Geography and History of the Travels of Lewis and Clark Part 1

About the history and geography of the travels of Lewis and Clark, an expedition through then uncharted parts of the United States.


Before Beginning. In 1803, Pres. Thomas Jefferson induced Congress to pass a secret appropriations bill of $2,500 to finance a transcontinental expedition which would travel through the newly bought Louisiana Purchase territory, across the Rocky Mountains, and down the almost legendary Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. To command this first overland trip across the continent, Jefferson chose two former Virginia neighbors, 29-year-old Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark. Clark at 33 was the oldest member of the expedition.

During the winter of 1804, at Fort Dubois on the Wood River in the Northwest Territory, the experienced frontiersmen Lewis and Clark organized their party, which was called the Corps of Discovery. The Corps of Discovery consisted of 29 U.S. Army soldiers, 10 French boatmen and scouts, and Clark's black slave, York. Planning on boating up the Missouri River into the interior, Lewis and Clark acquired a 55-ft. keelboat and two pirogues (large canoelike vessels). By the spring of 1804, Lewis and Clark had gathered the necessary supplies and arms and had stowed them aboard their flotilla.

Footsteps Then. At four in the afternoon on May 21, 1804, the Corps of Discovery launched their boats and floated down the Wood River to the Mississippi River. Sailing across the Mississippi, Lewis and Clark turned their boats into the mouth of the Missouri River at St. Louis, a wild frontier town of 1,000 Frenchmen, Spaniards, Americans, and Indians. Leaving St. Louis, the expedition traveled west on the Missouri to where the Missouri turns north and the Kansas River empties into it. Continuing north on the Missouri, the expedition suffered its first and only casualty when Sgt. Charles Floyd died of bilious colic. The first American soldier to die west of the Mississippi, Floyd was buried on the east bank of the Missouri.

Rowing, towing, and poling their boats up the Missouri, the explorers reached the villages of the Mandan Indians in November, 1804. Upriver from the villages, Lewis and Clark built Fort Mandan and spent the winter there. During that snowy winter, they hired a French Canadian guide named Toussaint Charbonneau, who brought with him his wife, Sacagawea, and their son, Jean Baptiste. Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian who had been kidnapped from her tribe at the age of 12, sold to various Indian braves, and finally won by Charbonneau in a gambling game.

In April, 1805, with their new guide and his family, Lewis and Clark set out westward on the Missouri. Arriving at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, they camped and encountered their first grizzly bear. Lewis, who was not known for his spelling abilities, remarked about the grizzly that"... these being so hard to die reather intimedates us all." Farther up the Missouri, Lewis and Clark came to a series of rapids and waterfalls which they named the Great Falls. Finally the expedition came to where three separate rivers flowed from the Rockies to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. Journeying up the most westerly river, the explorers abandoned their boats and began their hike into the Rockies.

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