March 9, 2005


Lewis And Clark Expedition Final Report

By Dr. Frank J. Collazo


Introduction:  Lewis and Clark Expedition, first United States overland exploration of the American West and Pacific Northwest, beginning in May 1804 and ending in September 1806.  The launch of the expedition was subsequent to the Louisiana Purchase.  President Jefferson called on Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to be in charge of the expedition about 13,000 km (about 8,000 miles) from a camp outside St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back.  Like other scholars in his time, Jefferson believed in the existence of a Northwest Passage, or some kind of water connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  The principal goal of the expedition was to locate such a route and survey its potential as a waterway for American westward expansion.  Although Lewis and Clark did not find this route, the expedition succeeded in making peaceful contact with Native Americans and uncovering a wealth of knowledge about the peoples, geography, plants, and animals of the western United States.


Background:  Northwest Passage, navigable sea route along the north coast of North America, connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean via the marine waterways of northern Canada and the coastal waters off northern Alaska. Historically, the passage was sought as a trade route between Europe and China and India. Efforts to discover a route through or around North America began in the 1490s with the voyages of John Cabot. He was unsuccessful, as were many later attempts.

Early Attempts by Thomas Jefferson’s Father:  Thomas Jefferson's father was one of the organizers of the Loyal Company in the 1750s that was a land-speculating company.  Among the things these people planned was an expedition up the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.  And then Jefferson also tried to enlist George Rogers Clark, the older brother of William Clark, to undertake a similar mission in 1783, right at the end of the American Revolution.  Jefferson correctly foresaw that the other European countries would try to exploit the western part of the North American continent.

America West-Siberia-Alaska Expedition:  Then in 1786, when Thomas Jefferson was in France, he enlisted a man from Connecticut by the name of John Ledyard to explore the American West by first walking across Siberia and then crossing to Alaska, walking down from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest and on to the Mississippi.  One might think this was far-fetched, but Mr. Ledyard actually left on his mission to the American West via Siberia in 1787, and got as far as Kamchatka on the -- in Siberia before the Russian police arrested him as a spy and expelled him from the country.

President Jefferson may have been surprised when Napoleon offered the whole of the Louisiana Territory for sale in 1803, but he was far from unprepared.  In 1792, Jefferson had already started his quest to map and explore the lands west of St. Louis, and to find a water route to the Pacific.  A few months before his envoy went to Paris to discuss Louisiana, Jefferson had quietly directed his private secretary to certain studies. These included geography, navigation, and other subjects that would be needed on an exploration to the Pacific.

1793 Expedition by a Frenchman:  So then when Jefferson was Secretary of State in 1793, he and the American Philosophical Society raised the money to mount an expedition to explore the American West.  And interestingly enough, Meriwether Lewis actually volunteered to go on this expedition in 1793, but he was turned down and they selected a Frenchman by the name of André Michaux, a noted traveler and botanist, to undertake this mission.  Michaux actually started on the expedition, and got as far as Tennessee -- what is now Tennessee - before Jefferson realized that Michaux was actually a French government agent who was spying on the American West.  So they recalled Michaux, took away the money they had given him, and there the matter rested until Jefferson became President.

Although Jefferson had long been interested in the American West, it was not until 1802 that he began to plan an expedition to the Pacific.  After reading Voyages from Montréal (1801) by Canadian explorer and fur trader Sir Alexander Mackenzie in the summer of 1802, the president began to make preparations for an American expedition aimed at countering Mackenzie’s plans to make the West and Pacific Northwest part of the British Empire.  Influenced by the renowned 18th-century journeys of Captain James Cook and Captain George Vancouver, Jefferson envisioned an official expedition that combined diplomatic, scientific, and commercial goals.  He believed that the nation that dominated a water passage through the continent could control the destiny of all North America.  He was also convinced that the West would be a paradise for American farmers.

Jefferson was spurred into again exploring the West, because Alexander Mackenzie's book describing his actual expedition to the Pacific across Canada was published in 1801, and Jefferson purchased a copy in 1803.  With this in his mind he then turned again to mounting this expedition to the West, and that brings us to Meriwether Lewis who conveniently enough, was Jefferson's personal secretary at the time.

Secretary of the Treasury Suggestion:  Albert Gallatin, who was the Secretary of the Treasury, suggested that the expedition explore south of the Missouri River to try and find out where the tributaries of the river went.  He also suggested they explore north so that they would know how far the tributaries coming into the Missouri from the north extended into the commercial fur areas of what is now Canada.

Passport Refusal by Spain:  When Jefferson was seeking congressional support for this expedition; he viewed it as primarily a commercial expedition -- which these people would find out what the commercial advantages might be to the United States by trading with the Native Americans.  Also that there would be a river route to the Northwest with access to the China market; and that was the focus of the secret message to Congress.  But when Jefferson prepared his letters to seek passports from France, Spain, and England for Lewis’ expedition to go through, he viewed it strictly as a scientific and what they call "literary" expedition.  There's no mention of commerce in any of those letters. And so the passports that Lewis obtained from England and France reflect this; that it was simply a scientific expedition.  Spain did not issue a passport.  And as we can see, this document, commerce and science, went hand-in-hand in the mission of Meriwether Lewis and ultimately the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Spanish Expedition:  The commercial aspect had to be kept secret from the French, Spanish, and English governments, because they were opposed to it.  In fact, the Spanish government sent at least three expeditions out to intercept the Lewis and Clark Expedition after it was started.  The first two didn't find anything -- they ended up wandering around in what is now Kansas and Nebraska.  But the third Spanish expedition actually ran into another expedition sent out by Thomas Jefferson that of Zebulon Pike, into Colorado, from which we now have Pike's Peak as the symbol.  The Spanish ran into Pike's expedition and for a time thought they had actually captured Lewis and Clark's expedition and brought Zebulon Pike and his expedition into Mexico before they were expelled. 

