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Lewis and Clark Expedition

Lewis and Clark Expedition

In the summer of 1804, a former army man and an experienced outdoorsman began trekking across the unknown land that formed the Louisiana purchase. These explorers, Lewis and Clark, wanted to meet the indigenous people in the area, learn about the general geography of the Louisiana Purchase, and find a water route for traveling to the Pacific Ocean. Keep reading to learn about the expedition of Lewis and Clark!

The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, and such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the water of the Pacific Ocean may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce. 1

Lewis and Clark's Expedition: Timeline

Below is a timeline of events that led up to the expedition, plus significant events along the way.
DateEvent
February 1803 Congress authorized funding for the trek.
April 1803Congress approved the Louisiana Purchase.Meriwether Lewis started preparing for the expedition.
Fall/Winter 1803Lewis and Clark set up camp to begin recruiting and training men on the expedition.
Summer 1804 The Corps of Discovery officially started their expedition.
Fall 1804Lewis and Clark arrived near present-day North Dakota (Fort Mandan). They added Charbonneau, a translator, and his wife to the expeditionary team.
Spring 18051805, Lewis, Clark, Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and the rest of the team left Fort Mandan and headed west.
Summer 1805Sacagawea facilitated negotiations for horses. They traveled through the Bitterroot Mountains thanks to a Shoshone guide.
Winter 1805They set up a winter camp near the Pacific Ocean at Fort Clatsop.
Spring 1806The expedition began to travel home to St. Louis.
September 1806Lewis, Clark, and the rest of the Corps of Discovery arrived back in St. Louis.

 A Map of Lewis and Clark's Expedition. Lewis and Clark Expedition.Fig. 1: A Map of Lewis and Clark's Expedition.

Lewis and Clark: Important Events

Some critical events in the expedition include

  • Funding was approved in 1803

  • The expedition started in 1804

  • The expedition ended, and the team returned in 1806.

Lewis and Clark Expedition: Facts

When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, most of the United States population was concentrated on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Americans had little access to or knowledge of the land west of the Mississippi.

In 1803, The United States of America received access to a tremendously large chunk of land because of the Louisiana Purchase.

Louisiana Purchase:

The Louisiana Purchase refers to a land deal between the United States and France. The US purchased over 800,00 square miles of land. The United States paid France millions of dollars for the land.

To learn more about the physical features of the land and the people and animals who lived there, President Thomas Jefferson tasked two men, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, with exploring the area and reporting back. President Jefferson had set goals for the expedition.

What are examples of Jefferson's goals?

  1. Learn about the physical features of the west
  2. Establish trade with the people native to the region.
  3. Find was a water route that would make it easy to travel across the west.

Meriwether Lewis was Thomas Jefferson's secretary and a former Army captain. Lewis was interested in American expansion into the West and had a background in science. He knew about botany, zoology, and archaeology. In the summer of 1803, Lewis asked Captain William Clark to go on the journey with him.

Did you know? This expedition was called the Corps of Discovery.

Physical features

Characteristics of a piece of land; include landforms, vegetation, and bodies of water

1905 Painting of Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark Expedition. StudySmarter. Fig. 2: 1905 Painting of Lewis and Clark

The Expedition of Lewis and Clark

In the spring of 1803, Meriwether Lewis began to prepare for the expedition. He traveled to Philadelphia to study medicine, map making, and surveying.

He traveled to Harper's Ferry in the summer of 1803 to obtain supplies for the journey West. Lewis was not only responsible for getting scientific supplies such as chronometers and sextants, but he had to prepare arms and ammunition, food, blankets, books, and gifts for the indigenous people.

In the fall and winter of 1803, Lewis and Clark met in Indiana Territory. They later set up a winter camp on the banks of the Mississippi River, where they recruited and trained soldiers to become part of their team.

Did you know? President Thomas Jefferson had previously sent Congress a secret request, asking for $2,500 to explore the Missouri River. The United States Congress authorized funding for the trek in February 1803.

In the summer of 1804, the Corps of Discovery headed up the Missouri River. As they traveled, they took copious notes and met with indigenous tribes near present-day Iowa and South Dakota.

In the fall of 1804, the Corp arrived near what is now Bismarck, North Dakota, after traveling nearly 1000 miles. They spent the winter in the town of the Hidatsa and Mandan people. There, a man named Toussaint Charbonneau joined the team as a translator.

In the early winter of 1805, Charbonneau's wife, Sacagawea, gave birth to a baby boy. Sacagawea, an important team member, traveled with the Corps and her young child.

In the spring and summer of 1805, Lewis, Clark, Charbonneau, Sacagawea, the baby, and the rest of the team left Fort Mandan and headed west. They navigated around the Great Falls of the Missouri River. Sacagawea later negotiated for horses with her brother, a Shoshone chief. They traveled through the Bitterroot Mountains thanks to a Shoshone guide before entering the Columbia River in the late fall.

In the early winter, Clark mistakenly noted in his journal that they were near the ocean. The expedition set up a winter camp south of the Columbia River (Fort Clatsop).

Did you know? Clark made a mistake when he determined they were close to the water. They were still about 20 miles from the ocean, which is a big deal when traveling on horseback or on foot!

The expedition began its journey home in the early spring of 1806. They traveled east, waiting for the snow to melt on the Bitterroot Mountains before crossing them. In the summer of 1806, Lewis and Clark divided the team to find an easier way to travel the Rockies. Lewis followed the Missouri River while Clark followed the Yellowstone. Lewis, Clark, and the rest of the corp later reassembled at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

They arrived in St. Louis in September 1806 after more than two years of exploring.

