In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson won approval from Congress for an expedition west. He hoped to find a river that would run to the Pacific Ocean. He asked his secretary, Meriwether Lewis and Lewis’ friend, William Clark to head the expedition, with an initial budget of $2,500.
Lewis began preparations in the fall of 1803. He spent several months buying provisions and equipment. Among his purchases were gifts for the Indians – 2,600 sewing needles, 12 dozen pocket mirrors, and 288 knives – as well as medicine, tents, hunting equipment and tools. In May, 1804, the Corp of Discovery, which is what the group was called, left St. Louis and headed up the Missouri River in a keel boat and two smaller boats.
For the next four years, the group traveled explored the west. They found over 300 species of plants and animals never seen before by white men. They met 50 Indian tribes and sent back hundreds of notes, maps and plant and mineral samples. But they did not find the Northwest Passage as they hoped.
Fun Facts about Lewis and Clark for Kids
- Along the way, the company met many Indian tribes. Most were friendly and traded horses and supplies with the men. A few, such as the Teton Sioux and the Blackfoot Indians, were hostile.
- The men had heard about grizzly bears from the Indians, but they weren’t worried. They figured their guns would protect them. They discovered that the grizzlies were much bigger and fiercer than they had expected. One chased Hugh McNeal, one of the members of the corp, into a tree as he was out hunting. The bear sat at the bottom of the tree all day waiting for the man to come down. Finally, at sundown, the bear left and McNeal was able to return to camp.
- Only one man died on the trip and he died of an appendicitis.
- The men were often hungry, cold and tired – living on nothing but dried roots and dried fish.
- When the men made it back to civilization, they were surprised to learn that everyone thought they were dead. When they landed in St. Louis, the people of the city came out to cheer for them.
Lewis and Clark Vocabulary
- Provisions: food, tools, clothing and other items necessary for an expedition
- Hostile: unfriendly, fierce
- Appendicitis: a serious condition that occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed
All About Lewis and Clark Video for Kids
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Lewis and Clark Q&A
Question: Why was this expedition important to the United States?
Answer: The Lewis and Clark expedition opened the way for the colonization of the western United States. Their maps and journals helped many other explorers and groups of people come west.
Question: Who was Sacagawea?
Answer: Sacagawea was a Lemhi Shoshone woman, who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition, acting as an interpreter and guide, in their exploration of the Western United States.
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