All of the papers, records, and journals from the Pike Expedition were basically lost because the Spanish confiscated them.  So there was a good reason to try to keep parts of it secret and try to portray it as strictly a scientific venture - which of course Jefferson was very interested in.  However, secrecy had a purpose and the confidentiality, then as now, naturally didn't last very long.

The ill-fated expedition (1845-1848) of Sir John Franklin unknowingly came close to finding a route.  Franklin's ships disappeared, and during attempts to find them the existence of a Northwest Passage was proved (1850-1854).  Finally, from 1903 to 1906, Ronald Amundsen made the first transit of the passage.  In 1969 a U.S. icebreaking oil tanker, the Manhattan, became the first large vessel to negotiate the passage.

Louisiana Purchase Conflict With the Lewis Clark Expedition:  Francois Valle and His World, Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark.  Francois Valle was a major figure in the French settlement and development of upper Louisiana, and his career and contributions to the colony, particularly the town of Sainte Genevieve (later, Missouri), are well documented in this biography by Carl J. Ekberg.

Working with limited official and clerical sources and disadvantaged by an absence of documents from the hand of his "illiterate" subject, Ekberg nevertheless presents a shrewd and accommodating Valle, providing in the process another excellent example of the entrepreneur as pioneer and developer in French and Spanish Louisiana in the eighteenth century.  Indeed, Valle's successes as voyageur, fur trader, lead miner, agrarian capitalist, slave owner, and government official made him the wealthiest and most consequential figure in upper Louisiana well before his death in 1783.


Valle, of French Canadian origin, crossed the Mississippi from Kaskaskia in the late 1750s to launch a remarkable career.  Constructing his fortune in commercial agriculture through the acquisition and cultivation of substantial land on the Grand Champ, he also became the largest slave owner in the region and continued his earlier interest in lead mining. 


As was the case with other successful entrepreneurs in upper Louisiana, Valle involved his family in his business and governmental activities.  His marriage to Marianne Billeron produced a formidable partnership in itself as well as several sons and a daughter.  One son, Jean-Baptiste Valle, inherited much of his father's business acumen and continued to expand the family fortunes on the foundations established by the elder Valle.  Like other entrepreneurs, Valle nourished mutually beneficial trade and financial relations with other prominent French families, making the most of marriage alliances and cultural ties to enhance business opportunities.


Ekberg correctly emphasizes the importance of the official connections established by the Valles with the Spanish colonial authorities after 1764.  Accepting responsibilities in the militia and for several civic functions in the area, the Valles turned government patronage to economic advantage.   Also of interest is the picture Ekberg provides of African slavery in upper Louisiana before the American period.  Glimpses of Valle's considerable slave population, as reflected in census and church records, indicate a more complicated and multilayered society, black and white, than might have been anticipated in such a small community.

In an eventful career from boatman to Spanish don, Francois Valle was an agent of European civilization in upper Louisiana, if not by design, then certainly by circumstance.  Students of the period will profit from Ekberg's thorough and thoughtful biography.

While they were planning what came to be the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Jefferson had sent a special minister to France, James Monroe, to try to expedite the purchase of New Orleans for the United States.  While in France, the French, who had been defeated in San Domingo by the slave uprising, saw their plans for expansion in North America going awry, and Napoleon needed money for a new military expedition in Europe.  So he actually offered to sell the United States, all of what is now the Louisiana Purchase.  It was a total surprise that Jefferson received word of the Louisiana Purchase at the end of June, and when Meriwether Lewis left Washington on July 5th of 1803 he did know about the Louisiana Purchase.  Of course they had no idea what the Louisiana Purchase really meant, and that became another mission for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

At the time the instructions were prepared, Jefferson had no real idea of expanding the United States beyond the Mississippi River.  In fact, after the Louisiana Purchase was effected, Jefferson was still thinking that the Euro-American settlements would not go west of the Mississippi River, and he not only drafted an amendment to the Constitution which would have set aside in perpetuity all of the land west of the Mississippi for an Indian nation or reservation.  But he instructed Meriwether Lewis when he went to St. Louis and then up the Missouri to try to convince the French and Spanish settlers on the west of the Mississippi to move east of the Mississippi because he didn't want any Euro-Americans settled west of the Mississippi.  He had this vision of it being a vast Native American area.  Also there were people like James Monroe, who envisioned sending freed slaves to the west of the Mississippi as a way of ending slavery in the United States.  They had a colonization scheme in which slaves and former slaves would be sent west of the Mississippi to live with the Native Americans.

Thomas Jefferson’s Achievements:  Thomas Jefferson, 3RD President.  Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a principal leader in the American Revolution, and the third president of the United States.  Jefferson is also regarded as a great political thinker and diplomat.  The U.S. doubled its area in 1803 when he bought territory west of the Mississippi called the Louisiana Purchase.  Thomas Jefferson’s election in 1800 marked the first time that an incumbent party lost the White House.  The election was marked by bitter conflict between the major political parties of the day, the Democrat-Republicans and the Federalists.  Jefferson, a Democrat-Republican, won the presidency based on the strength of his party, but he sought to minimize the country’s partisan conflicts.

