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Lewis & Clark; the Expedition
The main goal of the expedition of 1804-1806 was to go westward through the interior parts of North America, to study the Native American tribes, plants, animals, geology and terrain of the region. The expedition was also to be a diplomatic one and aid in transferring power over the lands from the French and Spanish to the U.S. In addition, President Jefferson wanted the expedition to find a direct waterway to the West Coast and the Pacific Ocean, the long hoped for Northwest Passage, so westward expansion would be easier to achieve in the coming years. If they were to return, and make great discoveries along the way, the U.S. promised great rewards. They set out to search one of the last great wilderness regions of the earth; a place where they thought prehistoric animals might still exist. Many people thought they would never return.
To lead this dangerous expedition President Thomas Jefferson chose his chief aid, Meriwether Lewis, a skilled soldier and woodsman; he was a studious and solitary man. Jefferson called him, “A man of courage undaunted, with qualifications…implanted by nature for this express purpose.” (Source A) He was only 28 when commissioned to lead the expedition. Under Jefferson, he learned to record every new thing he saw. During the expedition he would spend hours alone exploring with his dog. Lewis wanted a co-captain for such a long risky mission; he asked his old army commander, William Clark, to accompany him. Lewis sent Clark a letter in which he said “…in this enterprise, with its dangers and honors, there is no man on earth with whom I shall feel equal pleasure in sharing them, than with yourself.” (Source A) Clark answered Lewis’s letter, saying, “…my friend I will join you with hand and heart.” (Source A) Clark was four years older than Lewis; he was an expert mapmaker and river man, a proven leader. Clark was a practical and plainspoken man. On the expedition, he usually commanded the men on the river, and kept records to make an accurate map of the west.
Charbonneau was a French trapper and trader with the Native Americans. He had two young Shoshone Indian wives he won in a bet. Sacagawea, one of his wives, was a young Shoshone girl who had been captured in raid. Lewis and Clark asked Charbonneau to bring along one of his wives to help translate during the expedition. Sacagawea, who was only about 16 and pregnant at the time she joined them, quickly became very important to the expedition, showing them edible plants and fruit. Sacagawea gave birth to her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, in February of 1805.
The great powers of the world had laid claim to much of the land in North America outside of the U.S. Great Brittan had taken Canada and the Oregon territory. Russia, the pacific North West. Spain, the West and some of the South. France claimed a large central area, which they called Louisiana. In April of 1803, Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris to attempt to purchase New Orleans and West Florida. At the meeting, the French officials under Napoleon’s command offered to sell all of the vast Louisiana territory. The U.S. quickly purchased the Louisiana territory for 15 million USD, in which they more than doubled the size of the nation. During this time-period, there was a strong sense of manifest destiny, which is the idea that North America was given by God to the U.S. By sending explorers into this foreign land, Thomas Jefferson hoped to open up the West to the U.S.
On May 14, 1804, a small team of 47 men set out on a great journey to explore the purchased land. The team consisted of young, strong American soldiers and French-Canadian river men, handpicked for strength and wilderness skills. Among them was a man named York, Clark’s slave and companion since childhood. Upon setting out for the expedition, Clark wrote in his journal, “…all in health and readiness to...
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