The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Discovering the American West
   

The Continental Divide, the Pacific, and the Return 

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Charting the Journey

William Clark, Route maps for April 7-14 and April 14-23, 1805,
facsimiled in Gary E. Moulton, ed., Atlas of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983. 
And: Meriwether Lewis, "Journal May 24, 1805-July 16, 1805"
facsimiled in Edward C. Carter II, ed., Three journals of the Lewis & Clark expedition, 1804-1806: from the collections of the American Philosophical Society. 
Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2000.

In his instructions, Jefferson had emphasized the need to keep multiple copies of maps and journals, in case of loss or damage.  Clarke’s first annotated sketch map reproduced in this widely-available scholarly facsimile indicates progress in the first few days after the Corps left its first winter camp at the Mandan village; this was also the route retraced by Lewis on the return journey.  Lewis’s journal from later that same summer (also available in a recent facsimile) is a reminder that Lewis and Clark had to be their own doctors during their two-and-a-half year expedition.   


Choosing a Route across the Rockies: Where the Rivers Divideyellow stone & missouri junction

Karl Bodmer, "Junction of the Yellow Stone River with the Missouri," Plate 29,from Maximilian, Prince of Wied,Travels in the interior of North America. . . .
London: Ackermann, 1843.

As Lewis and Clark moved upriver, again and again they had to choose which fork to follow.  On April 25, 1805, they reached the confluence of the Missouri and the Yellowstone, where the Yellowstone is wider, while the Missouri runs more swiftly.  It took several days of exploration to settle on the best route forward.  


Crossing the Great Continental Divide

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Travels to the source of the Missouri river and across the American continent to the Pacific ocean, Vol. II.
London: Longman, et al., 1815.  Bookplate of Alfred Chapin Rogers.

During its second summer, the expedition traveled with a considerable struggle up narrower and narrower water courses, before reaching the headwaters of the Missouri, among the Shoshonees.  In mid-July, suffering great shortages of food and supplies, and proceeding on horseback and foot, they struggled across the continental divide to find the headwaters of the Columbia river and the way down to the Pacific, through the country of the Flatheads and Nez Perces.  Failing to find the American ship by which they had hoped to make the return journey, they spent their second winter on the shore of the Pacific, building themselves another fort (Fort Clatsop).   


Among the Tushepaw or Flatheads: September 1805flat-head boy

Thomas L. M’Kenney, 1785-1859, and 
James Hall,  1793-1868.  
History of the Indian Tribes of North America . . .with 120 portraits from the Indian Gallery in the Department of War. 
3 vols., folio.  
Philadelphia: Rice and Clark, 1842.  Quarter calf, marbled boards. Gilt-stamped leather label of South Carolina College Library.

M’Kenney and Hall’s series of Indian portraits was published both in folio as here and in the smaller octavo format.  The original paintings were destroyed in 1865, in a fire at the Smithsonian Institution.  The South Carolina College set of the folio series now lacks many of the plates, and a later octavo set is used for several other entries in this exhibit. 

On the Flatheads, Clark reported: "We met a party of the Tushepau nation, of 33 lodges about 80 men 400 total . . . those people received us friendly, threw white robes over our shoulders and smoked in the pipes of peace. . . . I was the first white man who ever were on the waters of this river" (Clark’s diary, September 4, 1805).   


Lewis’s Journal at Fort Clatsop

Meriwether Lewis, "Journal Jan. 1, 1806-Mar.20, 1806,"  facsimiled in Edward C. Carter II, ed., Three journals of the Lewis & Clark expedition, 1804-1806: from the collections of the American Philosophical Society. 
Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2000.

While there have been many editions of the Lewis and Clark journals, these widely-available facsimiles give the best flavor of the originals.  Even in camp, Lewis kept up a journal of daily weather observations and other scientific information.  


Among the Nez-Perces, the Chinooks, and the Clatsops

"Map of Oregon Showing the location of Indian Tribes,"map of oregon
in Henry R. Schoolcraft, 1793-1864, Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (Philadelphia:Lippincott, 1851-57), Part III.  Half-morocco. Gift of Mrs. J. Henry Fair.   


The Return Journey: Sacajawea as Guide

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Travels to the source of the Missouri river and across the American continent to the Pacific ocean. Vol. III. New ed.  
London: Longman, et al., 1815.  Bookplate of Alfred Chapin Rogers.

In the spring of 1806, Lewis and Clark set off back overland, though, mindful of the struggles of their first crossing, they split up as they got further inland, to explore alternative routes.  When Clark’s party faced a dilemma over the best route, it was the only woman in the group, Sacajewaea, the Shoshone wife of their French-Canadian guide Charbonneau, who was able to tell them of a pass across the divide.


Jefferson reports to Congress on the Expedition’s Success

Thomas Jefferson, "Message from the President of the United States to Both Houses of Congress, Dec. 2, 1806," in The speeches, addresses and messages, of the several presidents of the United States, at the openings of Congress and at their respective inaugurations. . . .
Philadelphia: R. Desilver, 1825.  Original boards.

Once back across the Divide, the expedition moved downstream faster and faster as the rivers got more easily navigable, sometimes covering as much as 75 miles a day, and made its triumphant return to St. Louis, arriving on September 23, 1806.   Jefferson included this report on their success in his next message to Congress:  "Messrs. Lewis and Clark, and their brave companions, have by this arduous service, deserved well of their country." 

 
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