Jefferson declared in his first inaugural address in 1801, “We are all republicans—we are all federalists,” meaning that party attachment was secondary to national identity.  The correspondence between former United States Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, written between 1811 and their deaths in 1826, are among the most valuable documents from early American history.  In this exchange, Jefferson, writing from his Monticello estate in Virginia, and Adams, writing from his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, discuss the nature of aristocracy.  Jefferson and Adams agreed that there is a “natural aristocracy,” or a group of people who are most likely to gain power because of their innate talent and virtue.  They disagreed, however, on what role the “pseudo-aristocracy,” or people born into wealth and power, should play in government. 

At the same time, however, Jefferson used the presidency to champion a legislative agenda that reflected the Democratic-Republican view of the national interest.  Through his domination of his party's congressional caucus, which then controlled the principal legislative committees in Congress, Jefferson won passage of economic measures that decentralized power and favored the agricultural and rural areas over industrial and urban interests.  Jefferson’s successful legislative initiative established the principle that the president could be both party leader and the country’s chief executive. 

Jefferson’s most dramatic action was the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which added more than 2,100,000 sq km (more than 800,000 sq mi) of land to the United States.  Jefferson had no constitutional authority to buy the territory from France, but he saw landholding and farming as essential to the country’s future.  Jefferson called the purchase “an act beyond the Constitution,” but Congress eventually appropriated funds and approved the land deal.  Jefferson's vision of a larger, more prosperous country, joined with his political pragmatism to produce an act of exceptional presidential leadership.  The bold decision to push forward with the Louisiana Purchase demonstrated that presidential power went beyond the narrowly worded passages in the Constitution, and that the authority of the office depends in part on the person in power.

The following is a summary of chronological events of President Thomas Jefferson’s achievements:

Date of Birth: April 13, 1743, Shadwell, Virginia.  Died July 4th, 1826 at Charlottesville, Virginia.

1797 - 1801- Jefferson served as Vice President.

1800 - The National government moved from Philadelphia (after 10 years) to the new Federal City on the Banks of the Potomac.  The exact site of the new Federal City was to be selected by Washington himself, and it was later named in his honor. 

The new Federal City

1801- Thomas Jefferson became the 3rd President of the United States (he was 58 years old). 

1801- United States census confirmed over 5 million people living east of the Mississippi. 

1801- Rumors began to circulate in New Orleans that Spain had secretly transferred Louisiana to France.  The process of designing Jefferson’s Peace Medal is undertaken by the US Mint.

1802 - President Jefferson sent a dispatch to the American minister in France, Robert R. Livingston, to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. 

1803 - President Jefferson appointed James Monroe to assist Livingston in the negotiations.  Upon arriving Monroe learned that Napoleon had offered to sell the entire Louisiana territory to the United States. 

1803 - The Treaty of the Louisiana Purchase was signed.

Map of Louisiana Purchase

Figure 1 - Louisiana Purchase from France (20,000 square miles or 4,800,000 acres)

1803 - The Letter of Instructions was issued to Lewis and Clark to conduct the expedition.

1804 - President Jefferson re-elected as President.

1809 - Jefferson returns to his Virginia home in Monticello.

1819 - Jefferson persuaded the state legislature to charter the University of Virginia.  Jefferson designed the schools main buildings and helped shape its curriculum and choose a faculty. 

Charter of the Lewis and Clark Expedition:

January 18, 1803 - President Thomas Jefferson launched the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a confidential letter to the Congress of the United States of America.  "The river Missouri, and the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desirable by their connection…with us…  An intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men… might explore the whole…to the Western Ocean."

President Thomas Jefferson's Instructions
to Captain Meriwether Lewis (June 20, 1803)-(Unedited)

20 June 1803
To Meriwether Lewis Esq. Captain of the 1st Regiment of the Infantry of the USA


Instructions:  “Your situation as Secretary of the President of the U. S. has made you acquainted with the objects of my confidential message of Jan. 18, 1803 to the legislature.  You have seen the act they passed, which, tho' expressed in general terms, was meant to sanction those objects, and you are appointed to carry them into execution.”


“Instruments for ascertaining, by celestial observations, the geography of the country through which you will pass, have been already provided.  Light articles for barter and presents among the Indians, arms for your attendants, say from 10 to 12 men, boats, tents, and other traveling apparatus, with ammunition, medicine, surgical instruments and provisions you will have prepared with such aids as the Secretary at War can yield in his department; and from him also you will receive authority to engage among our troops, by voluntary agreement, the number of attendants above mentioned, over whom you, as their commanding officer, are invested with all the powers the laws give in such a case.”


“As your movements while within the limits of the U.S. will be better directed by occasional communications, adapted to circumstances as they arise, they will not be noticed here.  What follows will respect your proceedings after your departure from the United States.”


“Your mission has been communicated to the ministers here from France, Spain & Great Britain, and through them to their governments; & such assurances given them as to its objects, as we trust will satisfy them. The country [of Louisiana] having been ceded by Spain to France, the passport you have from the minister of France, the representative of the present sovereign of the country, will be a protection with all its subjects; & that from the minister of England will entitle you to the friendly aid of any traders of that allegiance with whom you may happen to meet.


