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Lewis and Clark: A Timeline of the Extraordinary Expedition

January 16, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

In 1804, Lewis and Clark set off on a journey filled with harrowing confrontations, harsh weather and fateful decisions as they scouted a route across the American West.

With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the territory of the United States doubled overnight. Months before the $15 million deal was finalized, though, President Thomas Jefferson won approval from Congress to send a team of intrepid explorers to find a passable water route west to the Pacific Ocean.

Jefferson tapped his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead the “Corps of Discovery,” and once Lewis grasped the full scope and challenges of the expedition, he called on his Army friend and fellow Virginian, William Clark, to be his equal in command.

“If therefore there is anything… in this enterprise, which would induce you to participate with me in it’s fatiegues, it’s dangers and it’s honors,” Lewis wrote to Clark, “believe me there is no man on earth with whom I should feel equal pleasure in sharing them as with yourself.”

Below is a timeline of Lewis and Clark’s extraordinary expedition.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their Keelboat known as ‘The Boat’ using poles to navigate the Missouri River in May 1804.

Lewis and Clark’s Journey Begins

May 14, 1804

The Corps of Discovery embarks from Camp Dubois outside of St. Louis, Missouri, in a 55-foot keelboat to begin the westward journey up the Missouri River. Among the 41-man crew of volunteers, soldiers and one African American slave, is Patrick Gass, a carpenter from Pennsylvania. Gass writes in his journal about the expected dangers ahead, including “warlike nations of savages of gigantic stature” and impassable mountain ranges.

“The determined and resolute character, however, of the corps, and the confidence which pervaded all ranks dispelled every emotion of fear, and anxiety for the present,” writes Gass, “[and] seemed to insure to us ample support in our future toils, suffering and dangers.”

August 20, 1804

Sergeant Charles Floyd, the youngest man on the expedition, dies of a suspected ruptured appendix near modern-day Sioux City, Iowa. Incredibly, Floyd’s is the only death during the entire two-year expedition.

A Tense Encounter With the Teton Sioux

September 25, 1804

Of all Lewis and Clark’s encounters with Native American tribes, the meeting with the Teton Sioux (Lakota) near modern-day Pierre, South Dakota, is among the most tense. Jefferson had charged the Corps with Indian diplomacy, which consisted mainly of announcing the Louisiana Purchase and presenting tribal …read more


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