A glimpse of 200 years in our past would leave you baffled, the miniature United States and endless frontier land. In those lands, on those plains, up in those snow-capped mountains lay the hopes and dreams of men throughout our small, developing nation. Men young and old, some skilled and some driven by a passion, took it upon themselves to explore this no man’s land. Two very lucky men, and 29 of their contemporaries, were able to travel through this vast wilderness under the wishes and orders of President Thomas Jefferson.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the commanding officers of a 31 member party, embarked on a mystical and fortifying adventure in which they were to navigate and document what they thought to be the easiest way across the continent of America to the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific ocean was a name without a face, and these men were going to be the first white men to see it tumbling waters, jagged cliffs, and lush sandy beaches. These men would be the first to report the mystery of the frontier.
On May 13th, 1804 captain Lewis and captain Clark departed on their adventure across the country. The men on their 54-foot boat and several small canoes started their trek up great Missouri. The first part of their journey would be to get from their present lodging, Fort Dubois, to Two-Thousand-Mile Creek, home of the Sioux Indian. When these men started off up Missouri they couldn’t look back, they were leaving their country, their families and their friends and now they would be executing one of the most powerful and necessary journeys in American History.
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The journey from Fort Dubois to Two-Thousand-Mile Creek was a relatively smooth one. Around the men, as they rode the current of Missouri were surrounded by beautiful green fields, plains as long as the eye can see, and many animals that would serve as these men’s entire diet. Animals that man hadn’t witnessed were starting to appear, one such animal was the Prairie Dog or Prairie Wolf. The men were startled by the similarity of this animal and the gray squirrel in developed America, but when they were close enough to see and kill these animals they noticed differences.
On this first waterway, Missouri, the men stopped in multiple places to rest, to hunt and to contact the Indian. Along the way, the captains and their Indian translators spoke and traded with the Sioux, Ottos and Maha. The constant tradition that these men observed of the Indians was to celebrate friendship with a pipe-smoking of tobacco. The white men and the Indian were getting along perfectly with men that had never witnessed skin of this colour.
After making the way successfully to Two-Thousand-Mile Creek the men made camp for a while and witnessed the brilliance of the land. Surrounding the men were herds of an animal sometimes in the thousands. Buffalo were freely roaming in and around water holes, antelopes were grazing on the plentiful grass and roots, elk and deer in quantities never before seen were wading in the same water as these men, undisturbed.
The men after staying a few days on Two-Thousand-Mile Creek started making their way up to a Shoshoni Indian Camp by way of the Lemhi River. This stretch of the journey would cover a distance that would make a driver today shudder let alone an early 19th-century explorer, 2,300 miles. Along the Lemhi River, the men stopped occasionally and this is when they made the first contact with a grand beast. This beast, the white bear, was described as a large and terrible looking animal that took 10 balls to kill by Captain Clark (p. 42), after they had finally killed one of the famed white bears. As travel is continued the voyagers come to a gigantic waterfall that was spoken of like this by Captain Lewis; “I wish for the pencil of Salvator Rosa or the pen of Thompson that I might be enabled to give the enlightened world some just idea of this truly magnificently and sublimely grand object…”(p.61). Along this route is when the crew and its captains first saw the snow-covered peaks of the massive Rocky Mountains.
The men spent several days at the Shoshoni Camp and traded many things with the Indians there and celebrated their friendships by smoking. After these resting days, on August 21st, 1805, the men left for Fort Clatsop their destination on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the travellers passed through Bitterroot Valley and made a camp called Travelers Rest at the mouth of Lolo Creek.
After encountering Flathead Indians, and trading for horses to cross the Rocky Mountains the group began their ascent up into the mountains and across the frostbitten terrain with only their strong wills, and supplies to keep them from freezing to death. When they finally crossed the mountains they were greeted with a long stretch of desert land that they had to cross without any timber to make canoes, or animals to live off of. Finally, they heard it, the rumbling of the Pacific Ocean, the sound of immense power and altogether conquest. When the men made it to the beach they were amazed at the serenity and surreal effects of its nature.
The sharp rising cliffs, the beached monsters from the waters (whales), the native people to the land, and also the incredible salmon rush. The men stayed for a near three months on these beaches, and lived off of roots and fish and made well with the Indians, some of whom depended on the Captains for survival. Captain Clark was now a physician, and he was taking care of people that had once been thought to be savages, the people who had been living on America’s frontier for hundreds of years.
When the time and weather were right the men left their dwelling on the coast and began their return to their home, the United States. The two Captains who had now been keeping journals, in elk skin bound notebooks, all along we’re going to bring their discoveries and encounters back to the rich community from which they came. First the trip from Fort Clatsop to Musquettoe Creek on the West Side of the Rocky Mountains. Along this journey, one problem stuck out most and that was coincidentally mosquitoes. When one was to inhale or simply open his or her mouth (there was one female in the 31) they would swallow a mouthful of mosquitoes, the pain and anguish that the bearers of the West Nile Virus, were causing these people was almost unbearable. But these brave, determined and intelligent men overcame this feat in the journey and made it to their rest next to the Rocky Mountains.
At this resting place the group would have to wait for 2 months before they could travel the Rockies and during this time the men existed on a neighbouring tribe called the Chinooks. The Chinooks were very hospitable towards the white men, and their black servant, and offered them horses to use or kill for food whenever needed. The men greatly thanked the Indians and gave them what they had not already used in bartering so far along in the journey. When the next full moon came, and the mountains were attainable, not covered any longer in 15 feet of snow, the men moved. They started off over the icy hills and precipices of the Rocky Mountains and arrived on the other side at Travelers rest, their old home, on the 30th of June 1806.
The final task of this adventure was at hand and this part was what seemed easy compared to the latter of the trip. From July 3rd, 1806 until August 12th, 1806 the voyagers were making their way from Travelers Rest to the opening of the Missouri River. On the way back to the mouth of the Missouri River the group split now one captain, Clark, was taking a route through Yellowstone Park to Missouri while Lewis and some men were taking an alternate route plotted by Captain Lewis. On Clark’s journey, all went well, they made their way through Yellowstone with the help of the only woman in the band, an Indian woman who was the wife of a crewmember.
Clark and his men witnessed tremendous amounts of wildlife and came in contact with other Indians but all fared well. On the other hand, Lewis and his men were met with a band of French Miniarates, Indians, who were said to have a sour reputation. The men befriended these Indians but while making camp and while all were asleep the Indians stole guns and tried to run off the white man’s horses. After a struggle awoke the men 1 Indian ended up dead and William Clark and his men took the 15 Indian Horses that were with these thieves. After this incident, the rest of the trip to the meeting point, the mouth of Missouri, went smoothly.
Clark and Lewis were back together again and on their way home. On September 23rd, 1806, the men and their crew pulled into St. Louis to an amazed America. Everyone had either given up hope or forgotten about their mission everyone except the man behind the muscle president Jefferson.
When the men were paid off, and all the bags and materials dealt with Clark and Lewis sent Washington all the writing they had done, the skeletons they had obtained, the new vocabularies they had unravelled, and of course all of the results of their trading. The men that had been forgotten by the American public were now heroes, not heroes from war but heroes of a new era, the era of expansion.
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As one can see this journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was absolutely vital to the survival of the American nation. The men had returned with their route to the Pacific and in turn created the rest of our country, without these men and the bravery of their acts we might have never seen the rising waters of the Pacific, the jagged hills and the gorgeous lush sand beaches.
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