spent the Spring of 1803 training to lead the expedition. He studied
navigation under mathematicians and astronomers Andrew Ellicott
and Robert Patterson, medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush, surveying
with Robert Patterson, and botany and zoology under Dr. Benjamin
was given a special map of the western United States by Albert
Gallatin, Jefferson's Secretary of the Treasury. It had only three
known points on it: the city of St. Louis, Missouri, the Mandan
Indian villages on the upper Missouri River, and the mouth of
the Columbia River. Lewis would have to fill in the blanks as
he went along.
spending most of the summer waiting for a special keelboat to
be built, Lewis finally left Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August
31, and headed down the Ohio River to meet his co-captain, William
Clark. Low water levels made the trip down the river frustrating
and slow. The large keelboat, which Lewis named the Discovery,
kept getting stuck on sandbars. Many times Lewis had to find a
local farmer with a team of oxen that could pull it over the sandbars.
Lewis finally purchased a pirogue to carry some of the keelboat's
began collecting and classifying plant and animal specimens as
soon as the trip began. He used the skills taught to him by Dr.
Barton to gather seeds, preserve specimens (samples), and label
them with the date and place where they were found. This may sound
like an easy task, but think about it for a minute. If you were
in a new land and saw things you had never seen before, how would
you start to classify (sort) them?
October 14, 1803, Lewis' party finally reached Clarksville, Indiana,
and joined Clark.
with the men hired for the expedition, they headed down the Ohio
towards the mighty Mississipi River. The current of the Mississipi
proved much stronger than the Ohio and slowed their travel down
to a few miles a day.
December 12, 1803, the expedition reached the Wood River, just
past the frontier town of St. Louis. Lewis and Clark thought this
would be a good spot to set up camp for the winter. The men built
a cluster of log cabins - quarters for the men, one for blacksmithing,
and one for a storehouse. During the winter, Clark trained the
men. They practiced shooting and even had shooting contests with
the local settlers that stopped by (the settlers usually won!).
They also practiced marching, which no one liked very much. While
they were at Camp Wood, the Louisiana Territory was officially
transferred to the United States from France.
often traveled to St. Louis during the winter to make final preparations
for the journey, so it was up to Clark and his sergeants to begin
May 14, 1804, the Corps of Discovery left Camp Wood. The men were
in good spirits as they left behind the only world they knew and
set out into unknown lands. Clark wrote in his journal: "Rained
the fore part of the day. I determined to go as far as St. Charles,
a French village seven leagues up the Missouri, and wait at that
place until Captain Lewis could finish the business which he was
obliged to attend to at St. Louis, and join me by land...I set
out at 4 o'clock, P.M., in the presence of many of the neighboring
inhabitants and proceeded under a gentle breeze up the Missouri
to the upper point of the first island, 4 miles, and camped on
traveled upstream in the keelboat and two pirogues until they
reached St. Charles, Missouri. Lewis rode overland and joined
them on May 20. On May 21, 1804, the expedition left St. Charles
at 3 p.m.
day of the journey began at dusk with a cold breakfast (no cooking
was allowed during the day because it took too long). Some of
the men would walk or ride along the shore to hunt for food, while
the others traveled in the keelboat and pirogues. It was hard
work for the men in the boats to keep them moving upstream. They
could row, pole, or drag them by ropes. If they were lucky, they
could sail against the current. Sudden storms, trees floating
in the water, and collapsing banks were all threats to the boat
Lewis spent most days walking along the shore with his dog, Seaman.
He observed the plants and animals that he encountered, and collected
specimens of those that could not be found in the east. His journal
was always handy for descriptions and drawings.
Clark, on the other hand, stayed in the keelboat and directed
the men. He also made careful notes along the way of the twists
and turns of the river. At the end of the day, Clark would survey
the land where they were camped, note landmarks, streams, and
the weather, and draw maps. Together, the captains would make
lunar observations and note the positions of stars.
night the men were wet and exhausted, but there was still work
to be done before they rested. There were tents to be pitched,
firewood to gather, and the only hot meal of the day to be prepared.
Each man was given food and whiskey for supper. After they ate,
the men dried the meat that had been caught that day, repaired
clothes, or carved new oars for the boats.