 Lewis and Clark.  Lewis and Clark Expedition. Studysmarter. Fig. 3: Lewis and Clark

The result of Lewis and Clark's Expedition

  • Lewis and Clark were asked to explore the land west of the Mississippi.
  • The Louisiana Purchase granted the United States access to a new land and new people
  • Lewis and Clark had three goals:
    • explore the land from the Louisiana Purchase to learn about the physical features, plants, and animals

    • learn about the indigenous tribes and search for opportunities to increase trade with them

    • find a body of water to travel from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean

Were they successful? Lewis and Clark were successful in their goal to explore the land from the Louisiana Purchase and beyond, traveling to the western coast of the continental United States. They obtained new knowledge about the land and animals west of the Mississippi. They had some positive interactions with indigenous tribes, which allowed for diplomacy to begin. Unfortunately, they didn't find a single body of water to travel west on.

Did you know? William Clark created incredibly detailed, hand-drawn maps that proved to be helpful for explorers who came after him.

Lewis and Clark at Three Forks. Lewis and Clark Expedition. Studysmarter.Fig. 4: Lewis and Clark at Three Forks.

Lewis and Clark's Expedition (Summary)

In 1803, the United States received a large parcel of land via the Louisiana Purchase. Americans knew very little about the land west of the Missouri River, so President Thomas Jefferson appealed to Congress to fund an expedition west.

In the early summer of 1804, Lewis, Clark, and the Corps of Discovery headed up the Missouri River. They headed to modern-day North Dakota. They joined and began working with a translator named Toussaint Charbonneau. Charbonneau's wife, Sacagawea, and child traveled with the corps.

They began their return journey in the spring of 1806. The team split into two groups to find a better way to pass through the Rocky Mountains, with one group traveling the Missouri River while another traveled along the Yellowstone. They returned home in September 1806, successfully exploring the land west of the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark learned about the plants, animals, and people of the Western United States. They successfully worked with indigenous tribes. They never found the water passage.

What do historians think of Lewis and Clark's expedition? Some view their expedition as the beginning of the end of a lifestyle in the American west. Once they explored the west, others followed. It severely impacted the lives of the people and animals already living there. For example, the slew of people migrating westward was dangerous for the native bison population. The indigenous people were treated terribly, as they were often purposely hurt or killed.

Some historians look positively at the expedition, citing the number of diverse people who held essential jobs. Indigenous people, women, and men- all had a critical role in the expedition's success. Americans tend to have a romantic view of the past.

Historians don't seem to debate the importance of the journals, maps, and other documentation that happened along the way.

Lewis and Clark Expedition - Key takeaways

  • The Louisiana Purchase led to Lewis and Clark's Expedition west, as Americans knew little about the land in the early 1800s.
  • President Thomas Jefferson assigned Meriwether Lewis the task of the expedition.
  • They traveled west thanks to translator Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife Sacagawea.
  • Lewis, Clark, and the Corp of Discovery left in 1804 and returned in 1806, traveling for over two years.
  • The goals of Lewis and Clark's expedition were:
    • to explore the land from the Louisiana Purchase to learn about the physical features, plants, and animals-Accomplished
    • to learn about the indigenous tribes and search for opportunities to increase trade with them-Accomplished
    • find a body of water that could be used to travel from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean-Not Accomplished

References

  1. Thomas Jefferson's Letter to Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803. US Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/168.html

Frequently Asked Questions about Lewis and Clark Expedition

The purpose of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was to

  • Explore the land from the Lousiana Purchase to learn about its physical features, plants, animals, and the people who lived there.

  • Find rivers that could be used to travel across the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

  • Increase trade with the Native Americans

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was important because

  • They began diplomatic relationships with the Native Americans west of the Missouri river

  • They learned about the plants and animals west of the Mississippi. 

  • William Clark created many hand-drawn maps that were helpful for future explorers

The Lewis and Clark expedition lasted for about two years. It began in the summer of 1804 and ended in the fall of 1806.

The Louisiana Purchase led to the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

The Lewis and Clark expedition officially began in the summer of 1804. 

Final Lewis and Clark Expedition Quiz

Question

Lewis and Clark led the expedition to explore land from the ______ ______. 

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Answer

Louisiana Purchase 

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Question

The expedition began in 

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Answer

1804

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Question

Lewis and Clark explored the land west of the ________ river.

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Answer

Missouri

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Question

Which of the following was not a goal of the expedition?

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Answer

To find a water passage to the west coast 

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Question

How long did Lewis and Clark's expedition last?

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Answer

approximately two years

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Question

True or false: The main purpose of the expedition was to find a water route running from the Missouri river to the west coast.  

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Answer

True

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Question

What event led to the expedition?

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Answer

The Louisiana Purchase

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Question

When did Lewis and Clark return to St. Louis?

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Answer

1806

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Question

The Expedition was also known as the ______ __ _______.

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Answer

Corps of Discovery

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Question

_______ ______ was Thomas Jefferson's personal secretary and a former army captain. 

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Answer

Meriwether Lewis

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Question

Which of the following are true of the Louisiana Purchase? 

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Answer

It gave Americans access to new land. 

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Question

Which events happened in preparation of the expedition? 

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Answer

Lewis had to study map making and surveying. 

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