People believed that Lewis and Clark would find woolly mammoths and maybe even unicorns on their expedition – InForum

FARGO — The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, which traversed today’s northwestern United States, was full of expectations. Government officials knew very little about this region, and virtually nothing was known to the average citizen of this country.

Thomas Jefferson, the president who envisioned and later authorized the expedition, first expressed interest “in men crossing the North American continent” in 1792 when he urged the American Philosophical Society to fund such a mission. dispatch. Jefferson’s plan did not materialize then, but his dream became much more of a reality in 1800 when he was elected president.

With the help of his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, Jefferson crafted a proposal to Congress, requesting funding for an expedition to be led by Lewis. For Jefferson, the rationale for the expedition had many elements, but in order for Congress to be more willing to fund it, the official reason was “trade and commerce”.

Britain had a virtual monopoly over the lucrative fur trade in North America’s northwest region, and it only made sense that the United States would want to take advantage of that. By sending out an expedition, we could not only get a good estimate of the potential abundance of animals to harvest for their furs and skins, but we could also establish good relationships with the Native Americans of that area who would serve as our trading partners. . Jefferson also wanted to learn more about the valuable minerals that existed in this part of the continent.

The British had established transportation routes from the Atlantic to the Pacific in Canada, but the United States had no such route. We knew that the Rocky Mountains were a major obstacle to travel from east to west and we had to find suitable routes through this obstacle.

Science was also another reason for the expedition. Jefferson believed that there were plant and animal species in the Pacific Northwest that had not been identified. He had studied the fossil remains of the enormous woolly mammoths and he hoped that this expedition would locate the herds of these animals. According to historian D. Jerome Tweton, “Others believed that 7-foot-tall unicorns and beavers lived in these unknown lands.”

On January 18, 1803, President Jefferson sent his proposal to Congress requesting permission and funding for Lewis to lead an expedition to and from the Pacific Northwest. On February 22, Congress approved $2,500 for the expedition. While Lewis was busy arranging the trip, news reached Jefferson that Napoleon, the Emperor of France, “wished to sell the possessions of France in North America.”

On April 30, Secretary of State James Madison and Robert Livingston, the United States Ambassador to France, negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million. On October 20, Congress ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, and on December 20, France transferred the territory to the United States.

Meriwether Lewis (left) and William Clark.

Contributed / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Lewis appointed his good friend, William Clark, co-commander of the expedition, then focused his efforts on obtaining a keelboat, supplies and equipment for the voyage. He left responsibility for recruiting the 44 men needed for Clark’s expedition. The crew would be an assortment of “soldiers, hunters, carpenters, boatmen and blacksmiths, all able pioneers”. Collectively, the men of the expedition would be known as the “Corps of Discovery”.

Another member making the trip was a 150-pound Newfoundland dog named Seaman whom Lewis had purchased in 1803. Lewis chose this breed of dog “because they do well on boats, are good swimmers, and can help water rescues”.

Seaman proved to be a valuable addition to the expedition. He caught squirrels which provided food for the expedition members. He scavenged geese and deer, and “once killed and scavenged an antelope swimming across a river”. Seaman warned the men when bears entered their camp and once “chased a buffalo while the men slept”. He was also a great comfort to Lewis who seemed happiest when Seaman was by his side.

The expedition officially began in mid-May 1804 when the men started their way to the Missouri River at a point north of St. Louis. Much of the journey up the Missouri in the summer of 1804 was uneventful until they encountered a party of Teton Lakota Indians near present-day Pierre, SD on September 25. The Tetons thought they were merchants selling guns to their enemies. “After three turbulent days, Chief Teton spoke of peace and the expedition’s journey was allowed to continue.”

In late October, the Corps of Discovery reached the mouth of the Knife River, near present-day Washburn, ND It was the home of five villages of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Indians. This was the site where Lewis and Clark decided to establish their winter quarters and they named it Fort Mandan. They built heavy fortifications at Fort Mandan and through hunting and trading with Native Americans, they made provisions for the winter.

On November 11, they discovered that living in the five villages was a French-Canadian merchant named Toussaint Charbonneau, who was married to “two Squaws from the Rocky Mountain region.” One of those women was Sakakawea, 17, who was Shoshone and several months pregnant. Lewis and Clark convinced Charbonneau and Sakakawea to join their expedition as guides and interpreters when they continued their expedition in early spring.

That winter, Corps members experienced the coldest temperatures they had ever experienced. In January, the temperature dropped to 45 degrees below zero. “It was so cold that some of the hard liquor from the expedition solidified within 15 minutes.” Without the help of Native Americans in the region, accustomed to surviving extreme temperatures, it is likely that some members of the expedition would have perished.

On February 11, 1805, Sakakawea gave birth to a baby boy named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, nicknamed “Pompée” by Clark. With only a few months until the weather conditions were good enough to resume the trip, they all hoped the baby would be strong enough to accompany his mother on the long journey ahead.

With the breaking of the ice on the Missouri River on April 7, the keelboat was sent back up the river to St. Louis and the Corps proceeded west on two dugout canoes (long, narrow canoes) and six dugout canoes.

We will continue the story of Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery next week.

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