The Road To The Pacific Ocean: Voyage Of Discovery

For fifteen million, the size of the American territory nearly doubled during the era of Thomas Jefferson due to the Louisiana purchase. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were chosen to lead the western expedition. They were tasked with documenting the animals and plants, making contacts with the Native Americans, and most importantly, finding a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. The mission was called the Voyage of Discovery and the explorers were named the Corps of Discovery.

Before Meriwether Lewis became Jefferson’s secretary, he was a Virginia militiaman and participated in putting down the Whiskey rebellion. He was fluent in many Native American languages and began training in the field of zoology, medicine, astronomy, etc… for the voyage. When he was tasked to survey the new land, he recommended William Clark, who served along with him in the militia. Clark also brought along his slave, York.

Lewis and Clark used the keelboat as transportation. Its advantage is being adaptable under different conditions. For example, men can row the boat on a fair day, push the boat with long poles if the water is shallow, or use ropes to drag the boats along. The variety of supplies that were brought along include weapons, clothings, maps, and food. They also brought gifts such as paint, tobacco, and alcohol to make peace with the Native American tribes.

In spring of 1804, three boats led by Lewis and Clark left St. Louis and went up the Missouri River. In August, the Corps held their first council with Indians. A meeting location was set at present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa with a group of Oto and Missouri chiefs. The Corps presented the chiefs with the Jefferson Indian Peace Medal to demonstrate that they came for peace. In November, the Corps set up Fort Mandon near villages of friendly Mandan and Minitari Indians to stay for the winter. At Knife River Village, they met and hired French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau and his pregnant wife, Sacagawea, as interpreters. Sacagawea was not only a successful translator but she also helped to obtain supplies such as edible plants and even horses.

On April 7, 1805, part of the Corps was sent back with a keelboat full of maps and records on animals and plants while the rest continued on the journey. They crossed the continental divide with horses that Sacagawea helped find. Later, Old Toby, a Shoshone guide , aided the explorers through the Bitterroot Mountains. Lack of food and water and cold temperatures left many of the party sick and weak but no one was left behind. When they finally made it to the Pacific Ocean by November, no water route to the Pacific was spotted. As winter was arriving, the Corps built Fort Clatsop near present-day Oregon as a place to stay before heading back. After a challenging winter at Fort Clatsop, the Corps began its homeward journey on March 23 and arrived in St. Louis on September 23 of 1806.

Despite the harsh weathers, diseases, and unfamiliar terrains encountered during the voyage, the Lewis and Clark expedition was a huge success. Maps of geographic features, documents of new animal species, and journals from the members of the Corps deepened America’s knowledge about the West. As a result, the expedition greatly inspired those who came after them.

Work cited

  1. Editors. “Lewis and Clark Expedition.”, A
07 July 2022
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