Thomas Jefferson gave a proposal to Congress to have a secret expedition in the West. In his proposal, he stated that it was for, “economic reasons which could lead to commercial intercourse”. Congress approved and Jefferson was quick to begin planning for the expedition. The territory that Jefferson wanted to explore was owned by the French. Napoleon had lost many soldiers in Hispaniola and lost interest in America therefore decided to sell the land know as Louisiana, at its time, for $15 million which had about 900,000 square miles. Jefferson’s opponents thought that the purchase of unknown lands was ridiculous because no one knew what was there but the idea won congressional approval and the exploration turned into an exploration of American territory.
Jefferson chose a person to lead the exploration and his name was Meriwether Lewis who was a brave man and knew about Indian manners. Jefferson and Lewis were very good friends and were both curious of the West. Lewis prepared for the exploration by learning about the Indians and gathering questions to ask them in 1803 at the University of Pennsylvania. Lewis wanted a crew of smart men who were good at hunting and surviving and who could push each other the entire journey. He chose a good friend William Clark which served with him in the Indian wars of the 1790s. Lewis wrote Clark a letter stating that he wanted Clark to help in the exploration of the West and to learn about the culture, wildlife and plants. Clark’s response was very enthusiastic and said, “I will join you with hand and heart”.
Lewis spends the early part of summer choosing equipment and weapons which would be taken. Lewis designed an improved version of the Kentucky rifle which was known as the Harpers Ferry Rifle and was used as a standard army weapon. The men brought shirts, blankets, medical supplies and even 193 pounds of powdered soup in the case that other food supply would run out. Lewis had a barge constructed about 60 feet long propelled by oars, poles and a sail which was loaded with the supplies and was used to travel down Ohio to the Mississippi. While heading downstream through the Missouri river, the men came across many issues in the water and had to unload and load the barge several times but they maintained their good spirits and kept going. The men reached Saint Louis on December 5th and constructed cabins where they recruited the last of their men. They had a total of 29 men on the expedition along with sixteen soldiers and river men helping them travel up the Missouri River.
After a year of preparation for the expedition, on May 14th, the expedition was finally ready to begin. Lewis ordered the boats to row down the Mississippi River and begin their journey up the Missouri river. There were many problems along the way such as windy conditions, animals and sunstroke but the men enjoyed the journey because they liked the idea of exploring new territory. As the men were traveling, Lewis and Clark recorded their observations of what they saw such as trees and different landmarks which were new or had already been discovered. They ate lots of pork during the journey and occasionally the animals and plants they found such as deer, bear, beaver, raspberries, apples and grapes. As they were heading upstream, they met and convinced a French-Canadian man named Pierre Dorien to help along the journey as a translator. They traveled downstream for days not finding any Indians. Finally, on August 2nd, the Indians arrived and fired their rifles to announce their comings.
The Indians and Lewis and Clark’s crew were together and enjoyed each other's company. The whites told the Indians the American’s terms which were to behave properly and see America as their friend and then gave the Indians medals, powder and some whiskey. Through the coming weeks, the whites met many friendly groups of Indians. They compiled much of the information they learned from these groups such as their language and religion and sent them to Jefferson which made a publishing known as ‘A Statistical View of the Indian Nations Inhabiting the Territory of Louisiana and the Countries Adjacent to Its Northern and Western Boundaries’.
As winter approached, weathers dropped in the negatives and the men built a winter encampment with eight log huts. They spent some time here gathering food while the temperature was not too cold and they had campfires running all day and all night to help keep them warm. At the fort they built which was known as Fort Mandan, they found a young Indian women called Sacajawea. At first, they did not think much of her but she ended up being one of the most useful members in the exploration. When spring came and the water was clear of ice, they were ready to get sailing again and continue the discovery of the new land. They continued to head up the Missouri and within a few weeks passed the Yellowstone River. They came across several grizzly bears but it seemed that each bear they killed took more and more shots. The rivers were not running clearly and the groups challenges began to get harder. On May 26th, Lewis saw the first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. Sacajawea was credited for having led Lewis and Clark through the expedition, but in reality, she did not know much more than Lewis and Clark did of the Rockies. A few days later, the group reached Great Falls which is present day Montana and it had beautiful waterfalls. On July 25th they arrived to a point where the Missouri River split off into 3 sections. They followed a path known as the Jefferson because it was the most Westward path. Then on August 13th, Lewis came across 3 Indian women and 60 warriors. Lewis offered them gifts to show that they came in friendship and they welcomed them. The spend several days with them and continued their journey across the mountains. The season began to get late so they started heading downstream. They setup a camp to allow their equipment and clothes to dry due to canoes overturning. They then continued back to Missouri in separate groups and later regrouped. They left Sacajawea and Charbonneau in their country and continued downstream. They later arrived in Saint Louis on September 23rd.
The country was excited to learn that they came back safely and there was much national attention on Lewis and Clark. The Lewis and Clark expedition is regarded as one of the most successful in history. They all made it back except 1 person that they lost due to disease and traveled over seven thousand miles from Saint Louis to the Pacific and back. They discovered a total of 178 plants, 15 reptiles, 44 mammals, 51 birds and 12 fishes. In all, Lewis and Clark discovered much of the land that is known as modern day America and they did it without vehicles but by small boats, time and lots of walking and hiking.