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 and Clark Facts For Kids
- Sent by President Thomas Jefferson.
- Expedition from 1804 to 1806.
- First to cross the western U.S.
- Started in St. Louis, Missouri.
- Reached the Pacific Ocean in Oregon.
- Sacagawea, a Shoshone, assisted them.
- Mapped and documented new territories.
- Encountered diverse Native American tribes.
- Returned with vast natural knowledge.
- Expedition called the “Corps of Discovery”.
Expedition of the Corps of Discovery
In the early 1800s, under the commission of President Thomas Jefferson, American explorers Lewis and Clark spearheaded the ‘Corps of Discovery’ on a thrilling journey across the United States. Their mission involved exploring the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase, a vast expanse of western territory, and identifying a waterway to the Pacific Ocean.
Accompanied by a team of explorers, which included a native American woman named Sacagawea who served as an interpreter and guide, they braved dangerous landscapes, made contact with various Native American communities, documented numerous unknown animal species, and charted large areas of unexplored land.
The expedition, which spanned from 1804 to 1806, remarkably enhanced the nation’s comprehension of, and expansion into, the western frontier.
In the early 19th century, Sacagawea, a Shoshone Native American woman, played a significant role in the Lewis and Clark expedition, a historic American exploration led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Even as a teenager carrying her newborn son, Jean Baptiste, Sacagawea served as an interpreter and guide during their exploration of the Western United States.
Her profound knowledge of the terrain, adept language skills, and diplomatic relations with Native American tribes were instrumental in the successful completion of the expedition. Her invaluable contributions have cemented her status as an important figure in American history.
Thomas Jefferson’s Westward Expansion
As the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson significantly contributed to the Westward Expansion by commissioning the pivotal Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, which came as a result of the Louisiana Purchase.
This event, which doubled the United States in size, set the stage for further exploration and settlement. The expedition, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, was a two-year journey that involved mapping the newly acquired territory, investigating its natural resources, and initiating trade with Native American tribes. The gathered information about the western part of North America was invaluable, laying the groundwork for future explorers and settlers.
Native American Tribes encountered
The renowned American explorers, Lewis and Clark, engaged in invaluable interactions with various Native American tribes during their 1804 to 1806 expedition across the western United States. Encountering around 50 unique tribes, including the Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Mandan, the duo was exposed to a myriad of distinctive cultures and lifestyles.
This exposure was reciprocal, as the tribes often assisted Lewis and Clark by providing food, shelter, and guidance, while also benefitting from trade of goods. The explorers, in turn, gained knowledge about the local geography and wildlife.
Although their encounters weren’t always peaceful, resulting in occasional conflicts and misunderstandings, the expedition’s engagements with the Native American tribes were instrumental in successfully completing their journey and broadening their understanding of the hitherto uncharted west.
Western U.S. Geography
Lewis and Clark, renowned explorers, spearheaded the Corps of Discovery, a significant mission that unfolded across the Western United States. Commencing in 1804 and concluding in 1806, their expedition was pivotal in charting much of the unexplored western U.S. territory.
Covering a staggering distance exceeding 8,000 miles, their route traversed the Rocky Mountains, negotiated the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, and extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Their journey wasn’t just about exploration but also about scientific discovery; they cataloged new species of flora and fauna, engaged with several Native American tribes, and furnished invaluable geographical data about the Western U.S.
The expedition was instrumental in facilitating the country’s westward expansion and enhancing knowledge of the vast region’s geographical layout.
The Louisiana Purchase
The Louisiana Purchase, a historic event in 1803 where the United States doubled its size by acquiring a colossal expanse of land from France, played a significant role in initiating the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson who was eager to explore the newly purchased territory, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the expedition from 1804 to 1806.
This journey, a landmark in American history, not only expanded the country’s understanding of the western part of North America but also furnished valuable insights into the region’s geography, indigenous tribes, flora, and fauna. Hence, the Louisiana Purchase was a key catalyst in the groundbreaking expedition of Lewis and Clark.
The Columbia River
Commissioned by the U.S. government, Lewis and Clark were the pioneering explorers tasked with navigating the expansive western territory of the United States. Between 1804 and 1806, a key landmark in their journey was their encounter with the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.
This river was not only a significant geographical discovery but also a crucial transportation route enabling further westward travel. As they journeyed along its banks, they documented a wide range of previously unseen flora and fauna species, advancing European-American knowledge of the region’s biodiversity.
The river also served as a rich resource for the Native American tribes they met, offering valuable insights into their lifestyles. Hence, the discovery of the Columbia River was a milestone in the Lewis and Clark expedition, underscoring the vast potential of the Pacific Northwest for trade, settlement, and natural resource utilization.
Fort Mandan, situated near today’s Washburn, North Dakota, is renowned for its significant role in the Lewis and Clark expedition in the winter of 1804-1805. Constructed strategically along the Missouri River, the fort served as a protective sanctuary for the explorers against the severe winter weather.
During their stay, Lewis and Clark initiated trade and cultural exchanges with the local Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. The fort’s historical significance is further enhanced as it was here that they encountered Sacagawea, a young Shoshone woman, who would later become indispensable to their expedition as an interpreter and guide.
Plant and animals discoveries
Throughout their expedition, Lewis and Clark encountered an expansive assortment of unfamiliar flora and fauna, significantly enriching their understanding of North American biodiversity. They recorded over 200 plant species and about 100 animal species that were previously unknown to them.
This included the grizzly bear, prairie dog, and jackrabbit from the animal kingdom, and unique plant species such as the ponderosa pine, bitterroot flower, and prairie sagebrush. Of particular note was the salmonberry plant, which served as a vital food resource during their journey. Their discoveries thus offered invaluable insights into the biological diversity of the continent.
Return to St. Louis
In September 1806, after an epic 8,000-mile expedition, Lewis and Clark became instant heroes upon their return to St. Louis. Their monumental journey led to the discovery of new plant and animal species, interactions with various Native American tribes, and the mapping of expansive areas of the American West.
The invaluable information they amassed played a significant role in propelling the westward expansion of the United States. Welcomed back to St. Louis with grand festivities, they were duly rewarded with financial compensations and land grants for their courageous efforts.
This event, marking a turning point in American exploration and discovery, is a historical milestone of immense significance.
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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