LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION, The, in American history, a celebrated expedi tion to the northwestern part of the United States in 1803, under the command of Capt. Meriwether Lewis of Virginia and Capt. Wil liam Clark, the results of which gave a more definite idea of our natural resources in this hitherto unexplored region than had ever been known. Recognizing the importance of a thor ough and accurate knowledge of the vast extent of the country acquired by the United States with their independence, Thomas Jefferson, while Minister to France, suggested to the traveler, Ledyard, an exploration of western America. Nothing came of it, however. In 1792 he made a similar proposition to the Amer ican Philosophical Society (q.v.), and Michaux, the celebrated traveler and botanist, proceeded as far as Kentucky, when he was recalled by the French Minister. In January 1803, in a con fidential message to the Congress, President Jefferson recommended an appropriation for this purpose. It was granted, and he appointed Lewis, who had been his private secretary nearly two years, to the command of the expedition along with Clark. Lewis, while nominally in command of the expedition, always regarded Clark as his official equal, and during the three years of trying experience the two men worked hand in hand toward their great object with increased friendship and respect for each other. Lewis left Washington on 5 July 1803 and was joined by Clark at the Ohio. The expedition was delayed at Pittsburgh till 31 August, then proceeded on its way toward the Mississippi, Lewis choosing volunteers from the military posts along the way. The intention had been to winter at La Charette, a French settlement on the Missouri, but owing to the advanced season the first winter camp was pitched at River Dubois, on the Mississippi, about opposite the mouth of the Missouri. On 9 March 1804 Lewis was one of the witnesses to the transfer of Upper Louisiana at Saint Louis; on 14 May 1804 he set out from River Dubois on the long journey up the Missouri. The party comprised in addition to Lewis and Clark three sergeants, twenty-three soldiers, three interpreters and Clark's negro slave, York. Toward the end of
October they reached the Mandan country and put up for winter quarters near the site of the present city of Bismarck, N. D., after a trouble some journey of 1,600 miles, battling against the swift current, the snags of the river and its falling banks. Much of this distance Lewis traveled on foot, hunting, collecting specimens and.making notes upon the country. The jour ney was resumed 7 April 1805, and on the twenty-sixth the party reached the mouth of the Yellowstone, one or the other of the captains, usually Lewis, pushing ahead with hunters on foot to provide game for the camps and to examine the country. On 3 June they passed and named Maria's River, and on the thirteenth came to Great Falls. Nearly a month was spent in making the portage, and'on 25 July the party came to the triple fork of the Missouri. Nam ing the three branches Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin, they proceeded up the Jefferson River, and on 12 August reached the head of naviga tion. Then marching across the Nez Perce trail, along the Bitter Root Mountains, came to the headwaters of the Clearwater branch of the Columbia. On 7 October they launched their canoes for the descent of this great river to the Pacific, which they reached 15 November. A fortified camp, called by the explorers Fort Clatsop, was pitched on the shore of Young's Bay, and here with much hardship the winter was spent. The return journey was begun 23 March 1806, and on 8 May the headwaters of the Clearwater were reached. On the return journey the party divided and explored a large part of the present State of Montana, uniting again below the mouth of the Yellowstone.
Rapidly descending the Missouri they arrived at Saint Louis, 23 Sept. 1806. Both Lewis and Clark kept elaborate and valuable journals. Unfortunately they were never to edit them. A paraphrase by Nicholas Biddle, a friend of Jefferson, appeared in 1814 and has run through many editions. Not until 1903 were these price less papers published in their complete form, presenting the first authentic record of this ex traordinary expedition.