Lewis and Clark: Rediscovering Their Journey
- Monday, October 14, 2002
William Clark also grew up in Virginia, but at age 14, moved with his family to settle in Kentucky. His older brother, Revolutionary War hero General George Rogers Clark, taught him wilderness skills and natural history. Clark joined the Kentucky militia at age 19, and later joined the regular army, earning the rank of captain. Meriwether Lewis served under him briefly during this time, and the two struck up a life-long friendship. Clark brought to the expedition strong military, navigational, nautical, and cartographic skills.
Journals bring history alive
Journals kept by Lewis and Clark provide marvelous insights into the tragedies and triumphs they met along their incredible journey. Many of the men who traveled with them, though poorly educated, also kept a written record of their experiences. Though their spelling and grammar may be flawed, the journals bring a clear snapshot of life on the trail. Here are a few excerpts (retaining original spelling):
In an entry from May 25, 1805, Lewis describes the first sighting of bighorn sheep: "I saw several gangs of the bighorned Anamals on the face of the steep bluffs and clifts ... these animals bound from rock to rock and stand apparently in the most careless manner on the sides of precipices of many hundred feet. They are very shye and are quick of both sent and sight."
On Aug. 21, 1805, Clark describes the Shoshone Indians: "Those Indians are mild in their disposition, appear Sincere in their friendship, punctial, and decided. Kind with what they have, to spare. They are excessive pore, . . . The women are held more sacred among them than any nation we have seen and appear to have an equal shere in all conversation, which is not the case in any other nation I have seen. Their boys & girls are also admited to speak except in Councels."
Studying Native American cultures
The Lewis and Clark Expedition offers students a great opportunity to study Native American cultures. Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian wife of the French-Canadian interpreter, Toussaint Charbonneau, provided invaluable assistance to the Lewis and Clark team as guide and interpreter. Around age 11, Sacagawea had been captured by the Hidatsa tribe and taken from her home at the headwaters of the Missouri River, to the Knife River village near Fort Mandan, where the Lewis and Clark team spent the winter of 1804.
Providentially, as the group searched for the Shoshones that spring, hoping to acquire horses to make the passage over the Rockies, they came upon Sacagawea's own brother-now chief-of the Shoshones.
Lewis and Clark met 47 different Indian tribes along their route. Strict instructions were given by Jefferson that all their interactions with the natives must be friendly and conciliatory, showing the United States' wish to be neighborly and peaceful.
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