandan and headed westward into uncharted territory.
Proceeding into present-day Montana, the explorers were amazed by herds of more than 10,000 buffalo and by the viciousness of grizzly bears. On June 13, the Expedition reached the Great Falls of the Missouri River. The great falls gave off a thunderous roar, which proceeded to a 10-mile stretch of river that dropped more than 400 feet. The members of the Expedition unloaded the supplies from the boats and took difficult trip around the great falls.
In late July, the Expedition reached the Three Forks of the Missouri River then headed southwest up a stream they named the Jefferson River. Sacagawea recognized Beaver-head Rock and said the party was near the home of her people, the Shoshone. They were desperate to find the Indians and their horses so Lewis decided to go ahead with three men. On August 12, Lewis came up on the final ridge to the Continental Divide. From the summit he expected to see plains with a large river flowing to the Pacific Ocean. But when he reached the peak and looked west, he came to the realization that there was no water route to the Pacific Ocean, only more mountains.
A few days later, Lewis came upon a Shoshone village and tried to negotiate for horses needed to cross the daunting mountains. Clark and the rest of the Expedition arrived and Sacagawea was brought in to help translate. The explorers set up camp near the Indian village and named it Camp Fortunate. The Shoshones provided the Expedition with some horses, a guide named Old Toby who had traveled through the mountains before, and information about mountain trails and other Indian tribes the explorers might encounter. The entire Expedition proceeded through the Lemhi Pass and made camp along a creek. This camp was called Traveler’s Rest.
Even though winter was fast approaching and snow was covering some of the peaks, Lewis and Clark decided to continue on through the Rocky Mountains. Cameahwait had told them of a trail, Lolo Trail, used by the Nez Perce.Unfortunately, they failed to locate this trail and spent many more days in the mountains than necessary. Temperatures dropped below freezing and the trail was steep and rocky. The men were fatigued and food supplies were low, but they eventually made it across the mountains. Once out of the Rocky Mountains, the explorers made canoes using the Indian method of burning out the inside of logs.
On October 7, the Expedition put five new canoes into the Clearwater River and paddled downstream. The party went down the Clearwater and Snake Rivers to the Columbia River, which the explorers knew flowed into the Pacific Ocean. By the end of October, the Expedition had made its way around the falls of the Columbia and sighted Mount Hood. In November, the Pacific Ocean was sighted. Clark estimated in his journal that the party had traveled 4,162 miles from the Missouri River. By Christmas, the men had nearly finished their winter quarters, which they called Fort Clatsop after the local Indian tribe. The explorers spent the cold, rainy, generally miserable winter updating their journals, trading with the Indians for food and other needed items, and preparing for the long return journey.
On March 23, 1806, Lewis and Clark presented Fort Clatsop to Chief Coboway and the Expedition began its trip home. The party reached the Nez Perce lands in May but had to wait there until late June for the snows to melt on the Rocky Mountains. Once they crossed the Rocky mountains and reached Traveler’s Rest, the Expedition split up. Lewis took part of the men north and Clark led a party down the Yellowstone River. On July 26, Lewis and his men became engaged in a fight with Blackfeet warriors. They were attempting to take horses and guns from Lewis and his men. They took care the Blackfeet warriors and killed them. On August 12, the entire Expedition was reunited at the point where the Yellowstone flows into the Missouri River.
Traveling with the Missouri’s current, the Expedition was able to cover up to 70 miles in a day. On August 14, the explorers reached the Mandan villages and they parted away with Charbonneau and Sacagawea. On September 23,1806, the Expedition finished its journey when it reached to St. Louis. President Jefferson had thought that the men would be gone for about a year, and had feared for their safety. It took the Lewis and Clark Expedition two years, four months, and nine days to travel across the western part of the continent and back.
Lewis and Clark began a expedition that was very important for American discovery and the future of America. President Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis were so extensive as to be almost impossible to complete, yet he viewed the Expedition as a huge success. The discoveries made by the explorers changed the vision of this young country.
No water route to the Pacific was found, but accurate and detailed maps were drawn. Peaceful contact was made with Native American tribes and trade was discussed. The body of knowledge added to the scientific community proved to be truly priceless and massive reaches of North America had been explored. Lewis and Clark’s ‘voyage of discovery’ turned out to be one of Thomas Jefferson’s greatest legacies.
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