Lewis & Clark with Sacagawea Explore the Louisiana Purchase


            The land of the Louisiana Territory was a vast expanse of land only inhabited by Indian tribes and scores of animals unique to the area.  President Jefferson commissioned the two men to put together an expedition to explore the region.  The work began in the summer of 1803, though travel did not actually begin on the land purchased until May of 1804.  Officially, Lewis was in charge of the expedition of thirty-three (forty-two actually took part at one point or another) people and marked the mouth of the Missouri River as the starting point of the trip.  Most of the trip followed the river on horse, in canoes and other boats and by foot travel.  Most of the men on the trip were members of the low-ranking military, a good thing considering they went through some friendly and some hostile Indian lands.  The only problem that came up was in the Sioux Nation, when certain tribes decided that the gifts were not enough to allow the white men passage through their lands.  A boat was given to the Indians and the two sides backed down.  Fortunately, they were in the area of peaceful Indians when the winter of 1804-1805 fell on them.  It was during this winter that they hired the French-speaking Shoshone Indian Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife Sacagawea as translators and guides.

The expedition discovered hundreds of new animals, plants and minerals that were all classified, cataloged and reported to President Jefferson.  Several members of the expedition were sent back to report on their findings and progress when winter ended, including a prairie dog that was sent to Jefferson in a box.  The group crossed the Rocky Mountains by mid-year.  When the expedition reached what is now Oregon they picked up parts of the Snake, Clearwater and Columbia Rivers until they reached the Pacific Ocean, which they reached by year’s end becoming the first group to navigate their way across the land to the ocean.  Building another fort to spend the winter in, the group settled in for a long, rainy winter.  Food was hard to find, and the men spent most of their time extracting salt from the ocean water and preparing as much meat as they could.

The trip home began at the end of the winter.  By the summer the two men split the groups to explore more of the region.  Lewis followed the Marias River and suffered the only battle of the expedition.  The Blackfoot Indians greeted Lewis’ group with hospitality, but tried to steal the groups’ weapons in the night.  The fighting that broke out left two Indians dead and sent Lewis and his men on a one hundred mile, non-stop flight through the next day.  Clark’s group encountered the Crow Indians and though no fighting broke out half of the team’s horses disappeared without any sign of the Indians left behind.  Near the end of the summer, the two groups met where the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers converge.  By the end of September, the group had returned to Saint Louis, Missouri, officially ending the expedition and only losing one man in the process (to acute appendicitis).


William Clark (left) and Meriwether Lewis (center) were sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore and map the land that the United States had just invested in.  Sacagawea (right), the Shoshone Indian woman, assisted the expedition while carrying her newborn (Jean Baptiste) on her back.  For her efforts, she was immortalized on a golden coin, first minted in the U.S. in 2000.  Since no image of Sacagawea is known to exist, a current member of the Shoshone tribe was used as a model.  Their route (below) explored the Pacific Northwest as well as the central tract of the lands that were purchased.