The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River and such principal streams of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado, or and other rivers may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purpose of commerce.”


“Beginning at the mouth of the Missouri, you will take careful observations of latitude and longitude, at all remarkable points of the river, and especially at the mouths of the rivers, at rapids, islands, and other places and objects distinguished by such natural marks and characters of a durable kind, as they may with certainty be recognized hereafter.  The courses of the river between these points of observation may be supplied by the compass the log line and by time corrected by the observations themselves.  The variations of the compass too, in different places, should be noticed.”


“The interesting points of the portage between the heads of the Missouri, and of the water offering the best communication with the Pacific ocean, should also be fixed by observation, and the course of that water to the ocean, in the same manner as that of the Missouri.”


“Your observations are to be taken with great pains and accuracy, to be entered distinctly and intelligibly for others as well as yourself, to comprehend all the elements necessary, with the aid of the usual tables, to fix the latitude and longitude of the places at which they were taken, and are to be rendered to the war-office, for the purpose of having the calculations made concurrently by proper persons within the U.S.  Several copies of these as well as of your other notes should be made at leisure times, and put into the care of the most trustworthy of your attendants, to guard, by multiplying them, against the accidental losses to which they will be exposed.  A further guard would be that one of these copies be on the paper of the birch, as less liable to injury from damp than common paper.”


“The commerce which may be carried on with the people inhabiting the line you will pursue, renders a knowledge of those people important.  You will therefore endeavor to make yourself acquainted, as far as a diligent pursuit of your journey shall admit, with the names of the nations and their numbers.  The extent and limits of their possessions, their relations with other tribes of nations, their language, traditions, monuments, their ordinary occupations in agriculture, fishing, hunting, war, arts, and the implements for these; their food, clothing, domestic accommodations, diseases prevalent among them, and the remedies they use; moral and physical circumstances which distinguish them from the tribes we know, peculiarities in their laws, customs and dispositions, and articles of commerce they may need or furnish, and to what extent.”


“And, considering the interest which every nation has in extending and strengthening the authority of reason and justice among the people around them, it will be useful to acquire what knowledge you can of the state of morality, religion, and information among them, as it may better enable those who endeavor to civilize and instruct them to adapt their measure to the existing notions and practices of those on whom they are to operate.”

“Other objects worthy of notice will be the soil and face of the country, it's growth and vegetable productions, especially those not of the US, the animals of the country generally, and especially those not known in the US the remains or accounts of any which may be deemed rare or extinct; the mineral productions of every kind, but more particularly metals, limestone, pit coal, and saltpeter, saline and mineral waters, noting the temperature of the last, and such circumstances as may indicate their character; volcanic appearances, climate as characterized by the thermometer, by the proportion of rainy, cloudy, and clear days, by lightening, hail, snow, ice, by the access and recess of frost, and by the winds prevailing at different locations.”

Figure 2 depicts the route of the expedition.

Lewis and Clark Outfitters and Exclusive Excursions
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Figure 2 - Expedition Route

The Corps of Discovery’s route across the continent was dictated by Jefferson’s notions of American geography.  The president believed that the most practical passage across the continent followed the Missouri River to its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains. Once over the mountains by a presumably short and easy portage, Jefferson was sure that his explorers would find another river leading directly to the ocean.  However, the president’s assumptions about geography did not match Western realities.

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Figure 3 - Missouri-Woods River

Initial Preparations of the Expedition:  The president turned to his young private secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, for leadership in this enterprise.  An army officer and experienced naturalist, Lewis had the background, energy, and dedication to fulfill the challenging assignment.  In June 1803 Jefferson completed his demanding exploration instructions after receiving advice from leading American scientists, including physicians Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Smith Barton, and the noted surveyor Andrew Ellicott.  In a detailed letter now recognized as a classic exploration document, Jefferson itemized more than a dozen areas of inquiry for the expedition, ranging broadly from astronomy and botany to linguistics and zoology.  The president sought information about plants, animals, rivers, mountains, and native cultures, which Lewis and Clark recorded in journals during the expedition.

The demands of the expedition were enormous, and Lewis soon turned to William Clark, a friend from his army days in Ohio, to act as co-commander.  Despite the fact that Clark was officially a lieutenant, and therefore of lower rank than Lewis, a captain, Jefferson and Lewis considered Clark an equal leader of the party.

In 1803, after Jefferson had written his instructions for the team, the United States acquired a vast portion of the central North American continent from France in the Louisiana Purchase.  The land purchase increased the importance of the expedition.  Since the team would now be exploring United States lands, Lewis and Clark had the added duty of announcing American sovereignty in the new territory.

News of the Louisiana Purchase sped their preparations for the journey.  Lewis had copies of most of the available maps of the northwest, which included those of Captain Vancouver and Alexander Mackenzie.  He had abundant supplies, equipment and trading goods ready.  Boat builders were adapting a 55-foot keelboat, which could be sailed, rowed, poled like a raft, or towed from the riverbank.  In addition to the Keelboat, two wooden rowboats called Piroques were taken to hold men and supplies.

In late 1803, Lewis and Clark took their men and their boats to Camp Dubois to spend the winter at the mouth of the Missouri.  In the spring and after the formal transfer of Louisiana to the United States, Lewis remained in St Louis to attend to diplomatic business while Clark took the party up river to St Charles.

