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Lewis & Clark Expedition / Louisiana Purchase

Lewis & Clark Expedition 1804 - 1806 [map/illustration: Victor van Werkhooven / Public domain]
Lewis & Clark Expedition 1804 – 1806 [map/illustration: Victor van Werkhooven / PD]

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson purchased the area between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains from Napoleon Bonaparte in the so-called “Louisiana Purchase”.

The price Napoleon demanded was 15 million dollars – surely this deal was a bargain and a great idea from today’s perspective.

The land purchase doubled the territory of the United States in one fell swoop, but that didn’t seem enough, and so the “Oregon Country” that lay west of it, should also be added to the young United States, according to Jefferson’s view.

Jefferson’s plan for American trappers and fur trading companies was to participate in the lucrative trade in the valuable furs.

He envisioned a scientific expedition to study the fauna and flora and the area.
He entrusted his secretary Meriwether Lewis with this task, who was neither a botanist, nor a biologist, nor a geographer, but an officer in the Us Army and William Clark, a friend of Lewis.

The early explorers of the West: Lewis and Clark

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the early explorers of the American West and undertook a two-year journey to record the unexplored West.

Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis, Captain of the 1st Infantry Regiment of the United States, on June 20, 1803, to explore the West: to find out what the course of the Missouri River was like and how this waterway and its connection to the Pacific were connected. the purpose is to be able to use them for commercial purposes, if necessary. This was the start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which started the following year.

The voyage of discovery of the two pioneers and their 27 companions (they were called the Corps of Discovery by Jefferson) began on May 14, 1804 in St. Louis, Mississippi, where it ended again on September 26, 1806.

The territory of the United States did not include the South (including Florida) and southwest at that time – this was spanish colony and French territory (see map).

The group moved north along the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota. In Fort Mandan, they set up their winter camp. During the winter months, they used them to create detailed maps and write down their research and experiences with Native Americans, as well as details of the flora and fauna in the expedition diaries.

In the spring of 1805, they followed the further course of the Missouri River along what is now the Canadian border in the Montana Territory. Then southward following the river. On 13.6.1805 the Lewis-Clark Expedition reached the “Great Falls of the Missouri River” and on 15.8.1805 after overcoming the Rocky Mountains, the source of the Missouri River. What followed was the exploration of the Snake River. In early November 1805, the Explorers were at the site of the Snake’s enconing into the Columbia River. A few days later, Lewis and Clark saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The goal was achieved.

The winter from 1805 to 1806 was spent in a makeshift fort “Clatsop” specially designed for the expedition participants. Here they re-discovered their samples and materials and catalogued them in their diaries.

In March of 1806, the explorers made their way home again. However, Lewis and Clark are separating. While Lewis sets out to explore the Marias River, Clark decides to explore the Yellowstone River. The two meet again in North Dakota in August. Together they finish their adventure on September 23, 1806, where they had begun – in St. Louis.

The group travelled more than 12,000 km / 7500 miles through wild and unknown land at the time and documented the journey in detail through records and maps. The numerous records of Lewis and Clark were not published until 1814.

Many written insights into the flora and fauna led botanists to later name two groups of plants (Lewisia and Clarkia) after them. Only one man died from appendicitis. The many encounters with Indians – one reads more than 50 clashes – were more or less peaceful except for one.

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