Thomas Jefferson was interested in learning more about the country west of the Mississippi River. In 1803, he persuaded Congress to pay for an expedition to explore this land. In May 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, both army officers, set out on their expedition. Their journey took more than two years, but paved the way for western settlement.
- Lewis and Clark departed from St. Louis, rowing up the Missouri River. They spent a winter in a Mandan Indian trading village. They rode horses over the Rocky Mountains through Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon to the Pacific Ocean – a roundtrip journey of over 8,000 miles.
- Jefferson asked Lewis and Clark to map the region. He hoped that they would find a river running from the Missouri to the Pacific Ocean, which people could travel on. He also asked them to study and collect natural resources, including rocks, plants, and animals. He wanted them to befriend the native tribes and learn about their languages and customs.
- Lewis and Clark took six months to prepare for their journey, gathering supplies and recruiting the 31 men who would accompany them. It was hard to know exactly what to take since no one had ever explored the area before.
- At the time, Europeans had only explored as far as the Missouri River. A few had also ventured along the Columbia River into what is now central Oregon. Thomas Jefferson thought Lewis and Clark might find wooly mammoths and active volcanoes. Instead, they found 300 plant and animal species unknown to science at the time; 50 Indian tribes; and the massive, rugged Rocky Mountains.
- After arriving at the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark built Fort Clatsop and spent the winter in present-day Oregon. They split up on their return to the East so that they could explore more land. Lewis and his men were attacked by Blackfoot Indians trying to steal from them. Two Indians were killed. Lewis was later shot in the leg by one of his own men.
- The group were given a hero’s welcome when they returned to Washington D.C. Lewis was given 1,600 acres of land, a generous salary, and the role of governor of the Louisiana Territory.
- Recruit: seek out, enlist
- Venture: explore
Questions and Answers
Question: Did any women join the expedition?
Answer: Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian was the only woman to go on the expedition. She played a vital role in finding food, navigating rough terrain, and negotiating with the native tribes.
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