The returning Lewis and Clark reach the first white settlement on the Missouri

The returning Lewis and Clark reach the first white settlement on the Missouri

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

On September 20, 1806, after nearly two-and-a-half years spent exploring the western wilderness, the Corps of Discovery arrived at the frontier village of La Charette, the first white settlement they had seen since leaving behind the outposts of the eastern settlements in 1804.

Entirely out of provisions and trade goods and subsisting on wild plums, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their men were understandably eager to reach home. Upon arriving at La Charette, the men fired a three-round salute to alert the inhabitants of their approach and were answered by three rounds from the trading boats moored at the riverbank. The people of La Charette rushed to the banks of the Missouri to greet the returning heroes. “Every person,” Clark wrote with his characteristic inventive spelling, “both French and americans Seem to express great pleasure at our return, and acknowledge them selves astonished in Seeing us return. They informed us that we were Supposed to have been lost long Since.”

READ MORE: Lewis and Clark: A Timeline of the Extraordinary Expedition

The Lewis and Clark mission had been a success. With the aid of Native American tribes, the explorers had charted the upper reaches of the Missouri, proved there was no easy water passage across the Continental Divide, reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and made the first major step to opening of the trans-Mississippi West to the American settlement.

After spending the evening celebrating with the people of La Charette, the next day the expedition continued rapidly down the river and after two more days reached St. Louis, the city where their long journey had begun. Lewis’ first act upon leaping from his canoe to the St. Louis dock was to send a note asking the postmaster to delay the mail headed east so he could write a quick letter to President Jefferson telling him that the intrepid Corps of Discovery had, at long last, come home.

The returning Lewis and Clark reach the first white settlement on the Missouri - HISTORY

Location: St. Charles County. The historic district encompasses an area 8-1/2 blocks long and 1-1/2 blocks wide that fronts on the north bank of the Missouri River and is surrounded on three sides by the modern city of St. Charles and on the fourth, or eastern, side by the river. South Main Street, running in a north-south direction, forms the long axis of the historic district, whose northern boundary is the south line of Madison Street.

Although Camp Wood was the base camp and winter quarters (1803-4) for the expedition and the place from which the bulk of the main body set out, St. Charles was the final embarkation point. There, on May 20, 1804, Lewis and the last few members of the complement came on board, the boat loading was adjusted, and last-minute supplies were obtained. Clark and his group, which had departed from Camp Wood on May 14, arrived at St. Charles 2 days later. Scattered along the riverbank they found about 100 homes, whose 450 inhabitants were mostly of French origin. On the after noon of May 21, everything in readiness, the explorers set out upriver. Returning from the Pacific, on September 21-22, 1806, they stopped at the village overnight.

Originally called "Les Petites Cotes" ("The Little Hills") because of the nature of the surrounding terrain, St. Charles was founded as a fur trading post in 1769 by Louis Blanchette, a French-Canadian hunter. It was the first permanent white settlement on the Missouri River and one of the earliest in the present State. The original settlers were primarily French traders, hunters, and farmers. The Spaniards, who ruled Louisiana Territory in the period 1762-1804, made little effort to colonize St. Charles or the surrounding area. In 1791 Don Manuel Perez, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Louisiana, gave the city its present name, which is translated from the Spanish.

St. Charles, Mo., final embarkation point of the expedition. It was also once the capital of Missouri and still shows evidence of early French settlement. (Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (Blair, 1964).)

Following the assumption of control of Upper Louisiana by the United States in 1804, the year after the Louisiana Purchase, the influence of the town increased. Located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, it became an outfitting station for both land and water transportation routes to the West. In addition to its role as a river port, St. Charles was the eastern terminus of the Boonslick Road. Originally blazed to serve the Boone brothers in their salt manufacturing works in Howard County, the road quickly became the route to Arrow Rock, at which point the Boonslick route joined the Santa Fe Trail. In 1821-26 St. Charles served as the first State capital, on a temporary basis until it moved to its permanent location, Jefferson City.

Fire and deterioration have already removed from the scene a large number of structures once present in the historic district. About 60 of the approximate 102 that remain are noteworthy and 10 warrant further study to determine their importance. The condition of the extant buildings varies, but a high proportion of those that are exemplary are either being restored or are restorable. The various structures are used for private residences, commercial and industrial purposes, or are publicly owned. Houses closely resembling those in the district are scattered throughout the modern city.

