History for the Rest of Us

Lewis and Clark Expedition

Lewis and Clark Expedition

May 14, 2012

Departure On May 14, 1804 crowds lined the banks of the Missouri River as Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, and a mix of soldiers and civilians, began the first transcontinental expedition undertaken by the United States. The expedition was undertaken for a variety of reasons, including reaching the Pacific; studying the plants, wildlife, and geography; assessing the economic potential of the region; and establishing sovereignty over the inhabitants of the land. Commission The Corps of Discovery, as the expedition would be called, was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, who appointed Lewis, a U.S. Army Captain and ardent supporter of the President, as its leader. Preparation Much preparation went into the expedition in an attempt to assure that the Corps would have adequate supplies for the journey. This included items such as weapons and ammunition, blacksmithing supplies, cartography equipment, flags, peacemaking gifts, medicine and other necessities. Lewis knew he could be sure of one thing. Once he passed the last of a supporting chain of frontier forts, he would not be able to receive assistance. In order for the expedition to be successful, he needed to effectively plan for that as well as for any of the many unpredictable events that might occur along the way. Sacagawea Sacagawea, an indigenous woman, and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau joined the explorers near present-day Wasburn, North Dakota. Sacagawea was an important addition to the Corps with her service as a translator as well as the image she and her infant son (born on the expedition) would convey of the Corps being on a peaceful and not hostile mission. Challenges The expedition was not without challenges including the disappearance of horses, confrontation with Indians, harsh weather conditions, and difficult terrain. Amazingly the expedition was completed with only one fatality, Sergeant Charles Floyd who died of an apparent ruptured appendix. “Ocean in View!” The Corp accomplished one of the primary objectives of reaching the Pacific on November 7 of 1805. Clark would write in his journal “Ocean in view! O! The joy!” Nearly 11 months later the party would complete their journey arriving to cheering crowds in St. Louis on September 23, 1806. Accomplishments During the course of the journey,...