Lewis and Clark Expedition, the first overland expedition to lay ground to develop the American West

Friday, 27 November 2020 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General

Route of the expedition © Victor van Werkhooven

Route of the expedition © Victor van Werkhooven

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from August 31, 1803, to September 25, 1806, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the United States expedition to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase. The Corps of Discovery was a select group of U.S. Army and civilian volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark. The expedition made its way westward, and crossed the Continental Divide of the Americas before reaching the Pacific Coast (Timeline of the Lewis and Clark Expedition).

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent, and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. The campaign’s secondary objectives were scientific and economic: to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and to establish trade with local American Indian tribes. The expedition returned to St. Louis to report its findings to Jefferson, with maps, sketches, and journals in hand.

One of Thomas Jefferson‘s goals was to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.” He also placed special importance on declaring US sovereignty over the land occupied by the many different Indian tribes along the Missouri River, and getting an accurate sense of the resources in the recently completed Louisiana Purchase. The expedition made notable contributions to science, but scientific research was not the main goal of the mission. During the 19th century, references to Lewis and Clark “scarcely appeared” in history books, even during the United States Centennial in 1876, and the expedition was largely forgotten. Lewis and Clark began to gain attention around the start of the 20th century. Both the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon showcased them as American pioneers. However, the story remained relatively shallow until mid-century as a celebration of US conquest and personal adventures, but more recently the expedition has been more thoroughly researched. In 2004, a complete and reliable set of the expedition’s journals was compiled by Gary E. Moulton. In the 2000s, the bicentennial of the expedition further elevated popular interest in Lewis and Clark. As of 1984, no US exploration party was more famous, and no American expedition leaders are more recognizable by name.

Lewis and Clark statue with Seaman (dog) in St. Charles, Missouri © NOAA Photo Library Camp Dubois reconstruction (Camp Wood) © Kbh3rd/cc-by-sa-3.0 Route of the expedition © Victor van Werkhooven Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Cape Disappointment State Park © Adbar/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Cape Disappointment State Park © Adbar/cc-by-sa-3.0
The Corps met their objective of reaching the Pacific, mapping and establishing their presence for a legal claim to the land. They established diplomatic relations and trade with at least two dozen indigenous nations. They did not find a continuous waterway to the Pacific Ocean but located an Indian trail that led from the upper end of the Missouri River to the Columbia River which ran to the Pacific Ocean. They gained information about the natural habitat, flora and fauna, bringing back various plant, seed and mineral specimens. They mapped the topography of the land, designating the location of mountain ranges, rivers and the many Indian tribes during the course of their journey. They also learned and recorded much about the language and customs of the American Indian tribes they encountered, and brought back many of their artifacts, including bows, clothing and ceremonial robes.

Two months passed after the expedition’s end before Jefferson made his first public statement to Congress and others, giving a one-sentence summary about the success of the expedition before getting into the justification for the expenses involved. In the course of their journey, they acquired a knowledge of numerous tribes of Indians hitherto unknown; they informed themselves of the trade which may be carried on with them, the best channels and positions for it, and they are enabled to give with accuracy the geography of the line they pursued. Back east, the botanical and zoological discoveries drew the intense interest of the American Philosophical Society who requested specimens, various artifacts traded with the Indians, and reports on plants and wildlife along with various seeds obtained. Jefferson used seeds from “Missouri hominy corn” along with a number of other unidentified seeds to plant at Monticello which he cultivated and studied. He later reported on the “Indian corn” he had grown as being an “excellent” food source. The expedition helped establish the U.S. presence in the newly acquired territory and beyond and opened the door to further exploration, trade and scientific discoveries. Lewis and Clark returned from their expedition, bringing with them the Mandan Indian Chief Sheheke from the Upper Missouri to visit the “Great Father” at Washington City. After Chief Shehaka’s visit, it required multiple attempts and multiple military expeditions to safely return Shehaka to his nation.

Read more on history.com – Lewis and Clark Expedition, The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, The Washington Post Magazine, 18 November 2020: The Wild Horse Wars, American Wild Horse Campaign and Wikipedia Lewis and Clark Expedition (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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