Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774 - 1809) was President Thomas Jefferson's private secretary. He was in charge of the expedition to explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. He asked his friend William Clark to help.
Lieutenant William Clark (1770 - 1838) served in the United States Army. In preparing for the expedition Clark was responsible for hiring and training the men, while Lewis gathered the equipment and supplies they would need.
Detail of "Lewis & Clark at Three Forks" by Edgar Samuel Paxson
Setting off to explore
Lewis and Clark, together with their team of over 40 men, began their expedition at the city of St. Louis on May 14, 1804. They packed lots of equipment for their trip including rifles, food, and warm clothing. They even brought lots of glass beads and trinkets so they could trade with Indians along the way.
They started out traveling up the Missouri River. They had one large boat called a barge and two smaller boats called pirogues. They were traveling against the current, so they had to use long poles to push the boats or even ropes to pull the boats from the banks.
Sacagawea and the Native Americans
Lewis and Clark met many Native American tribes along the way. Although there were some tense moments, they made friends and traded with many different tribes. They even spent the first winter with the Mandan nation. There they met a fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea.
Sacagawea joined the expedition as an interpreter. She helped the expedition in many ways as they traveled, including showing them edible plants and helping to keep peace and trade with different tribes.
Without help from the Native American tribes as well as Sacagawea, the expedition would have surely failed.
The Great Falls and the Rockies
As the expedition continued up the Missouri River into what is today the state of Montana, they ran into the Great Falls. It took the men nearly a month to carry their boats for miles around the Great Falls.
Next, Lewis and Clark came to the Rocky Mountains. These mountains were much more difficult to traverse than they first expected. When they finally made it across the Rockies, they met the Nez Perce people, who helped them with food and shelter.
Route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Victor van Werkhooven
Click to see larger picture
The Pacific Ocean
It was in November in 1805, around a year and a half after leaving St. Louis, that they finally reached the Pacific Ocean. They stayed that winter near the ocean and started home again in March of 1806. It only took them around six months for the return journey.
Fun Facts about Lewis and Clark
Many animals were new to Lewis and Clark including the grizzly bear and the prairie dog.
After the expedition, Lewis was appointed the governor of the Louisiana Territory, however, Lewis died a few years later. Clark became governor of the Missouri Territory as well as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
The men on the journey were called the Corps of Discovery.
The total journey was over 7,000 miles.
Only one member of the group died during the trip. It was Sergeant Charles Floyd who died of a burst appendix.