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Learn About the Lewis and Clark Expedition for Kids

Updated on September 4, 2015

Would you like to explore dangerous places that didn’t have any maps and few people? Meriwether Lewis and William Clark did this a long time ago. President Thomas Jefferson asked them to lead an expedition to explore the Western United States. The goal of the expedition was to map the west and look for the fabled Northwest Passage.

The hoped for Northwest Passage was a river or many connected rivers that would reach the Pacific Ocean. Such a passage would have made it easier for the United States to trade with Asia. The Northwest Passage didn't exist but Lewis and Clark's discoveries helped open up the United States to western expansion. They made it easier for people to move to the west.

Corp of Discovery

Lewis and Clark took a team of about 30 people with them on their expedition. The team left St. Louis, Missouri on May 14, 1804. They were called the Corp of Discovery. They recorded a huge amount of information about animals, birds, plants and the weather. They made friends with many Indian tribes. Sacagawea, a Shoshoni Indian woman, and her Canadian husband were part of the expedition. They were able to communicate with the Indian tribes.

Lewis and Clark expedition mural in the Oregon State Capitol rotunda, by Frank H. Schwarz
Lewis and Clark expedition mural in the Oregon State Capitol rotunda, by Frank H. Schwarz
Map of the route Lewis and Clark took
Map of the route Lewis and Clark took

Reaching the Pacific Ocean

The most difficult part of their journey was crossing the Rocky Mountains. Once they crossed the mountains they were able to sail along the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. They were delighted when they saw it. The Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific Ocean in November of the year 1805. They set up a camp for the winter by building Fort Clatsop in what is now present-day Oregon.

When spring came, they began their six month trip home. They finally reached St. Louis on September 23, 1806, almost 2 and a half years after their trip began. They had been gone for so long, many people thought they were probably dead. They brought back maps and journals filled with information about the west.

On their way to Washington, Lewis, Clark and the other members of the expedition received warm welcomes wherever they went. They were treated like national heroes. Many areas held events to honor the explorers as they passed through their towns. When they reached Washington DC they received payments for their efforts. They received money and land. Lewis was also named governor of the Louisiana Territory. Clark served as governor of the Missouri Territory for seven years.

Lewis and Clark Video

Portraits of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Portraits of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Lewis died on October 12, 1809 near Nashville, Tennessee. Many historians believe he committed suicide but a few believe that he may have been murdered. Clark died in St. Louis on September 1, 1838 at age 68. Lewis and Clark changed the United States by exploring such a large area of uncharted territory in the west. They also advanced scientific knowledge when they discovered previously unknown plants and animals.


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