Taken as a whole, the historic district retains the layout of the original town plan and provides an example of town planning and development in the Midwest at the turn of the 19th century. Most of the buildings were erected of handmade brick, quarried limestone, and hewn timber. Similar construction occurred elsewhere in the Midwest, but was frequently supplanted by successive waves of building.

Besides various interesting structures and features pertinent to later phases of 19th-century history and architectural development, the district contains a large concentration of early 19th-century buildings that are little altered from their original appearance. None of them can be directly associated with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but possibly some of them were standing when it passed through. If not, they were soon thereafter and thus represent the architecture of the period.

The returning Lewis and Clark reach the first white settlement on the Missouri - HISTORY

The upper Missouri valley was first made known to the world by French colonials who entered it from present-day Canada during the mid-18th century and, a few years later, by French-speaking subjects of Spain, coming up the Missouri River from the southeast. For more than a century, travel into the northern Plains was chiefly by water—at first in dugout and bark canoes, and later in steamboats. By the 1850's, the steamboats had reached the head of navigation, the trading post of Ft. Benton, at the very gates of the rockies and more than 2,000 miles from the mouth of the Missouri.

Many explorers and travelers were to pass up the Missouri into the northern Plains, among them the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806. Traders soon established themselves along the river, intent on profits to be made through supplying factory-made goods in exchange for fine furs, buffalo robes, hides, and other native products gathered by the Indians. Traders were followed by soldiers and later by ranchers, farmers and townsmen before the end of the 19th century, the old life of the Indians had vanished.

The first White persons known to have visited this part of the Missouri valley were exploring parties from the western Great Lakes, led by la Verendrye and his sons, members of a noteworthy family of old Quebec. In 1738, seeking routes that would lead even farther west, they visited a people called the Mandan, who lived in earth-lodge villages near present Bismarck, capital of North Dakota. In 1743 they met other village peoples, probably the Arikara or Ree, in the vicinity of Ft. Pierre, South Dakota. Near the latter place they even buried a lead plate in token of their claim of the west for their king, Louis XV of France. The plate was rediscovered long afterward, and is now exhibited at the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum in Pierre.

Following these first know contacts with the Indians, more than half a century elapsed before trade into the region was reestablished, now chiefly from St. Louis, which had been founded in 1764. Such trade goods as had reached the Indians in the interval—and numerous trade objects have been found in excavations at native village sites—had probably passed from hand to hand between various tribes. This physical evidence of contact proves how attractive were the White men's goods.

By the year 1803, when the vast Louisiana Territory was purchased by the United States, several traders had established regular commerce in the region, operating from houses they had built at strategic points along the river. Lewis and Clark's party, ascending the Missouri in 1804, met several of these veteran traders. Knowing the region at first hand, these all but forgotten pioneers provided useful information of the sort that could be learned only by living among the Indians. None of the traders was more helpful than Pierre-Antoine Tabeau, who had lived with the Arikara, and whose entertaining recollections of his experiences have been preserved.

Another early journey through this part of the valley was that of the Wilson P. Hunt party sent out by John Jacob Astor. In 1811 they ascended the Missouri as for as the Grand River, from which point they boldly struck westward, marching overland to reach the famous Pacific Fur Company post of Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River, early the next year.

Though these early explorers and travelers seldom tarried long in the Oahe area, their passage and repassage through it helped to make the region known. Further attempts were now made by traders to exploit its rich natural resources of furs and hides. An important early venture of the kind was that of the Missouri Fur Company, organized in 1809 by William Clark and other prominent citizens of St. Louis. In the fall of 1812, under the direction of a vigorous partner, Manuel Lisa, a post for trade with the Arikara was built near the present northern boundary of South Dakota. Fort Manuel, as the post was called, was probably established to keep the Indians from dealing with British traders to the north. The hope of keeping the Indians of the valley favorable to American interests failed, however, and the post was abandoned the following spring, after only one winter of use. The dislocations of the war of 1812-14 prevented successful trade in the region for several years.

At Fort Manuel, during the evening of December 20, 1812, according to the post journal, the wife of Toussaint Charbonneau, "a 'Snake' Indian woman died of a fever, aged about 25 years, leaving a 'fine infant girl'." Many historians believe that this was the famous Sakakawea (or Sacajawea), the "Bind Woman," who with her husband had been of great usefulness as a guide to the "Corps of Discovery" of Lewis and Clark. A monument commemorating Sakakawea's services stands today opposite the city of Mobridge, overlooking the broad Missouri valley.