Logistical Support Concept:  The Corps of Discovery, as the expedition party was properly known, demanded more people than Jefferson first imagined.  Before reaching their base camp at Wood River outside St. Louis, Lewis and Clark recruited a sizable number of civilian hunters, army soldiers, and French boatmen.  While not all made the entire journey to the Pacific, some 48 men were part of the team when it left St. Louis heading up the Missouri River.  The expedition roster included Clark’s slave, York, who some Native Americans called “Big Medicine,” along with many other adventurers who came to play a major role in American expansion, such as the hunters John Colter and George Drouillard.  Other members of the expedition who also kept journals were Sergeants Charles Floyd, Patrick Gass, and John Ordway, and Private Joseph Whitehouse.  The Corps and its supplies went up the river on a large keelboat (a riverboat used for freight) and several smaller boats, requiring the experience of French boatmen.

Trading Goods: The following is a summary of the trading goods list loaded on the boats before the launch of the expedition.


Trading Goods:

12 pipe hawks

48 butcher knives

132 knives

6.5 lbs. sheet iron

12 needle cases

8 brass kettles @ 2.5 lbs each

Brass strips  (12 lbs)

2 corn mills

180 pair scissors

Brass wire (12 lbs)

Knitting needles (14 lbs)

2800 assorted forged fish hooks

144 pocket mirrors (glass)

180 pocket mirrors (pewter)

96 burning glasses

144 iron combs

432 curtain rings

288 assorted thimbles

2 cards beads (?)

3 lbs beads

73 bunches assorted beads

6 bunches large red garnet beads

62 bunches brown beads

10 bunches yellow beads

25 bunches white beads

10 bunches smaller blue, yellow, white (each)

8.5 lbs red beads

Several yards trade cloth (red, blue)

Chiefs Coats

Powdered vermillion

Tobacco: There is no mention of this item in the trade goods list or company supplies.  But, it is known that tobacco was given as a present.  

Westward Voyage Operation:  As commanding officers for the expedition, Lewis and Clark informally divided leadership responsibilities: Lewis became the party’s naturalist, and Clark served as the mapmaker and negotiator.  The expedition set out on May 21, 1804.  In its first season of travel (May to October 1804) the expedition made its way up the Missouri, built Fort Mandan in present-day North Dakota, and spent the winter among the Mandan and Hidatsa peoples.  Although some of the travel was physically demanding, this stretch of the river already was well known to St. Louis merchants and traders.  On August 20, 1804, near present-day Sioux City, Iowa, the expedition suffered its only fatality when Sergeant Charles Floyd died of a ruptured appendix.

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Figure 4 - Omaha-Sioux City (includes Nebraska and Iowa)


The second travel season (April to December 1805) proved far more challenging as the expedition moved into countries unknown to the non-natives.  The Corps of Discovery now counted 33 members in the permanent party, including a Native American woman, Sacagawea, her husband, French Canadian interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, and their infant son Jean Baptiste, all of whom joined the group at Fort Mandan.  Sacagawea, a Shoshone who had been captured by the Hidatsa tribe and then sold to Charbonneau, helped the party as an interpreter and peacemaker.  She proved instrumental in negotiating for horses and supplies along the way.

The expedition struggled around the Great Falls of the Missouri, searched for a pass over the Continental Divide, and was stunned not to find a water passage direct from present-day Idaho to the ocean.  Instead, the party labored in deep snow over the Lolo Trail, crossing the border of present-day Montana into Idaho, where they encountered the Native American tribe known as the Nez Perce.  The Nez Perce taught them how to eat camas roots and assured them that the rivers ahead were navigable.  The explorers then traveled on the Snake River into present-day Washington before finally reaching the Columbia River.  By the time Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean in November 1805 and built Fort Clatsop, their winter residence near present-day Astoria, Oregon, they had a much clearer sense of the continent’s geographic complexity.

Relations Among Explorers:  The explorers themselves were undoubtedly transformed by their journey.  What began as a diverse and unruly set of characters became in the course of the expedition a tight-knit community.  At Fort Mandan, Lewis described the expedition members as enjoying “a most perfect harmony.”

Corps of Engineer Contributions:  On May 21, 1804 "The Corps of Discovery" outlined one of the most documented American adventures.  By July, the Corps had traveled into Indian country, but had not met up with any Indians.  Then, during a halt a hunting party met up with a Missouri Indian.  A few days later a company of Oto and Missouri came to visit.  Lewis spoke to the assemblage about the United States control of Louisiana and the need for peace between Indians and Americans.  Lewis knew that he would soon run into the Sioux, and they might not receive him so cordially.  Lewis finally made contact with the Yankton Sioux at Calumet Bluff on August 30th.  He saw little of the ferocity of the Sioux in this first meeting, and the expedition parted from the Yanktons on the best of terms.

For a while, the Corps spent some idyllic days hunting the abundant autumn game, while Lewis was happily engrossed with natural history.  This mood was shattered by the keelboat’s approach to another Sioux camp, which turned out to be far from peaceable. When Lewis tried to begin a council, the chiefs reacted with suspicion and belligerence. The Teton Sioux did not want a powerful force of white men so deep within their country.  But again the explorers’ combination of coolness and firepower kept the Indians from starting a fight.  As a result, peace had been preserved, and the Corps of Discovery sailed on.

