Who were Lewis and Clark and what was the Lewis and Clark expedition?

Thomas Jefferson had dreamed of exploring the West for at least 20 years before he even became President. In 1783 he had even asked Clark's brother, George, to take on the challenge. The Louisiana Purchase would later alter the character of the planned expedition from an exploration of French territory to a first glimpse of lands that, in the view of many contemporaries, were essential to maintaining the agrarian, republican character of the nation.

The Louisiana Territory had been a land purchase transaction by the United States of America of 828,800 square miles of the French territory "Louisiane" in 1803. The U.S. paid 60 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of debts worth 18 million francs ($3,750,000), a total cost of $15,000,000 for the Louisiana Territory. After finally purchasing the Louisiana Territory, and two weeks before inauguration day Jefferson asked Lewis to go on the journey.

Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803-06)

In January of 1803, Jefferson requested $2500 from Congress to pay for the costs of the trip. Thomas Jefferson then commissioned Capt. Meriwether Lewis (his presidential aide) to explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. This territory is what is now the northwest United States. Before Lewis met up with Clark, he began the expedition on August 30, 1803 in Pittsburgh PA. Lt. William Clark would offer to join Lewis on the expedition weeks later on October 13, 1803 at Camp Dubois (in present-day Indiana). They then named their team the "Corps of Volunteers for North Western Discovery." At the time, Lewis was 29 years old and Clark was 33. From there, they sailed down the Ohio River towards St. Louis.

The party of nearly 30 --including Lewis and Clark, three sergeants, 22 enlisted men, volunteers, interpreters, and Clark's slave -- departed St. Louis in May 1804 heading up the Missouri River. They would spend their first winter at Fort Mandan at the present site of Bismarck, North Dakota. It took about 3 weeks to build Fort Mandan, which they named for the local natives, and they settled in on Nov. 27, 1804. There, they acquired a guide and translator, the Shoshone woman Sacagawea. In spring 1805, they continued to the headwaters of the Missouri River, struggled across the Continental Divide, and headed west along the Salmon, Snake, and Columbia rivers to the Pacific. They returned to St. Louis the following year.

If you don't believe that the expedition really began in Pittsburgh instead of St. Louis, please refer to the Related Link, which will lead you to the first entry of the Lewis and Clark Journals.

After the expedition, the two would lead completely different lives. Lewis, a troubled individual, was not suited for the bureaucratic life and found himself deep amongst petty and jealous administrators. On the way to Washington to clear his name, he stopped at Fort Pickering at the Chickasaw Bluffs. Those there described him as mentally distressed. Three weeks later, he was found in his rooms with two gunshot wounds at a roadside inn at Grinder's Stand, Hohenwald, Tennessee. He died the next morning on October 11, 1809, of two gunshot wounds. Some say that they were self-inflicted, others say it was murder. Jefferson -- for as long as he'd known the man -- admitted that he had suffered from "hypochondriac afflictions."

Clark would serve as governor of the Missouri Territory and he continued to lead Native American affairs for 30 years, enjoying a high reputation as an authority on the West. Many hunters, adventurers and explorers would visit him in St. Louis for advice. He died at age 69 on September 1, 1838, while at the home of his son, Meriwhether Lewis Clark.

For more detailed information concerning this issue, click on the Related Links section below.