SPIRIT OF DISCOVERYThe Lewis and Clark Expedition
Commissioned by the Command and General Staff Officer Class of 2003 Gift Committee
At the turn of the 19th century, President Thomas Jefferson’s dream of developing a young nation which offered its citizens “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as he had so eloquently written in the Declaration of Independence was well on its way. In order to understand the full potential of the country, new knowledge of its lands and waterways needed to be gathered, as most of the West was uncharted with empty expanses drawn on maps.
The expedition that Jefferson would send into the unknown was soon to capture the imagination of the country and the world. To lead the group of explorers the President chose a young man who had been his personal secretary and friend, Meriwether Lewis. Faced with the daunting challenge of leading a military unit into the unknown, Lewis chose a close friend to be his co-leader, William Clark.
As onlookers cheered, the “Corps of Discovery” began their journey on the rainy day of May 14, 1804, to explore the Missouri River to its source, locate a passage over the mountains, and float down the Columbia river system to the Pacific Ocean. Captains Lewis’ and Clark’s mission would focus on geographic discovery and mapping which would lead the fledgling country to eventual claims on all lands west of the Mississippi River.
For the next 6 months the expedition made their way up the Missouri River. On October 25th the men arrived at the Mandan-Hidatsa villages in North Dakota where the party wintered for the next 5 months until the ice broke up from the river. When the expedition started their journey again they would be accompanied by a 16 year-old mother named Sacagawea and her husband, Charbonneau a French trapper. The two new members of the expedition would become invaluable guides as the most dangerous phase of the expedition would cross into the unknown and uncharted wilderness.
The Autumn of 1805 found the soldiers dressed again in their military uniforms to meet another Indian tribe, this time the Shoshone. The expedition made friends and traded with the tribe. Lewis and Clark traded for 29 horses and 2 mules, so the party could travel on horseback. The expedition moved quickly, and climbing into the high country they encountered snow. Finding their way through heavily wooded areas sometimes required the party to take advantage of streams and waterways as had been done earlier on the trek. Captain Lewis’s dog “Seaman” was a great help throughout the journey, alerting the men to dangers such as grizzly bears.
The adventure not only brought back an enormous wealth of information about the country which would begin the westward movement, but the journey still captures the spirit of discovery today.
Featured in the painting from right to left is Captain Clark, Sacagawea and child, Captain Lewis, Charbonneau, Sergeant Ordway, and York.
Narrative on Sgt. York by Auzzie Brown:
The Nez Perce Indians called York ‘Raven’s Son’ because of his dark skin. In one Nez Perce legend recorded in 1966, members of the tribe wanted to slaughter the expedition party when it emerged from the Bitterroot Mountains but feared retaliation from “the black man.”
When the Corps of Discovery needed horses to cross the Rocky Mountains, the Shoshone were unwilling to barter with Lewis until he promised they could see the “extraordinary” York. On November 23, 1805, a vote was taken by the members of the expedition on where they would spend the winter. Each member was given an equal vote, including York. York is believed to be the first African American to cast a recorded vote in history of American democracy.
This print may still be available on the secondary market.
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