Because the weather had turned cold, windy, and wet, a winter campsite was urgently needed.  One was found near the Mandan Villages in present day North Dakota by the time of the first snow, and its construction was begun in November.  A stout log fort called Fort Mandan was completed by December 24th, 1804, and the Corps settled in for the winter.

While at Fort Mandan, Lewis made contact with fur traders, one of them a French Trader Touissant Charbonneau that was married to a Shoshoni girl named Sacagawea who would later be helpful to the expedition.

When spring freed the keelboat from river ice, Lewis sent it back east with some of the soldiers and many of the new discoveries.  The narrowing river demanded smaller craft, and so the Corps made six canoes to supplement the two pirogues.  On April 7th, 1805 Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery headed west.  By late April they had reached the junction with the Yellowstone River that was located in the rugged foothill country.  This region held some animals that were strange to them, mountain sheep, mule deer, and grizzly bears.

While bears were keeping the hunters busy, the Missouri was occupying the river men. They began a grueling portage around the 90-foot cascades of the Great Falls.  The men made a crude wagon to carry the boats and supplies around the falls.  They had to repair the wagon constantly, but finally in mid-July, the 18-mile detour was over, and the Corps went back on the river to force their way up into the Rocky Mountains.

Lewis and Clark had been shocked to find that the Rockies were not a single wall of mountains.  They still believed that the Columbia headwaters would be waiting for them after a short overland trek across the Continental or Great Divide.

By July 25th, they had reached another expected landmark, the Missouri Three Forks. Lewis and a few men left the party to forge ahead on land and look for the Shoshoni. They roamed the river valley for days while Clark and the others dragged the boats up the stream.  Lewis knew the need for Indian help grew even more desperate.  Without horses the "Corps of Discovery" would not be able to continue.

The day after crossing the Divide, Lewis met a band of Shoshoni and sent for Clark and the rest of the company.  When they arrived, it was discovered that the leader of the Shoshoni band was Sacagawea’s brother.  This family connection helped the Corps acquire horses, information and a guide.

They cached their canoes and some equipment on the newly named Jefferson River, and then struggled off on heavily laden horses over underbrush choked mountain trails looking for navigable water.  In September, they decided to turn north to the Bitterroot Valley in order to strike an Indian Trail described by the Shoshoni.  The trail was rocky and horses crippled themselves and some even fell off the slopes.  The hunting was poor and the men were hungry.

They soon found before them lower, less rugged terrain, and a creek that they were sure would lead to the Columbia River.  A headlong descent by the starving, weakened men brought them to a hospitable Nez Perce Camp where the Indians fed them with dried salmon.  Here the weather was warmer and the game more plentiful.  After they had been fed and rested, the Corps began to travel again.  Within a few days they had reached the Clearwater River, a tributary of the Snake that led to the Columbia.  On October 16th, almost without warning the men found themselves on the broad waters of the Columbia, rushing toward the Pacific Ocean.

When they reached the Narrow of the Columbia, Lewis saw the water "boiling and whirling in every direction" over jagged rocks, but the impatient Corps flung their canoes through the obstacles, without any damaging effects.  A longer portage had to be made around the ferocious waters of the Cascades.  By early November the Cascades were behind them; they had overcome the last mountain obstacle and were moving through tidewater.

Within a few days, the river widened into a broad bay.  The Corps thought (mistakenly) that they could see the Pacific.  Clark wrote “Ocean in View” but that joy turned to misery when rough water and torrential rain drove them to camp under the bay’s sheer cliffs.  After a few days they paddled into the Columbia’s estuary, with the open sea spread before them.  Later while a spot for a winter camp was being voted on, Clark carved on a tree: "William Clark, December 3rd, 1805.  By land from the U. States in 1804 and 1805."

Relations with Native Indians and Spanish:  The Lewis and Clark Expedition made a journey through the homelands of native people.  What American explorers called “wilderness” and “unknown” was more properly Native American homes, gardens, and hunting territories.  Without the active support of native people, the expedition could not have accomplished its goals, much less survived in a sometimes-difficult country.  Native people provided Lewis and Clark with vital geographic information, food, shelter, and transportation.  In many ways Sacagawea symbolized the cooperation between native people and the Corps of Discovery.  While she was not a guide in the fullest sense of the word, her presence assured many Native Americans that the Corps of Discovery was not a hostile war party.  At a key juncture Sacagawea was reunited with her brother Cameahwait, a Shoshone chief who provided vital assistance to the expedition.

In two-and-a-half years of travel and exploration, there was only one fatal encounter between the Corps of Discovery and Native Americans.  The incident occurred during Lewis’s exploration of the Marias River.  In late July 1806 Lewis’s party came upon a group of Piegan Blackfoot warriors.  When the Piegans attempted to take guns and horses, Lewis’s men retaliated, killing two natives.

While native people saw the expedition more as an opportunity for trade than as a threat to tribal sovereignty, Spanish officials in Mexico City had a different reaction to Jefferson’s enterprise.  The Spanish had long been deeply suspicious of American ambitions in the West and since the end of the American Revolution (1775-1783) were certain that the new American republic intended to reach across the continent to the Pacific.  Alerted to the Corps of Discovery, possibly by secret agent General James Wilkinson, the Spanish made several unsuccessful attempts to stop the expedition and capture Lewis and Clark.

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Figure 3 - Washington-Oregon Trail  (Oregon and Washington maps are combined because of joining borders.)

