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What is the Lewis and Clark Trail?

Why did Lewis and Clark make this trip?

How good a guide was Sacagawea?

Did Lewis and Clark intend to discover the Pacific Ocean?

What was the Louisiana Purchase?

Did other people accompany Lewis and Clark?

How many people survived the trip?

Which spelling is right: Sacajawea, Sacagawea, or Sakakawea?

Who paid for the expedition?

How can anyone say Lewis and Clark "discovered" anything, since Native Americans living along their route already knew the places and creatures?

What about Indian fights?

Can I follow their exact route today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

What is the Lewis and Clark Trail?
It's a way of designating their approximate path through the future states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon--and back. Because they traveled by river, and rivers have shifted their courses and been altered by dams, the "trail" is not exact.

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Why did Lewis and Clark make this trip?
President Thomas Jefferson had long wanted to see what the lands of western North America were like. His scientific curiosity mixed with political interests. With the approval of Congress, he made plans even before the Lousiana Purchase was completed. He asked Meriwether Lewis, his secretary, to head the expedition and to selected his own co-captain. Lewis chose William Clark, who once had been his commanding officer in the army.

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How good a guide was Sacagawea?
She was hired as an interpreter of the Shoshone language, not as a guide. Although the captains hadn't planned it, she was a sign of peaceful intention to Indian nations, since women didn't travel with war parties. Three times she recognized landmarks in her home country of southeastern Montana, and told the captains about them. As they approached the headwaters of the Missouri, she knew they were nearing. As they passed Beaverhead Rock, she said that the Shoshones called it that from its shape. On the return trip, with Captain Clark's party heading for the Yellowstone River, she told him about what's now called Bozeman Pass, and the party took that route. Whether these occasions were "guiding" or not is something that today's historians don't agree on.

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Did Lewis and Clark intend to discover the Pacific Ocean?
No, the Pacific Ocean was well known to Europeans who had long traded and lived there: Spaniards, Russians, Britons, and others. In 1792, Capt. Robert Gray had sailed into the Columbia River estuary from the Pacific, and the captains had his map.

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What was the Louisiana Purchase?
France sold the United States its claim to lands drained by the Missouri River system. The Missouri River ended at St. Louis by pouring into the Mississippi (which emptied into the Atlantic Ocean), but no one knew for sure where it began, and where its farthest feeder creeks began. All they knew was that the claim could not extend beyond the Rocky Mountains, because waters on their west sides flowed down into rivers going to the Pacific Ocean.

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Did other people accompany Lewis and Clark?
Yes. How many depends on when during the trip.

With the captains, about 38 enlisted men and some civilian French boatmen left St. Louis in 1804 knowing that the Mandan/Hidatsa Indian villages in today’s North Dakota were the place to spend their first winter on the trail. The captains planned to send some soldiers back to the United States after that winter, taking journals and maps the captains had made, along with preserved plant and animal specimens. This group was called the "return party," and the men going on to the Pacific Ocean were the "permanent party."

When the Corps of Discovery left the Mandan/Hidatsa villages in spring 1805, the permanent party included 2 captains, 3 sergeants, 23 privates, and 5 civilians. Because a woman and her infant were among the civilians, we can't say "the men" of the Corps of Discovery from April 7, 1805 until mid-August 1806, when the Charbonneau family (father Toussaint, mother Sacagawea, and son Jean Baptiste) left the permanent party upon reaching their home again.

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How many people survived the trip?
All but one. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of infection from a ruptured appendix, an illness no doctor in the world would understand for two more decades.

The men, Sacagawea, and baby Jean Baptiste suffered many illnesses and injuries, especially accidental ax and knife cuts. Private John Shields had a shoulder that became dislocated easily, and others would yank his arm until they got it back into place. The baby's face became hugely swollen from mosquito bites, and he suffered through teething. His mother experienced ongoing "female complaints" that the captains treated to the best of their ability. Everyone suffered intestinal upsets sometimes when their diets changed dramatically within a few days.

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Which spelling is right: Sacajawea, Sacagawea, or Sakakawea?
Unfortunately, we don't know whether that was her Shoshone name from childhood, or a Hidatsa name given by her captors. If it was Shoshone, Sacajawea and Sacagawea are closer to the way it would've been pronounced. If Hidatsa, Sakakawea. In North Dakota, where the Hidatsa people live, the "k" spelling is used.

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Who paid for the expedition?
This was a U.S. Army expedition, paid for by American taxpayers. Most of the members were enlisted in the army, and some civilians were hired as interpreters. York, Clark's slave, made the entire trip for no pay.

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How can anyone say Lewis and Clark "discovered" anything, since Native Americans living along their route already knew the places and creatures?
They gave Euro-Americans the first descriptions of many plants, animals, birds, rivers, and what the Rocky Mountains were like. Some animals are grizzly bears, bison (which had lived in the east long before), prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, magpies, Clark's nutcracker and Lewis's woodpecker (someone else named those two birds). Plants include bitterroot, camas, and wapato, all root vegetables that Indians used as easterners used potatoes. The captains also made careful notes about the Indian nations they met, describing how they lived and some of their beliefs, along with some of their language.

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What about Indian fights?
There was only one actual fight. In 1804, the Teton Sioux seemed threatening and weapons were drawn on both sides, but no fight occurred. But when Lewis and a small party met Blackfeet in 1806--and could try to communicate only in Plains Indian sign language--a big misunderstanding led to bloodshed. Lewis tried to give his standard explanation of the trip, and suggest that if the Blackfeet would make peace with their Indian enemies, U.S. traders would come along with guns and other goods for all tribes. The Blackfeet understood Lewis to say that the U.S. planned to arm the Blackfeet's enemies and come help them fight. Not too surprisingly, they wanted to kill these whites so they couldn't return to the Great Father that Lewis spoke of. At least two Blackfeet died in the fight.

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Can I follow their exact route today?
No. They traveled by boat up the Missouri River from its mouth on the Mississippi River to its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, went over the mountains on foot (and nearly died doing it), then floated and portaged down the Columbia River system to the Pacific. Today, 14 dams for power-generation and flood control block the Upper Missouri, four block the Snake River, and three the Columbia River. Before the dams, the rivers all changed their courses from time to time, and that has ceased. In this sense, the Corps' exact route no longer exists. You can travel alongside the rivers via highways, sometimes right beside and sometimes not even very close.

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