August, the expedition had still not seen any of the great herds
of buffalo or the Indians that fur traders talked about. Finally,
on August 2, 1804, a small group of Oto (OH-toe) and Missouri
(ma-ZOO-ree) Indians visited their camp. These tribes were farmers
as well as hunters, and they brought "Water millions"
(Clark's spelling of watermelons) for the men. Lewis and Clark
invited them to bring their chiefs for a council (large meeting)
the next day.
or "councils" with the Indian tribes they met, required some preparation
by the Corps. The Captains dressed in their fanciest dress coats
and three-cornered hats. The men performed military drills. Lewis
would then give a speech explaining that the United States now
owned the land and the President was now their new "father" and
would take care of them. The chiefs were presented gifts of tobacco,
dye, gunpowder, and peace medals.
August 18, 1804, near modern Homer, Nebraska, Captain Lewis celebrated
his 30th birthday. He didn't celebrate long, however, one of the
men, Private Moses Reed, tried to desert the Corps. Reed was caught
and brought back to camp. In the military at that time, desertion
was punishable by death, and men accused of this act were tried
by court martial - a military court made up of members of the
Corps. Reed was found guilty and was sentenced to "run the
gauntlet" four times. This meant that he had to walk between
two rows of men as each one whipped his bare back. Private Reed
also lost his place in the Permanent Party.
few days later on August 20, 1804, near Sioux City, Iowa, Sergeant
Charles Floyd died. He had been feeling sick for several days,
and nothing Captain Lewis tried to cure him worked. It's thought
that he died from appendicitis, so even if Lewis had known this,
there was nothing he could have done to save him (the first operation
to remove an infected appendix was not performed until the 1880s).
Floyd was buried with military honors on a bluff above the Missouri
proved to be a bad month for the Corps. Not long after Sergeant
Floyd was buried, Private George Shannon was lost. He had been
sent out with Drouillard to look for the Corps' horses. Drouillard
returned the next day, but Shannon did not. The Corps continued
upriver, hoping that Shannon was safe and would be found later.
After 16 days, the keelboat crew spotted Shannon sitting along
the riverbank, weak and starving. He had actually passed the Corps,
thinking they were far ahead of him!
expedition came upon the Yankton Sioux Indian tribe on August
30 and held council with them. Lewis and Clark had heard about
the Sioux. They traveled with the seasons, following the buffalo
herds. The Sioux were excellent riders and used their swift horses
to hunt buffalo for food, clothing, and shelter.
a short stay with the Yankton Sioux, the expedition set out again
on September 7. They saw many new animals as they traveled. One
day they saw hundreds of squirrel-like animals standing on mounds
in the short prairie grass. The animals disappeared quickly when
the men approached. Their dog-like bark inspired their name -
prairie dogs. Mule deer, white-tailed jackrabbits, and pronghorn
antelopes (the fastest animal in North America), were also seen
for the first time.
September 25, the Corps encountered the Teton Sioux who were not
as friendly as the Yankton. The Teton had traded with the English
and pretty much controlled traffic on the Missouri. They weren't
too happy about giving up their control to the "great chief"
of the United States. After the usual council, the Tetons decided
they wanted more gifts than what they had received. They refused
to let the Corps leave. There was a tense standoff and weapons
were drawn. Finally, one of the chiefs, Black Buffalo, allowed
the Corps to go unharmed.
expedition continued onward through modern-day South Dakota where
they came upon an Arikara Indian village. They spent five days
with the Arikara who were fascinated by York. White fur traders
had visited their village, but they had never seen a black man.
They left on October 12, and headed into North Dakota.
October 25, the Corps reached the first of five Mandan villages
just past what is now Bismarck, North Dakota. About 4,000 people
of the Mandan and Hidasta tribes lived in the villages, and many
of them flocked to see the white men.
captains chose the east bank as the site of their winter camp.
On November 3, the men began to build Fort Mandan. They constructed
two rows of huts out of cottonwood trees, four huts to a row,
and joined at one end to form an angle. They also built two large
store rooms and surrounded all the buildings with an 18-foot tall
fence for protection. They finished their work three weeks later,
and just in time - seven inches of snow fell that night.
November 4, the captains hired Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshoni
wife, Sacagawea, as interpreters for the coming journey. Sacagawea,
about 16-years-old at the time, was soon to give birth to her
winter at Fort Mandan was a cold one. Sergeant Ordway wrote in
his journals that it "was colder than I ever [knew] it to
be in the States." On December 6, the Missouri river froze
over, and by the 17th, the temperature had dropped to 43 degrees
Day came and the men announced it with a bang. They fired their
guns three times as they raised the flag over the fort. Lewis
and Clark allowed the men special rations so that they could celebrate
Christmas "in a proper and social manner." And they
did. After eating, they sang and danced into the night.