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13 Fun Facts About The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Updated on July 17, 2017
Painting by Charles Marion Russel portraying the Corps of Discovery meeting Chinooks on the Lower Columbia.  The expedition encountered many Indians on their journey, most of the encounters were peaceful.
Painting by Charles Marion Russel portraying the Corps of Discovery meeting Chinooks on the Lower Columbia. The expedition encountered many Indians on their journey, most of the encounters were peaceful. | Source

An important event in the formation of the United States of America, the Lewis and Clark expedition explored vast new areas of land, documenting animal species, geology, and plant life, as well as making contact with many Indian tribes.

The expedition also captured the public imagination and came to be seen as one of the greatest American adventures of all time.

Below are 13 fun and interesting facts about the expedition.

1. President Thomas Jefferson bought 828,000 square miles (2,144,510 square km) from France in 1803. The purchase is known as the “Louisiana purchase”.

Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, painted in 1800.  Jefferson made the Louisiana purchase, effectively doubling the size of the United States in the process.  He then commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, painted in 1800. Jefferson made the Louisiana purchase, effectively doubling the size of the United States in the process. He then commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition. | Source

"It is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory; and saying to him when of age, I did this for your own good."

— Thomas Jefferson

2. The lands that Jefferson purchased from the French were to the west of the Mississippi and mainly unexplored.

Map of the area covered by the Louisiana Purchase.  The area was largely unexplored.  Jefferson's next move was to set up an expedition to investigate the area.
Map of the area covered by the Louisiana Purchase. The area was largely unexplored. Jefferson's next move was to set up an expedition to investigate the area. | Source

3. The expedition was commissioned by Jefferson to find out more about the newly acquired land. He asked congress for $2500 to fund the expedition, although the eventual cost would turn out to be fifteen times this amount.

4. The Lewis and Clark Expedition officially began on May 21st 1804 and ended in September 23rd 1806. Its official name was the Corps of Discovery Expedition.

Image of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  Jefferson named Lewis as the leader of the expedition.  Lewis then chose Clark as his second in command.
Image of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Jefferson named Lewis as the leader of the expedition. Lewis then chose Clark as his second in command. | Source

5. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were both army men who had fought in the Ohio Valley Indian Wars. They were also both born in Virginia.

The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such principle stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.

— Jefferson's instructions to Lewis and Clark

6. The objectives of the expedition were to investigate the Native American tribes who lived in the area, as well as the geography, animal and plant life of the region. There was also an economic purpose with President Jefferson wanting to know if there was a direct waterway to the West Coast that would be useful for future trade with Asia, as well as discovering the general scope for economic exploitation of the area.

Map showing the route of the expedition, which lasted from May 1804 to September 1806.   The journey started near St. Louis, then made its way westward, crossing the continental divide to reach the Pacific coast.
Map showing the route of the expedition, which lasted from May 1804 to September 1806. The journey started near St. Louis, then made its way westward, crossing the continental divide to reach the Pacific coast. | Source

7. Thirty three other people accompanied Lewis and Clark. The party included one woman, one baby and one dog.

8. Only one death occurred during the expedition. It happened on August 20, 1804 when Sergeant Charles Floyd died of what was thought to be a ruptured appendix.

The negative cost of Lewis and Clark entering the Garden of Eden is that later expeditions regardless of what they were intended to do, later expeditions did not deal with the native peoples with the intelligence with the almost kindly resolve that Lewis and Clark did.

— William Least Heat-Moon

9. The first Sioux tribe that the expedition encountered were the Yankton Sioux on the edge of the Great Plains. The meeting was peaceful.

Photo of Joseph (also known as Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt) taken in November 1877.  He described how his tribe exchanged horses for guns and tobacco with Lewis and Clark.
Photo of Joseph (also known as Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt) taken in November 1877. He described how his tribe exchanged horses for guns and tobacco with Lewis and Clark. | Source

The first white men of your people who came to our country were named Lewis and Clark. They brought many things that our people had never seen. They talked straight. These men were very kind.

— Chief Joseph

10. Two Native Americans were killed by members of the Lewis and Clark party. They were members of the Blackfeet tribe. The incident occurred on July 26th 1806.

11. On August the 12th 1806, a member of the expedition party known as Cruzatte shot Lewis in the buttocks, after accidentally mistaking him for an elk.

Lewis and Clark Expedition 150th anniversary issue postage stamp, produced in 1954. The expedition came to be seen as perhaps the greatest American adventure ever, with only the trip to the Moon to rival it.  The event was commemorated again in 2004.
Lewis and Clark Expedition 150th anniversary issue postage stamp, produced in 1954. The expedition came to be seen as perhaps the greatest American adventure ever, with only the trip to the Moon to rival it. The event was commemorated again in 2004. | Source

12. The expedition took 863 days in total and travelled 7,689 miles.

I think the Lewis and Clark Expedition was the greatest undertaking in American History. I think landing a man on the moon pales next to it.

— Kathryn Lasky

13. The achievements of Lewis and Clark were mixed. Although they failed in one of their key objectives, to discover a direct waterway to the Pacific Coast, they did find out a great deal about the area through which they travelled, including large amounts of information on the minerals and geology of the area, as well as documenting more than 100 animal species and 170 plants. They also established contact with many Native American tribes.

Sources

  • Burns, Ken (1997). Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. ISBN 0-679-45450-0.
  • Schmidt, Thomas (2002). National Geographic Guide to the Lewis & Clark Trail. ISBN 0-7922-6471-1.
  • Wheeler, Olin Dunbar (1904). The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804–1904: A Story of the Great Exploration Across the Continent in 1804–6. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.


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