View of Fort Sully as it appeared about 1890. A major military post, Fort Sully was used from 1866 until 1894, supplying troops for Indian campaigns until the frontier was pacified. Photo: Courtesy of the U. S. National Park Service

Trade prospects on the upper Missouri appeared more favorable during the 1820's. Andrew Henry of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, a new St. Louis firm, attempted to reopen the trade with a post at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, but with scant success. The following year, probably as a result of a misunderstanding, Henry's associate, William H. Ashley, and his party—which included the famous Hugh Glass and Jedidiah Smith—were attacked near the Arikara villages above the Grand River, with a loss of several men. This in turn led to an assault upon the Arikara by a combined force of soldiers, trappers and Sioux allies, but the action was indecisive.

During the decade following, control of the Indian trade in this region rapidly came into the hands of still another prominent St. Louis firm, that of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company, which had acquired the western trading interests formerly controlled by Astor. In 1831 the Chouteau firm had two chief trading centers—Ft. Union, at the mouth of the Yellowstone, and Ft. Pierre Chouteau, at the mouth of the Bad River—in addition to many lesser posts. From these bases the firm was usually able to outwit the various combinations of other traders who attempted from time to time to oppose it. The hey-day of the Indian trade in this areas was reached in the late 1830's and early 1840's. During these years various noteworthy visitors began systematic, serious studies of the Indians. Among the best known of these were George Catlin and Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuweid.

In 1862, after some years of relative quiet, troubles with the Eastern (Santee) Sioux of Minnesota spread westward to the more numerous Teton tribes of the great Sioux nation. In 1863 Gen. Alfred Sully was sent to punish these tribes, in the first of several years of campaigns through the region. Several miles below present Pierre, opposite Farm Island, he established a post called Ft. Sully, which in 1866 was removed some 25 miles upstream, to a more satisfactory location. During the 1870's and 1880's, the new post grew to be one of the largest in the area. It provided troops for campaign and guard duties and was commanded for a number of years by Gen. David S. Stanley, whose name was given to the modern Stanley County, South Dakota. The site of the second Fort Sully will ultimately be flooded by the reservoir.

Fort Yates (Standing Rock Indian Reservation), North Dakota, as it appeared in 1952. Established in 1873 as a military post, it became one of the most important in the Dakotas during the 1880's. For several years, it was the home of the famous Sitting Bull, who was killed nearby in 1890. No longer needed for military purposes, the post was transferred to the Office of Indian Affairs in 1903. Photo: Courtesy of the U. S. National Park Service

Fort Rice, another early military post, was also established by Sully in 1864. The site is now a State Park and two of the log blockhouses have been reconstructed on their original locations. Soon afterward, near present Mandan, Ft. McKeen was added, shortly to be enlarged and renamed Ft. A. Lincoln, a post well remembered because of one of its commanders, Gen. George A. Custer. It was from here that Custer marched to defeat at the battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.

The building of forts in the region, for both infantry and cavalry, coincided with the establishment of Indian reservations and agencies for the various divisions of the Sioux nation. The Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota and the Standing Rock Reservation in South and North Dakota, both west of the river, are the two that are still maintained. The military bases were abandoned long ago.

Religious missions were also established in the area by several Christian denominations. The first of these was the Oahe Mission itself, established in 1874 by Rev. Thomas L. Riggs for the American Board of Foreign Missions. The Oahe mission chapel, built in 1877, has been removed from its original location in the flooded area of the Peoria Bottoms just upstream from the Oahe Dam. It is to be relocated in the east overlook area of the dam and will be landscaped and made available for church services in the near future. It will be under the administration of the South Dakota State Historical Society and the relocation is a cooperative project of the Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, and the Historical Society.

Ranchers at the town of Evarts, about 1906. Built in 1900 as a railhead on the Missouri, Evarts soon claimed to be "the largest stock shipping point in the great northwest." With the construction of the Milwaukee Railroad bridge across the Missouri, and the growth of Mobridge, Evarts lost its importance and eventually became a ghost town. Photo: Courtesy of the U. S. National Park Service

Permanent White settlement, which had become a strong current in the 1870's, rose to a flood of immigration during the next decade, as large parts of the Sioux Indian Reservations were opened for legal settlement. The modern history of the region can be said to have begun in the year 1889 when, on November 2, the two parts of the former Territory of Dakota were simultaneously admitted to the Union as North and South Dakota.

