Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, younger brother of George Rogers Clark, were sent by President Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Territory. They started up the Missouri River in May of 1804 and reached the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805. They wrote reports on the plants, animals, Indians, soils, rivers, type of country, etc. It was a scientific, as well as an exploring, undertaking. On the return trip, completed in September of 1806, Lewis and Clark separated for part of the journey to take different routes. There were between forty and fifty men in the party. All but one returned safely. They had been instructed to avoid trouble with the Indians and to find a pass over the Rockies; both instructions were carried out. Clark's diary makes good reading and provides an easy and enjoyable way to take the trip over again.

Apparently Jefferson was not bothered by the fact that he ordered the expedition to go across the Rockies beyond our western border. Captain Robert Gray had sailed into the mouth of Columbia River in 1792; in fact, the river got its name from his ship. Then the Lewis and Clark expedition came down the Columbia to the Pacific (1805) and half a dozen years later the permanent settlement at Astoria, established by John Jacob Astor, was a fur trading post near the mouth of the river. These facts combined to give the United States its claim to the Orgeon Territory which we acquired in 1846.

How long does it take to fly across America these days? I’m guessing that if all goes smoothly and there are no weather delays, connecting flights or cancellations, it’d probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of six to seven hours from start to finish. Hell, under good conditions, one could probably drive the entire length of the country in five or six days if they put their pedal to the metal and their mind to it.

Now picture walking across it or riding on horseback because that’s exactly what Lewis and Clark and the band of explorers known as the Corps of Discovery ( a great name btw!) did way back in 1804. It was a journey that would take over two years and span approximately 3700 miles and cover what was then uncharted territory.

The Plan Is Hatched

Back in 1803 Thomas Jefferson pulled off one of the greatest real estate deals of all-time when he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from France. Suffice to say that the deal covered over 800,000 square miles and just about doubled the size of the country at the time.

Since most of the land was considered “virgin territory” Jefferson, in his infinite wisdom, decided to send out an expedition to see if he got what he paid for. He commissioned his private secretary, one Meriwether Lewis, to form a team of soldiers to trek across the continent and report back their findings. Lewis, in turn, called upon an old friend by the name of William Clark to assist him in plotting the expedition.

The two of them put their heads together and decided to ask for volunteers to join them on their journey. Although the volunteers were soldiers, theirs was a peaceful mission that was committed to the advances in exploration, science, diplomacy and discovery. Each man was handpicked according to his talents and abilities. Most, if not all, had no families to speak of and were single. All in all, twenty eight soldiers were chosen. Four of them were Sergeants and the rest were Privates. Five civilians were also called upon to take the trip. The last member of the team, was “a dogg of the Newfoundland breed” who went by the name of “Seaman.”

The Supplies Are Purchased

When you think about it, this must have been one hell of a logistical nightmare. Walking off into lands unknown with thirty four people under your charge is a daunting task. To help Lewis get started, Congress magnanimously allocated a whopping $2500 in order to purchase much needed supplies.

Either Lewis was a shrewd shopper or things didn’t cost that much back then but here’s a partial listing of the supplies that the men would have to carry with them.

Math and Science Stuff

Surveyor’s compass
Hand compass
2 Sextants
A set of plotting instruments

A Little Touch Of Home

150 yards of cloth to be oiled and sewn into tents and sheets
Some chisels
30 steels for striking to make fire
Iron corn mill
Two dozen tablespoons
Mosquito curtains
10 1/2 pounds of fishing hooks and fishing lines
12 pounds of soap
193 pounds of "portable soup" (a thick paste concocted by boiling down beef, eggs and vegetables)
Three bushels of salt
Writing paper, ink and crayons

Golden Trinkets for the Indians

12 dozen pocket mirrors
4,600 sewing needles
144 small scissors
10 pounds of sewing thread
Silk ribbons
Ivory combs
130 rolls of tobacco
Tomahawks that doubled as pipes
288 knives
8 brass kettles
Vermilion face paint
33 pounds of tiny beads of assorted colors

The Clothes on Your Back

45 flannel shirts
Woolen pants

Just In Case

15 prototype Model 1803 muzzle-loading .54 caliber rifles
500 Rifle flints
420 pounds of sheet lead for bullets
176 pounds of gunpowder packed in 52 lead canisters
1 long-barreled rifle that fired its bullet with compressed air, rather than by flint, spark and powder

Is There A Doctor In The House?

50 dozen Dr. Rush’s patented "Rush’s pills"
1,300 doses of physic
1,100 hundred doses of emetic
3,500 doses of diaphoretic (sweat inducer)
Other drugs for blistering, salivation and increased kidney output

Some Light Reading

Barton’s Elements of Botany
Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz’s History of Louisiana
Richard Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy
A Practical Introduction to Spherics and Nautical Astronomy
The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris
A four-volume dictionary
A two-volume edition of Linnaeus (the founder of the Latin classification of plants)
Tables for finding longitude and latitude
A map of the Great Bend of the Missouri River

In addition, the men toted canoes, a keelboat and a couple of other smaller water craft to travel the rivers and forge the streams that lie ahead.

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been

Rather than recount every step of the way, let’s just say that the Corps of Discovery lived up to its name. When all was said and done, they were responsible for recording and documenting over 180 new forms of plant life, over 120 new forms of fish and animal life and 48 different Indian tribes that had not yet been “discovered” by the white man. Amazingly, only one man under their charge died on the entire trip and that came about as a result of a ruptured appendix.

In my mind's eye, even though they don’t get much recognition in the history books, all of the men of the Corps of Discovery are heroes in their own right. The hardships they faced and the discoveries they made rank right up there with some of the greatest accomplishments of all time.

There's one other thing that bears mentioning. As esteemed user Chiisuta points out, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, life size figures of them carved out of butter, that's right, butter, were on display at the 2004 Ohio State Fair. It was truly a sight to behold and the creamy goodness contained therein was an inspiration to all who gazed upon them.


Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.