Yankton Sioux Tribe:   Folklore has it that while Lewis and Clark convened with the Yankton Sioux Tribe in 1804, on Calumet Bluff, a male child was born in one of the lodges.  Learning of this fact, Captain Lewis sent for the child and wrapped him in an American flag.  Lewis proceeded with a speech in which he prophesied that the boy would live to become eminent among his people and a great friend of the white men.  His prophecy came true, for the boy grew up to be the famous "Struck By The Ree," Chief of the Yankton Tribe.  The "Struck By The Ree" monument is located in Greenwood, South Dakota.

Return of the Voyage:  The return journey from Fort Clatsop to St. Louis (March to September 1806) held its own unique dangers and accomplishments.  With several important exploration tasks still planned, Lewis and Clark divided the Corps of Discovery into two parties.  Clark led one group on a reconnaissance of the Yellowstone River.  Meanwhile, Lewis took a small detachment into present-day north central Montana, thinking that the course of the Marias River might provide an American claim to fur-rich country in what is now the Canadian province of Alberta.  In August the groups reunited on the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Yellowstone.  They arrived in St. Louis on September 23, 1806.

Achievements and Disappointments:  Lewis and Clark received a hero’s welcome when they returned from the expedition, despite some disappointment that they had not found an easy water route to the Pacific.  After Lewis’s death in 1809, Clark and American diplomat and financier Nicholas Biddle took over the task of compiling the report.  They finally published an abridged, two-volume collection of the journals in 1814.  This version left out most of the material the party had compiled about plant and animal life.  The most recent scholarly edition of the journals was edited in 11 volumes by historian Gary E. Moulton under the title, The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and published from 1983 to 1997 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Thomas Jefferson had repeatedly insisted that the Corps of Discovery had one central mission—to find what he called “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce.”  However, Lewis and Clark did not find a Northwest Passage, nor did they pioneer the route that became the Oregon Trail. Although Lewis and Clark strengthened U.S. claims in the West, American claims in subsequent diplomatic disputes with Britain were based not so much on Lewis and Clark as on the Columbia River explorations of American explorer Captain Robert Gray in 1792 and the building of Fort Astoria in 1811.  But Jefferson was by no means disappointed with his Corps of Discovery.  The journals, maps, plant and animal specimens, and notes on Native American societies amounted to a Western encyclopedia. The expedition also established peaceful contact with many Native American peoples. Finally, the expedition set a pattern for government-sponsored scientific exploration in the United States.

Scientific Findings:  The Lewis and Clark Expedition discovered 122 animal species and subspecies and 178 new plant species, and 223 plant specimens from the expedition survive.  Among the animal species and subspecies previously unknown to science were the grizzly bear, the California condor, the coyote, the black-footed ferret, the black-billed magpie, the black-tailed prairie dog, the pronghorn, and the gray wolf.  The two explorers left their names imprinted on two bird species, Lewis’s woodpecker and Clark’s nutcracker, and the scientific name for the westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi).  Among the plant species they described for science for the first time were the western red cedar, eastern cottonwood, red flowering currant, the mountain hemlock, the white-bark pine, Sitka spruce, Oregon grape, and the Pacific yew.

A trained naturalist, Lewis was especially noted for his meticulous observations and exacting measurements of new species.  Perhaps more important for the future settlement of the West, Lewis and Clark returned with stories of the rich abundance of wildlife.

Fate of the Explorers:  Following the expedition, President Jefferson appointed Lewis the governor of the new Louisiana Territory.  Lewis reportedly struggled with the demands of the position, fell into a depression, and three years after the expedition’s end, most historians agree, committed suicide.  In 1807 Clark was appointed as the U.S. government’s representative to the Native American tribes living west of the Mississippi River, a role he retained until his death in 1838.  Clark initially refused York’s requests that he be given his freedom in exchange for his service to the expedition but eventually relented in 1816.

York went into the freight business and reportedly died in 1832.  Sacagawea died in 1812 at the age of 25 at Fort Manuel in present-day South Dakota.  Her two children, Jean Baptiste and a daughter Lisette who was born after the expedition, were adopted by Clark.  Her husband Charbonneau continued living among the Mandan and Hidatsa.  His death date is unknown but his estate was settled in 1843 by his son Jean Baptiste, the youngest member of the expedition.

Bicentennial Celebrations:  More than 200 years after the Lewis and Clark expedition was first commissioned, the journey still captures the imagination of the American people.  It was not always so.  The first history of the expedition, published in 1814, saw only 1,417 copies printed.  By the mid-1800s, the expedition was largely forgotten.  Since then, however, the fame of the expedition has grown considerably.  Bicentennial celebrations in the United States began in January 2003, the anniversary of Jefferson’s request to Congress for funding.  Over the course of the next four years, more than 30 million people were expected to travel to some part of the Lewis and Clark trail as part of the bicentennial commemoration.  Parts of the trail, such as the White Cliffs of the Upper Missouri River, the Lemhi Pass in the Rocky Mountains, along the Lolo Trail in Idaho, and portions of the Columbia River estuary are considered nearly unchanged since the time of the expedition.

Lewis and Clark Defined a Nation:  Lewis and Clark were dispatched with a Letter of Instructions defining the mission.  The “Lewis and Clark Great Journey West” documents the journey with clarity.  Actor Sonny Surowiec said: “Never mind the road not taken, too many of us choose the path of least resistance and so many times today we take the easy route rather than tackling the obstacle.” 