During the era of steamboat transportation, which lasted until the 1880's, millions of pounds of freight were carried to and from the numerous tiny river towns and landings that had sprung up along the Missouri River. In 1873, the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Bismarck, and in 1882 continued beyond the Missouri toward the Pacific Northwest. In 1880 the Dakota Central, now the Northwestern Railroad, reached Pierre, and in 1906 was extended westward to the Black Hills. These rail lines soon replaced the steamboat and as a consequence, many thriving villages which had been dependent on river transportation rapidly declined, some of them to become ghost towns.

In 1906, a third railroad, the Milwaukee, crossed the Missouri, and the city of Mobridge, named for the crossing, came into being. These rail facilities were in time to be supplemented by truck-freight lines, using modern hard-surface, year-round highways. Busses and airplanes came later, supplementing the ever-increasing number of private motor vehicles. In less than a century, the region was thus permanently settled, quickly passing from the era of the horse to that of the jet plane.

Pacific Ocean and return

They finally arrived at the Pacific Ocean in mid-November, with Clark recording in his journal, “Ocian in view! O! the joy.” Fierce storms delayed their progress for nearly a month. The members conducted a democratic vote on where to spend the winter, with even York and Sacagawea casting votes. Near present-day Astoria, Oregon, the corps built Fort Clatsop and endured a wet, miserable winter by journal writing, drying meat, making salt, and traveling to see a beached whale. They hoped to encounter vessels along the Pacific that could transport them home, but, finding none, they did an about-face, planning to return along the Columbia and Missouri rivers. After stealing a Clatsop Indian canoe, they headed up the Columbia on March 23, 1806. They arrived at the Nez Percé villages, gathered up their horses, and waited for the snows to melt.

On July 3, after recrossing the Bitterroots, the expedition divided into several groups to better explore the region and two major tributaries of the Missouri. Several groups floated down to the Great Falls, digging up supplies they had cached on their outward journey. Meanwhile, Clark arrived at the Yellowstone River after crossing Bozeman Pass, the route suggested by Sacagawea. After constructing two canoes, he carved his name and the date in a sandstone outcropping, Pompey’s Tower (now Pompey’s Pillar), named for Sacagawea’s son, whom Clark called Pomp. In the meantime, Lewis and three men met eight Blackfeet on July 26 on a tributary of Maria’s River near present-day Cut Bank, Montana. A deadly altercation occurred the next morning when the explorers shot two warriors who had stolen their horses and guns. Fleeing on horseback for 24 hours straight, the foursome arrived at the Missouri River to rejoin other members of the expedition who were floating downstream. Farther on, this group reunited with Clark, bid farewell to the Charbonneaus, and floated downstream, completing the journey.

The Corps of Discovery met with a grand reception at St. Louis on September 23. Congress rewarded them with double pay and public land. The captains each received 1,600 acres (650 hectares), and their men received 320 acres (130 hectares). The final cost for the expedition totaled $38,000. Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of Upper Louisiana Territory and appointed Clark an Indian agent. Some of the expedition stayed in the military, others entered the fur trade, while still others took to farming in the region or returned to the East.

The returning Lewis and Clark reach the first white settlement on the Missouri - HISTORY

Location: Broadwater and Gallatin Counties, about 3 miles north of U.S. 10 along Route 286, some 4 miles northeast of the town of Three Forks.

This lush and beautiful area, lying on the northern edge of a vast, mountain-rimmed basin, is one of the key sites in western history, particularly in the fields of Indian intertribal relations, exploration, and the fur trade. Notable figures who were prominently associated with the place include Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, John Colter, George Drouillard, and Cols. Pierre Menard and Andrew Henry. At this "essential point in the geography of this western part of the Continent," as Lewis termed it, the Gallatin flows into the Jefferson-Madison to form the Missouri approximately one-half mile northeast of the juncture of the Jefferson and the Madison.

Lewis and Clark, the first white men to visit the locale, found it teeming with otter, beaver, and other wildlife. For this reason, it was a meetingplace and disputed hunting ground—often a dark and bloody no man's land—for various Indian tribes. In this region, the Blackfeet and Minitaris raided the Shoshonis and Flatheads when they ventured eastward over the mountains to hunt. As a matter of fact, Sacagawea's village of Shoshonis had been camped at the same place as the expedition, near the confluence of the Jefferson and Madison, about 5 years earlier when she was about 12 years old. The Minitaris attacked the village and captured her about 4 miles farther up the Jefferson.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition, eagerly seeking the Shoshonis, who could help in crossing the mountains to the west, arrived at the Three Forks not long after completing the arduous portage of the Great Falls of the Missouri. Clark and an advance element of four men reached the forks on July 25, 1805, and explored the lower 32 and 20 miles, respectively, of the Jefferson and Madison. The boat party made its appearance 2 days later, set up a base camp on the south bank of the Jefferson a short distance from its juncture with the Madison, and reunited with the Clark group. The next day, some men probed a ways up the Gallatin. Nursing the ailing Clark and trying to decide which of the three streams led westward, the expedition stayed at the forks until July 30. The crucial decision was rather easily reached to follow the Jefferson, which the commanders named as well as the other two rivers.

