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Essay/Term paper: The lewis and clark expedition

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History

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Quite possibly one of the most important purchases in the

history of The United States was the one in which Thomas

Jefferson enabled the size of the country to double. The

territory was the Louisiana Territory, the 820,000 square mile

piece of land was bought for 15 million dollars which equaled

out to about three cents an acre.

The United States originally only wanted to buy the port of

New Orleans. Thomas Jefferson wanted to buy this because there

was a risk that the half million Americans living west of the

Appalachian would secede from the Union. Purchasing the port

would keep them from seceding because they would then have a

port that they could easily use to get to the ocean. The

people in that region had been using the port until the Spanish

stopped letting them use it. This posed a serious problem

because then the only way to get goods to the ocean was over

the Appalachian Mountains, and there were few roads that

crossed the mountains. By adding the land west of the

Mississippi the United States had the potential to become a

very powerful nation.

Jefferson learned that France had just obtained the

Louisiana Territory from Spain. He proceeded to send James

Monroe and the ambassador to France, Robert Livingston to the

current leader of France Napoleon Bonapart. Napoleon needed

money for the upcoming war with Britain, realizing that he had

little hope for an empire in America any time soon he declared

that the united States could have the port if it bought the

entire territory. Jefferson quickly passed the treaty through

congress and although there doubts about the purchase on April

30, 1803 the United States doubled it"s size.

Jefferson had been planning to map out and explore the west

for two decades. Before even acquiring the land Jefferson had

been planning a small trip to explore the land he was so

captivated by. His personal library had more books on the land

than any other place. However many of the descriptions of the

land were simply made up in the minds of people that had never

been there in there lives. Maps of the land were also based on

little or no actual facts from the land. Many showed the Rocky

Mountains as smaller than the Appalachians. So in 1803

Jefferson proposed to congress that an "intelligent officer

with ten or twelve chosen men ... might explore the whole line,

even to the Western Ocean." Thomas Jefferson"s reasons for the

expidition were not just for science he also saw that

commercial growth in the west would be a key to the United

States growing a stronghold on the region.

Jefferson"s proposed expedition would travel through unknown

lands that were owned by the two most poweful nations, France

and Britan with Spain in possesion in the land to the south

west. Spansh officials administering the region for France had

turned down Jefferson"s request to explore the region. None the

less Jefferson sent his request to Congress. To make his

request more tempting he asked for only $2,500 to fund the trip

but in acctuality it cost $38,722. So on Feburary 28,1803

Jefferson"s request was approved. Jefferson appointed

Meriwether Louis in charge of the expedition.

When the Louisiana purchase was announced on july 3, just

two days before Lewis was to set out to Pittsburgh to buy

supplies and hire men, the semi-covert mission through foreign

land was turned into a daring survey into newly aquired

American land. To ensure that Louis could buy every thing he

needed Jefferson gave a signed page that gave the "faith of the

United States" to reimburse anyone for any goods or services

needed by Louis. Before leaving Louis had Albert Gallatin (a

map collector) make a map that showed North America from the

Mississippi to the Pacific. The only points on the map were

the mouth of the Columbia river, St. Louis and the Missouri

river up to the Mandan Villages. The rest were to be Filled

out by Lewis and Clark.

On the trip the group encountered many different Native

American tribes, one of wich was the Teton Sioux. These native

americans were a war-like tribe, they were known for being a

powerful and aggresive tribe that controlled all traffic

through there section of the Missouri River. When they stopped

passing merchants they would demand many gifts as a toll, or

they would resort to a more violent approach. When Lewis and

Clark arrived, the Teton Sioux veiwed them and America as a

threat to there control of the trade area. At the first

council held between the Tetons and the expedition the

expedition followed there normal routine of marching and firing

there guns. This did not impress the Tetons and an armed

conflict nearly erupted. The cheif However calmed things down.

In his journal Clark wrote that the tetons were thin, small and

ill-looking. The men dressed as Indians are steryotypically

depicted with hawk feathers on there heads and robes on there

bodies, the women wore robes and buffalo skins.

Another tribe that the expedition met were the Mandans.

Some of the Mandans political caracteristics are similar to

modern-day communism. To the Mandans the village was the

centerof activity be it ceremonial, political or economic. In

the village each household worked together as a collective to

better each thing part of the collective such as families and

the village itself.

In the fall many different types of people came to the

Mandan village to trade. At these trades Europeans and many

differnt tribes were in attendence. The Mandans traded there

corn for a variety of items. When the expedition arrived the

Mandans were very hospitible they allowed the Corps to stay

across the river for the winter and supplied them with food.

At one point during the winter when the food supplie became low

the Mandans were accompanied by members of the Corps on a

buffalo hunt. In return Clark performed medical services for

the tribe. The tribe was also mezmerized by the color of

York"s ( Clark"s slave ) skin.

The Corps of Discovery did not make the entire trip without

help from Native Americans. One Native American that played a

large part in helping the expedition was Sacagawea. The Corps

met her when they hired the french fur trapper Toussaint

Charbonneau to be a guide. Sacagawea was of much help when the

Corp met the Shoshone tribe. Sacagawea was the brother of the

tribes leader. At one meeting when Sacagawea was present she

recognized Cameahwait. Sacagawea was Shoshone but was

Kidnapped by the Hidatsas when she was a child. It was with

Sacagawea"s help that the Corps was able to get the horses and

guide they needed to make the trip across the Bitterroot


The Corp got help from many tribes as well. As mentioned

the Shoshone helped by providing horses and a guide through the

Mountains. The Mandan Indians helped by giving the expedition

food through out the winter while the Corps stayed with them.

The Nez Perce gave the Corps food and let them say near them

during the winter of 1805. Without the help of the Indians

mentioned and others the Corp of discovery would almost

certainly not have survived or completed there journey.

One of the purposes of the Corps of discovery was to study

the land animals that lived on this land. One animal that was

new to the people was the grizzly bear, the Hidatsas warned the

expedition about this fierce animal. A few days later the

Corps met up with a grizzly bear and they shot and killed it.

That night Lewis wrote in his journal that for a wel trained

man with a gun the grizzly bear was not something to fear. A

few days later they ran into another bear and could not kill

it, it chased them into the river. Some other new animals that

the Corps met with were the buffalo, jackrabbit and praire dog.

They were so interested by the praire dog that they spent a few

days trying to capture one and when they finally did they sent

it back to Jefferson alive.

To travel on the rivers they used a specialy built keel

boat that was constructed in Pittsburgh. When going against

the flow they traveled in a way that resembles the gondolas of

Vennice italy. They would take poles that reached the river

bottom and walk from the front of the boat to the back. They

also sailed, rowed and even waded in the water and pulled the

boat. To cross mountains they put there gear on horses. They

crossed the Rockies at the Bitterroot Mountains, on a trail

used by the Shoshone.

The Corps of Discovery found several interesting geographic

features. They saw the towering falls of missouri. They also

saw the Rocky Mountains which were almost ten thousand feet

higher than the Appalachians. They also saw a high sandstone

peak that Clark named Pompy"s tower after Sacagawea"s son. In

conclusion the Lewis and Clark Expedition was a great succes,

it acheived many feats and opened the door to a new era of

american history.

Works Sighted Page

Lewis and Clark Page.PBS. 28 Feb 2000


Appleby, Brinkley, and McPherson. The American Journey Building

a Nation. New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2000

"Lewis and Clark Expedition." Compton"s Encyclopedia. 1989 ed. 

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