Had Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the famed explorers whose exploits are recounted in the new film, not stared down countless obstacles, both real and imagined, vast stretches of the North American continent may never have become US soil.  The film tracks the band of adventurers hired by President Jefferson to explore the West by re-enacting their landward push to the Pacific Ocean and back.  The dangerous mission (1804-1806) was meant to find the so-called Northwest Passage, a water route it was hoped would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, expanding the nation and allowing for greater intercontinental trading.


"Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West" is narrated by actor Jeff Bridges and showing at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History through February 28. Along the 8,000-mile way, Lewis and Clark encountered Indians both friendly and hostile, dangerous wildlife and the fears stirred by rumors regarding the uncharted earth. Some whispered that woolly mammoths still roamed the territory.  Others imagined belching volcanoes littering the landscape.  The journey disproved those suspicions, but the path boasted its share of natural dangers.


Mr. Surowiec, who plays Clark in the film, says simply re-creating the duo's trek proved exhausting said:  "Even when we were filming it," he recalls, "trying to move these boats took an incredible amount of energy."  Lewis and Clark "always had something to do to keep them, in some sense sane."


Director Bruce Neibaur says the "whole shape and nature of our country would be incomplete without that expedition."  And, "People can argue, 'was it good? Was it bad? That's what history is.  The fact is the United States would not be what it is without that expedition." The expedition secured large swaths of land for the United States that had previously been claimed by Spain and Great Britain.  The team also explored the vast lands in the West that the United States had acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase.


The film takes advantage of Imax's oversized screen to present stunning aerial photography capturing the nation's heartland, with close-ups mimicking the undeveloped country as it once appeared.  Previous Imax films, though, proffer more camera tricks to maximize the visceral impact of the big screen experience.  “Lewis and Clark” stays true to its historical roots but in doing so suffers from coming off as too scholarly for the average viewer.  To its credit, the filmmakers took great pains to dutifully re-create the past, hiring Stephen Ambrose and other historians to make sure the narrative echoed the true story.


Trudging the Imax cameras across those scenic landscapes captured in the film proved less grueling than it might have years before, the director reports.  Stephen Ambrose said:

"Over the years, that technology has really improved."  The most sophisticated part of the equipment, he says, is how it speedily moves the large Imax film through the camera mechanism.  Producer Lisa Truitt says the size of the screens on which the film will be shown also determined the level of attention devoted to every detail of the shoot.

"Everything else you take with you magnifies because of it," Miss Truitt says.  "The costumes that we had to commission had to be much more detailed than for television. You're seeing so much more detail on the [bigger] screen."


The Lewis and Clark saga may be nearly 200 years old, but Miss Truitt says today's audiences are hungry for such a yarn.  "It's about American heroes, venturing out, not knowing what's in front of them," she says.  Earlier drafts of the film featured more dialogue, Mr. Neibaur says.  Eventually, the filmmakers used Mr. Bridges' narration to flesh out the tale.  Mr. Surowiec says actors in Imax films quickly learn to suppress their instincts.  With the Imax large format, performing needs to be "very withdrawn," he says. "Otherwise, it comes across like you're acting."


Perhaps it's typically American that Clark is being played by someone who wasn't born in the United States.  Mr. Surowiec hails from Vancouver, but he became an American citizen about a year ago. H e had a fair grasp of his new country's history before the shoot, but he hit the books, anyway, burying himself in historical tomes and explorers' journals.


He never had to look far for extra information.  "The director, everybody on the set was very knowledgeable about Lewis and Clark,” he says.  The project taught him a great deal about the title figures.  "These are two very different people," he says.  "They really knew each other and knew how to work with one another to get things done."


Traditional movies hit the theaters, then retire to the land of DVD and cable.  Imax films have a longer theatrical shelf life, something for which Mr. Surowiec is grateful.

"Imax is something that lives on," he says. "It'll be playing for years to come."

Additional reporting by Scott Galupo.


Kelly Boulware plays Meriwether Lewis, and Sonny Surowiec is William Clark in the Imax film, “Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West," showed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

Summary: Jefferson's accomplishments:  Writer of the Declaration of Independence, naturalist, meteorologist, paleontologist, architect, musician (violin), botanist, and Native American collector who was responsible for the Purchase of the Louisiana territory and launching the Lewis and Clark Expedition concurrently.  Only the beginning and the end-point of the mission were known.  It was to begin at the mouth of the Missouri River, and end wherever the Pacific Ocean began.  Meriwether Lewis with William Clark led a group of some forty soldiers and civilians in what history records as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.





























Northwest Passage, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft

Lewis Clark Expedition, James P. Ronda, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft

Lewis and Clark Biographies, James P. Ronda, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft

Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark by C. David Rice


Francois Valle and His World: Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark. By Carl J. Ekberg. Missouri Biography Series. (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, c. 2002. Pp. [xx], 316. $44.95, ISBN 0-8262-1418-5.)


Lewis, Clark Define a Nation, Byline: Christian Toto, The Washington Times.

Jefferson's Instructions to Lewis and Clark (1803), Web Site: dept/history/lavender/jefflett.html.

Thomas Jefferson's Letter to Lewis, Web Site:

Thomas Jefferson - Third President of the United States, Web Site:

Transcript: Jefferson's Letter to Meriwether Lewis (Journeys and ...), Web site: journey/jefferson-transcript.html