A Brief History of the Lewis & Clark Expedition

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Expedition from May 14, 1804, to October 16, 1805

In early November, the Corps came across villages of friendly Mandan and Minitari Indians near present-day Washburn, North Dakota , and decided to set up camp downriver for the winter along the banks of the Missouri River. The Corps spent the next five months at Fort Mandan hunting, forging and making canoes, ropes, leather clothing and moccasins while Clark prepared new maps. They allowed his pregnant Shoshone Indian wife Sacagawea to join him on the expedition. Sacagawea had been kidnapped by Hidatsa Indians at age 12 and then sold to Charbonneau.

On February 11, , Sacagawea gave birth to a son and named him Jean Baptiste. She became an invaluable and respected asset for Lewis and Clark. On April 7, , Lewis and Clark sent some of their crew and their keelboat loaded with zoological and botanical samplings, maps, reports and letters back to St. Louis while they and the rest of the Corps headed for the Pacific. The group next headed out of Lemhi Pass and crossed the Bitterroot Mountain Range using the harrowing Lolo Trail and the help of many horses and a handful of Shoshone guides. This leg of the journey proved to be the most difficult as many of them suffered from frostbite, hunger, dehydration, bad weather, freezing temperatures and exhaustion.

Still, despite the merciless terrain and conditions, not a single soul was lost.

Lewis And Clark Expedition

The Indians took in the weary travelers, fed them and helped them regain their health. As the Corps recovered, they built dugout canoes, then left their horses with the Nez Perce and braved the Clearwater River rapids to Snake River and then to Columbia River. They reportedly ate dog meat along the way instead of wild game.

A bedraggled and harried Corps finally reached the stormy Pacific Ocean in November They decided to make camp near present-day Astoria, Oregon , and started building Fort Clatsop on December 10 and moved in by Christmas. It was not an easy winter at Fort Clatsop. Everyone struggled to keep themselves and their supplies dry and fought an ongoing battle with tormenting fleas and other insects. Almost everyone was weak and sick with stomach problems likely caused by bacterial infections , hunger or influenza-like symptoms.

On March 23, , the Corps left Fort Clatsop for home. They retrieved their horses from the Nez Perce and waited until June for the snow to melt to cross the mountains into the Missouri River Basin. The two groups planned to rendezvous where the Yellowstone and Missouri met in North Dakota. Department of the Interior. Two days later, at Marias River near present-day Cut Bank, Montana, Lewis and his group encountered eight Blackfeet warriors and were forced to kill two of them when they tried to steal weapons and horses.

The location of the clash became known as Two Medicine Fight Site. It was the only violent episode of the expedition, although soon after the Blackfeet fight, Lewis was accidentally shot in his buttocks during a hunting trip; the injury was painful and inconvenient but not fatal. On August 12, Lewis and Clark and their crews reunited and dropped off Sacagawea and her family at the Mandan villages.

They then headed down the Missouri River — with the currents moving in their favor this time — and arrived in St. Lewis and Clark returned to Washington , D. Not only had they completed their mission of surveying the Louisiana Territory from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean — though they failed to identify a coveted Northwest Passage across the continent — they did so against tremendous odds with just one death and little violence.

The Corps had traveled more than 8, miles, produced invaluable maps and geographical information, identified at least animal specimens and botanical samples and initiated peaceful relations with dozens of Native American tribes. Both Lewis and Clark received double pay and 1, acres of land for their efforts. Clark remained well-respected and lived a successful life. Lewis, however, was not an effective governor and drank too much. He never married or had children and died in of two gunshot wounds, possibly self-inflicted.

Building Fort Clatsop. Corps of Discovery.

Lewis and Clark

Not knowing which waterway was the principal stream, they sent out reconnaissance parties up both forks. Although the evidence was not conclusive, the captains believed the south fork to be the major course while everyone else favoured the north. This choice proved correct when the expedition arrived at the Great Falls almost two weeks later.

An mile km portage around the falls was made even more difficult by broken terrain, prickly pear cactus, hailstorms, and numerous grizzly bears. On July 4, , the party finished the portage and, to celebrate Independence Day , consumed the last of their gallons of alcohol and danced into the night.


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Arriving at the Three Forks of the Missouri River the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers , Sacagawea recognized Beaverhead Rock and informed the others they would soon encounter some Shoshones. After leaving their horses with Chief Twisted Hair, the explorers hollowed out five cottonwood canoes and floated down the Clearwater and Snake rivers, reaching the Columbia River on October You are using an outdated browser.

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    Written By: Jay H. See Article History. To emphasize the American military presence, they also bestowed on Weucha a richly laced uniform of the US. The height of the ceremony came when the leaders smoked the long-stemmed peace pipe, or calumet. So impressed were Lewis and Clark that they christened the spot Calumet Bluffs. The first meeting with the Lakotas had gone exceedingly well for the soldierexplorers.

    Although the conference with the Lakotas had been a success, more meetings with Lakota clans—and other tribes as well—would lie ahead of them. One month later, the Corps of Discovery encountered a clan of Lakotas who had an unsavory reputation of menacing parties of traders. Interpreter Pierre Dorion had been one such trader, so the soldiers knew what to expect. On September 25, in the wilderness of what is now South Dakota, near the capital of Pierre, they met Tortohonga, the chief known as the Partisan. After the usual opening pleasantries, the partisans follower suddenly turned on the whites on the banks of the Bad River.

    The second chief, who affected intoxication, then said that we should not go on, that they had not received presents enough from us. Captain Clark told them that we would not be prevented from going on; that we were not squaws, but warriors; that we were sent by our great father, who could in a moment exterminate them. The chief replied that he, too, had warriors, and proceeded to threaten personal violence to Clark, who immediately drew his sword and made a signal to the boat to prepare for action. The troopers, who had donned their military uniforms to overawe the Indians, found themselves in the middle of danger.

    The Indians who surrounded Clark drew their arrows from their quivers and were bending their bows when the swivel gun in the boat was pointed toward them, and 12 determined men jumped into the pirogue to join Clark. Tortohonga hastily ordered the young men away from the pirogue.

    The crisis had passed. After the showdown on the banks of the Bad River, peace was made with the duly impressed Lakotas, who regaled the men with a feast and a dance. The Corps then continued its epic journey.

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