Lewis And Clark: In Search Of A Water Route

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“Boys, be ambitious. Be ambitious not for money, not for selfish aggrandizement, not for the evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for the attainment of all that a man can be.”    – William Clark

In the year 1803, under the guidance of President Thomas Jefferson, a new territory Louisiana was purchased by the US. A huge part of the land west of the Mississippi River was completely unknown to Americans. Jefferson, keen to understand the new territory, entrusted his personal assistant Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809), to embark upon a journey with his trusted aides to observe, collect, document, classify the information pertaining to this new land. He hoped that this expedition would not only give a greater understand about the Flora, Fauna & the Geography, but would also help to further trade and to open diplomatic relations between the United States and the Indian nations of the West.

Lewis invited his former superior officer from the Army, William Clark, to be his Co-commander. William Clark (1770-1838) was an excellent draftsman and cartographer. Together they assembled a diverse troupe called the “Corps Of Discovery” to undertake the journey from the Plains of Mid-West to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Lewis and Clark’s great journey began in Washington D.C. and proceeded along the eastern seaboard encompassing the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The group then traversed through Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri, meandering through the great plains of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North & South Dakota. Scaling the mountains and the valleys of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, the trail finally concluded at the Pacific Ocean.

Their journey into the land of the Shoshone Indians, was a very notable and an emotional one, for one of the explorers Sacajawea (1788-1812), had been kidnapped from her homeland at the age of ten and was now returning to the hunting grounds of her people. The chief of the tribe was her long lost brother. The Shoshone Indians were skilled horse riders and were known as the “Lords of the Rocky Mountains.” The explorers took their help in crossing over the great Rocky Mountains on horseback. Sacajawea traveled with the expedition westward to the Pacific Ocean and back to North Dakota. William Clark documented Sacajawea’s contribution to the expedition, which was immensely significant because she was a very skilled negotiator and played a crucial role in the conversations with the Indians as the interpreter for the group.

Through the entire journey spanning a period of two years, four months, and ten days; the expedition covered over eight thousand miles. Lewis and Clark duly recorded every nuance of the journey: the sights, discoveries, the relationships forged. Clark, a cartographer par excellence, drew a sequence of maps that were very meticulous, marking rivers and creeks and significant places in the landscape that they had travelled through.

The expedition carried the message of the president Jefferson to the Indians of the West. In this diplomatic mission, the explorers adhered to the ancient protocols that included gift exchange, the use of proper tonality and words and displays of power.

Jefferson had envisioned the complete cataloging of the biodiversity in the new territory. Duly, the Corps of Discovery became the first expedition to scientifically describe a long list of species. Their journals, especially those kept by Lewis, are inundated with observations of the varieties of specimens they encountered on the journey. They defined various species previously unknown to Euro-Americans like the Grizzly Bear, the Prairie dog, White-tailed jack rabbit, the buffalo, the condor etc.

The Expedition of the Corps of Discovery marked a rudimentary path to the Pacific Ocean and paved the way for the new nation to spread from coast to coast, fulfilling Jefferson’s vision of the expedition.

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