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Moving Across the Country With Lewis and Clark

The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also called the "Corps of Discovery Expedition" was a two year long journey that began in 1804 and continued until 1806. This expedition marks a pivotal moment in history because it was the first transcontinental journey to the Pacific coast. Thomas Jefferson commissioned the trip and chose two explorers to go on the journey. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis were chosen to lead the expedition. Lewis and Clark were accompanied by dozens of men, and eventually one woman would join them on their trip.

The journey is well known in history books because it literally changed America. The United States had never taken on such a vast journey across mountains, streams and rugged landscapes before. There were many risks involved because transportation was limited at the time. The government was relying on the men to use their talents to survive inclement weather, and other obstacles while fulfilling the mission of the journey.

The main goal of the Corps Discovery expedition was to find the most direct water communication path across America. The president also wanted to declare U.S. sovereignty over the Native Americans along the Missouri river. In addition, the government needed to get an accurate assessment of the resources obtained from the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase was initiated by the United States of America in 1803.

France sold the United States 828,000 square miles of land in the Louisiana territory for 50 million dollars. The agreement also canceled millions of dollars in debt that the United States owed to France. In addition, the Louisiana Purchase included land in other states such as Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, parts of Minnesota, and small sections of land in two current Canadian provinces. Portions of other states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado were also included in the purchase.

The Louisiana Purchase was a huge move forward for the United States because France owned this section of America from 1699 to 1762. France gave the land to Spain in 1762, and then reclaimed it again in the year 1800 with the intent of building a new territory in North America. An impending war with Britain motivated France to abandon their plans and sell the entire section of land to America. The United States was eager to make this purchase and gain control over this giant section of land.

The preparations to go on the Corps Discovery Expedition were very extensive. The explorers gathered all sorts of things for the trip such as medical supplies, arms, camping equipment, clothing, food, tools and other vital materials. The government also purchased corn mills, 130 rolls of pigtail tobacco, 193 pounds of soap, wine, oil skin bags, mosquito netting, salt, spices, jam and more. In addition, they also bought special presents for the Native Americans. Originally only 10-12 men were supposed to go on the trip, but the number of people needed would soon reach 45. This only added to the supplies making the weight of the wagons very heavy. The men also needed journals, sealing wax, paper, pens, ink powder and thermometers.

The explorers were advised to call upon scientists and other professionals for advice and direction about the trip. They needed to gain more knowledge about the technical language of natural science and they also needed to learn more about astronomical observations that were necessary to map the route. Both Lewis and Clark and the other explorers visited many experts before they left. Everyone also received a health assessment and rested up for the big journey.

The journey itself would prove to be tough, but it was well worth it in the end. The men had set out to travel more than 8,000 miles over a period of 864 days. Lewis and Clark documented their expedition carefully and thoroughly. They both kept detailed journals that are now famous historical documents. Lewis and Clark created extensive maps and wrote about their discoveries. They wrote about the beauty of nature and much more in their journals. Lewis and Clark also wrote about and collected plant samples throughout the journey. These samples were eventually pressed and preserved by museums. The explorers documented more than 200 animals and plants that were new to science.

They came across many different Native American tribes as they traveled through America. More than 72 new tribes were noted. Eventually they would meet a Native American woman named Sacagawea. She played a major role in the entire Lewis and Clark expedition. The journey is what made her famous. Sacagawea and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau actually traveled together on the expedition soon after meeting Lewis and Clark.

Many people think Sacagawea was a guide for the entire expedition, but she was not. However, she did help with the expedition, and point out geographical features and plants. She mainly helped out by being an interpreter for the men on the expedition. She bridged the gap of communication with the explorers and the Native American tribes they encountered. Sacagawea carried her infant on her back as she traveled with Lewis and Clark. She always promoted peace and made it possible for the explorers to continue on their journey and make it through various terrains safely, without causing trouble with any of the Native American tribes.

Knife River Indian Voyages Historic Area

Discovering Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark Expedition Journal Entries

A Journey to Discover the American West

Facts and Stories about the Expedition

Lewis and Clark Expedition Literature

Mission Creep: Lewis and Clark Expedition

Botany of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Revealing of America

The French Connection to the Lewis and Clark Expedition (PDF)

Lemhi-Shoeshones's Sacajawea

History and Prehistory: Sacagawea

Sacagawea Interpretive Center

The Making of Sacagawea

The Life of Sacajawea

Trail Guide to Sacagawea Peak

The True Story of Sacagawea and Her People