Ø   Preparations

Ø   Up the Missouri

Ø   Across the Plains

Ø   Over the Rockies

Ø   Down the Columbia

Ø     And Back


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“I Set out at 4 oClock P.M. in the presence of many of the Neighbouring inhabitents, and proceeded on under a jentle brease up the Missourie to the upper Point of the 1st Island 4 Miles and Camped on the Island which is Situated Close on the right (or Starboard) Side, and opposit the mouth of a Small Creek called Cold water, a heavy rain this afternoon” (1).  The words could have easily come from the diary of a modern camper out on a lark.  The author, however, was William Clark, and the date was May 14, 1804.  A few days later, he would be joined by his friend Meriwether Lewis and what Lewis called “the party destined for the discovery of the interior of the continent of the North America” (2).

What lay ahead in their historic journey into the American West Lewis and Clark could only guess.  Although Lewis had been preparing for the expedition for more than a year, he and his partner knew almost nothing about most of the vast land they would be traversing on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  Although the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 had given the United States possession of all the land drained by the Missouri River, no one actually knew exactly how much land that was.  President Thomas Jefferson, who had acquired Louisiana from Napoleon of France, hoped that there might be an all-water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific, but no one knew if one existed.

Simply surviving a journey with so little knowledge would have been challenge enough, but Lewis and Clark had to do more than survive.  As the envoys of Jefferson and the rest of their countrymen, they were charged with collecting information about the land, people, animals, and plants they encountered along the way.  Tutored by Jefferson himself, as well as other experts, Lewis had studied botany, zoology, geology, and anthropology before embarking on the journey.  Clark was already an experienced cartographer.  Their experience in the U.S. Army, where they had met, had schooled them in leadership, warfare, and survival.  Now they were going to put all of that knowledge and experience to work to explore, study, map, and survive one of the most important, exotic, extensive, and dangerous places on earth.


September 24, 2004

© Mark Canada, 2004