Biography of American Explorers Lewis and Clark

About the famous American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, history of their trip across America.


MERIWETHER LEWIS (1774-1809) AND WILLIAM CLARK (1770-1838), The Perfect Team

President Thomas Jefferson's choice of young Meriwether Lewis, who had once been his private secretary, to lead the U.S. Corps of Discovery in the territory beyond the Mississippi was inspired, as was Lewis's choice of his friend William Clark, brother of George Rogers Clark, to share the command. The brilliant but neurotic Lewis and the outgoing, practical Clark balanced each other perfectly, for their differences were complementary. Not that they had nothing in common; both had been soldiers and Indian fighters, and both were poor spellers (examples: "musquiters and knats," "jentle brease"). Clark, accepting Lewis's offer, wrote: "This is an immense undertaking, fraught with numerous difficulties, but my friend I can assure you that no man lives with whom I would prefer to undertake and share the difficulties of such a trip than yourself."

Lewis acted as the expedition's doctor, relying heavily on Rush's Thunderbolts, cure-all pills that he carried in the medicine chest along with 30 other drugs. To his credit, only one man died on the trip, from "biliose chorlick" (probably a ruptured appendix), though several people, including Sacagawea, their female Indian interpreter, became quite ill. There were mishaps, too. Lewis, for instance, was accidentally shot in the buttock by a frontiersman who mistook him for an elk, and for weeks he had to write in his journal standing up. Clark drew the maps and sketches and later prepared the material in their field notebooks for publication. His 1814 report became an American classic.

After the expedition Lewis was made governor of the Louisiana Territory. In October, 1809, on his way to Washington, D.C., 60 mi. from Nashville, he died of a gunshot wound. It is unclear whether he was murdered or committed suicide. Clark became governor of the Missouri Territory, then superintendent of Indian affairs for Louisiana.

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