In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, doubling the nation’s size overnight. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were tasked by President Thomas Jefferson with sailing up the Missouri River – and to the Pacific coast (if possible) – to solidify the young nation’s claim to the region. The result is one of the most famous journeys of exploration in history.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 1 – Background
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark prepare to lead the Corps of Discovery west in an attempt to reach the Pacific Ocean. In this episode, we go into the background of the Louisiana Territory, discuss the man most responsible for the expedition (Thomas Jefferson), and look into the backgrounds of Lewis and Clark. We then get the two men to St. Louis as they assemble their expedition – and prepare to head into the unknown.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 2 – Up the Missouri
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery head up the Missouri River in the spring of 1804. We take time to learn about life in the Corps as they push toward the native Indian nations that lay ahead of them.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 3 – To the Mandan Villages
In the late summer and fall of 1804, the American expedition headed into the lands of the powerful Sioux nation, aiming to reach the Mandan Villages – the home of the Mandan people. The Corps would encounter four major native American tribes during this phase of the journey, and nearly come into conflict with the powerful Teton Sioux. They would spend the winter at with the Mandan people, at Fort Mandan, near modern-day Bismarck, North Dakota.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 4 – The Great Falls
In April of 1805, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery set out for the Pacific Coast. The summer and fall would be spent traveling up the Missouri River, and then trying to find a way to cross the great Rocky Mountains. This episode details these adventures, including the Corps’ discovery of the Great Falls of the Missouri, and the reaching of Three Forks – the headwaters of the Missouri.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 5 – To the Pacific
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery will fight their way over the Rocky Mountains, and then descend the Columbia River, reaching the Pacific Coast in November of 1805. None of it was easy. The Corps faced starvation, potentially hostile natives and disaster.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 6 – Back over the Rockies
The Corps of Discovery heads home. They must travel up the Columbia River, and then make their way back across the Rocky Mountains. All the while, they must negotiate with the local American Indians for food and horses and guidance despite the fact they had a dwindling supply of trade goods.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 7 – Return to St. Louis
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of the Discovery descend out of the Rocky Mountains and onto the Great Plains. The Captains divide up, with Clark exploring the Yellowstone River area, and Lewis following Marias River to the north. We finish with the Corps heading down the Missouri to St. Louis – concluding their epic journey.
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery – Part 8 – Aftermath and Legacy
The final episode in this series deals with the people and events after the completion of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. First, take a look at the events in the immediate aftermath of the Corps return to St. Louis in 1806. We then touch base on the lives of some of the Corps members, followed by a summary of the careers of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. We finish things up with a look at the successes and failures of the Corps, as well as the legacy of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Map showing the general boundaries of the major North American powers after the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. It also shows the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Maps courtesy of Wikipedia.
There are a lot of books and resources available about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, so I’m just going to note a few of my favorites.
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by historian Stephan Ambrose is my favorite book about the expedition. It is heavy on Lewis – but still wonderful.
For hardcore fans, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition are available to read online, courtesy of University of Nebraska Press. Please note that the site is much more than just the journals. There are several respected books and a bunch of articles available as well – all free. It is an amazing resource.
One online site that features a lot of information is Discovering Lewis and Clark. There are lots and lots of articles about the Corps – all for free.
Don’t miss the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail website as well – if you decide you might want to travel part – or all – of the journey on your own.