On the return trip from the Pacific, the Clark contingent arrived at the Three Forks on July 13, 1806. That same day, Sergeant Ordway and nine men headed down the Missouri to join Sergeant Gass and his detachment of the Lewis party at the Great Falls and Clark and the 12 people in his group headed eastward overland to explore the Yellowstone River.

View to the northwest from the south bank of the Gallatin a few hundred yards from where it joins the Jefferson-Madison to form the Missouri. Lewis, when he arrived at the Three Forks on July 27, 1805, climbed the limestone cliff at the right. (National Park Service (Mattison, 1958).)

IN the spate of fur trade activity that occurred in the years immediately following the expedition's return to St. Louis, the Three Forks area was heavily trapped. Three of the participants were erstwhile members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: John Colter, George Drouillard, and John Potts. They all experienced some hair-raising adventures with the Blackfeet, which resulted in the death of the latter two.

Probably in 1808, a few months after he had become the white discoverer of the present Yellowstone National Park while on another venture, Colter was wounded in a battle in the Gallatin Valley near the Three Forks between a large party of Crows and Flatheads and hundreds of Blackfeet. The latter were repulsed. Colter, who was leading the Crows and Flatheads to trade at Manuel Lisa's Fort Raymond, on the Yellowstone River at the mouth of the Bighorn, had no choice but to join them in the fight. Nevertheless, his participation was apparently one of the major reasons for subsequent Blackfeet hatred of American traders and trappers.

No sooner had Colter recovered from his wounds than he and John Potts, operating out of Fort Raymond, were trapping on a creek flowing into the Jefferson River a short distance from the Three Forks when a band of Blackfeet surprised them and ordered them to bring their canoes to shore. Colter complied Potts died when he refused, but not before he killed one of his adversaries.

The Indian chief decided to give his young warriors the sport of running Colter down on the prickly pear cactus-studded plain. He was stripped of his clothes and moccasins and given a hundred or so yards head start. Outdistancing the braves, who were in hot pursuit, though he was bleeding from the nose and mouth because of his exertion, Colter managed to reach the Madison fork, about 5 miles distant, killing one of his pursuers en route. Diving under a pile of drift logs and brush in the stream and finding a place where he could keep his head above water, through an opening he watched the Indians search for him and, on several occasions, walk over the driftwood. After dark, he swam downstream, crept to the bank, and started overland for Fort Raymond, about 200 miles eastward. Exhausted and almost starved, he made it in 11 days.

Back again at the Three Forks that winter, Colter once more almost lost his life, this time on the Gallatin fork, when Blackfeet nearly surprised him in his camp one night. But by another herculean effort he escaped to Lisa's post.

Colter made his last visit to the Three Forks in the spring of 1810, guiding there from Fort Raymond a party of 32 French, American, and Indian trappers under Col. Pierre Menard. Included in this group or in reinforcements who soon arrived and brought the total to some 80 men was George Drouillard. On April 3 the trappers began erecting a palisaded fort, either on a 2-acre or so elevated, rock-capped area between the Gallatin and Madison Rivers, or at the point of land at the juncture of the Madison and Jefferson not far from the Lewis and Clark campsite.

On April 12 a group of 18 men, Colter among them, who were trapping along the Jefferson, scattered from their base camp when Blackfeet discovered it. The Indians killed two men and three others were never found. Colter and the other trappers escaped back to the stockade at the Three Forks. After this episode, Colter apparently decided he had exhausted his luck with the natives. On April 22 he and two others set out eastward, but once again Colter foiled an Indian attack. He went back to St. Louis and never returned to the mountains.

Three Forks of the Missouri. (Travel Montana.)

In May, only a short time after Colter's departure from the Three Forks, Drouillard died along with two Shawnee Indian companions in an ambush while trapping along the Jefferson with a group of 21 hunters. His decapitated and mutilated body was buried at some unknown spot in the Three Forks area.

