This Date in U.S. History: Lewis and Clark Expedition Leaves St. Louis
The Lewis & Clark Expedition opened the American West.
One year after the U.S. completed the Louisiana Purchase, Meriwether Lewis and army Captain William Clark from Viriginia and their expedition left St. Louis, Missouri, to explore the new lands from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Lewis, a Virginian, had been Thomas Jefferson's private secretary and assistant.
Even before the U.S. government had finished negotiating with France, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis & Clark to explore what is now the U.S. Northwest. On May 14, 1804, the "Corps of Discovery," with 45 men, left St. Louis for the American interior.
The team traveled up the Missouri River in a 55-foot long keelboat and two smaller boats. In November, Toussaint Charbonneau, a fur trader, and his young Native American wife Sacagawea, joined the expedition as an interpreter. The group wintered in present-day North Dakota, then crossed into present-day Montana and the Rocky Mountains.
They crossed the Continental Divide, and were met by Sacagawea's tribe, the Shoshones, who sold them horses for their journey through the Bitterroots. After passing in canoes through the dangerous rapids of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, the explorers reached the calm Columbia, which led to the sea.
On November 8, 1805, the expedition arrived at the Pacific, the first Europeans to do so by an overland route from the east. After wintering there (the gloomy days didn’t help Meriwether’s depression) near present-day Astoria, the explorers began their long journey back to St. Louis.
On September 23, 1806, after almost two and a half years, Lewis & Clark returned to St. Louis, bringing back information and specimens from the largely unexplored region, as well as valuable U.S. claims to the Oregon Territory.