The continual Blackfeet threat, as well as trouble with grizzlies, caused Menard to abandon the post later that same year. He led part of his group back to the Yellowstone River. His second in command, Col. Andrew Henry, led the larger part of the trappers westward across the mountains to a point outside the range of the Blackfeet. He erected a small post on present Henrys Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, the first American fur trading establishment on the western side of the Continental Divide.

FEW modern intrusions mar the Three Forks area, an oasis-like delta. The drainage pattern is essentially as it was in the days of Lewis and Clark. And, unlike so many other parts of the route, dams do not obstruct the streams in the vicinity. The town of Three Forks, situated about 4 miles southwest of the river forks amidst the trees of the delta area, is unobtrusive and all but lost in the vastness of the scene. Other modern features include a bridge over the Gallatin near its mouth on the access road (Route 286) running to the forks the Milwaukee Road, whose track follows the west bank of the Missouri to a point a short distance southwest of the juncture of the Gallatin with the Jefferson-Madison and the Northern Pacific, whose line follows the other bank of the Missouri and proceeds along the Gallatin a ways before bending eastward.

All the property in the Three Forks area is in private ownership except for 9 acres of the 10-acre Missouri Headwaters State Monument a cement company, whose plant is at Trident, a hamlet a few miles northeast of the Three Forks, owns 1 acre of the park. An overlook provides a panoramic view of the area, and interpretive trails give access to key points. A prominent physical landmark visible from the overlook, across the Gallatin River and about half a mile from its junction with the Jefferson-Madison, is the limestone bluff that Lewis climbed when his boat party first arrived at the Three Forks.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition returned to St. Louis today in 1806 after nearly 2 1/2 years of exploring the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Now WE know em

Statue of Lewis and Clark returning to St. Louis, St. Louis riverfront.

The Lewis and Clark expedition, known then as the “Corps of Discovery,” departed from Camp Dubois on the Mississippi river near St. Louis, Missouri at 4 p.m. on May 14, 1804. They traveled up the Missouri river from where it joined the Mississippi, and met up with Lewis in St. Charles, Missouri, a short time later, marking the beginning of their voyage to the Pacific coast.

In 1804 the upstream trip on the upper Missouri river took many months to accomplish.

The downstream return trip from the Knife river would only take a few weeks.

Many in St. Louis had given up the explorers for dead, but by September of 1806, reports began to filter overland from the town of St. Charles that Lewis and Clark had been sighted.

Before their triumphant return to St. Louis, Lewis, Clark and their corps members spent the final night of their return voyage at Fort Belle Fontaine, the first U.S. military fort west of the Mississippi.

Fort Belle Fontaine was located on the south bank of the Missouri River four miles downstream from the Mississippi River at the mouth of Coldwater Creek, then called La Petite Riviere or sometimes St. Ferdinand River.

This fort was east of St. Charles, so many had gotten advanced news of their impending arrival at the St. Louis riverfront.

At about noon on September 23, 1806, amid public excitement, perhaps some 1,500 St. Louisans watched in awe as a motley-looking group of men in five dugout canoes and a larger boat called the “White Pirogue” rounded a bend of the Mississippi River just north of the riverfront.

The citizens lined the riverbank atop a bluff and began cheering and firing guns into the air to welcome them back.

When Lewis and Clark pulled to shore they were dressed mostly in animal skins and looked like characters out of Robinson Crusoe, though the wealth of information they brought back with them would forever change the nation.

While in St. Louis, Lewis and Clark had the business of discharging the members of the corps and organizing their travel to the East. Before leaving, they were honored by a grand dinner and ball. Among the many toasts, the final was to “Captains (Lewis and Clark) may their perilous services endear them to every American heart.”

As for the men themselves, the return to St. Louis meant different things for different members of the Lewis and Clark crew.

For the soldiers, the return to “civilization” was triumphal and promised rewards of land grants and extra pay.

For the captains Lewis and Clark, high public offices and a nation’s thanks awaited.

For Clark’s slave, York, the landing meant a return to bondage after the taste of freedom he had enjoyed on the expedition.

For the Mandan chief Sheheke and family, who were on their way to Washington to meet President Jefferson, a new world of Anglo-American politics and warnings of westward expansion signaled the beginnings of great changes for the native cultures and people of the West.

Famous 1814 map of Lewis and Clark’s expedition

The maps subsequently produced from the Lewis and Clark expedition provided the first accurate depiction of the relationships between the sources of the Columbia and Missouri Rivers and the Rocky Mountains, thus allowing for vast settlement of the west and making St. Louis forever known as the gateway to the west.

Lewis and Clark’s Expedition Timeline

Lewis and Clark’s Expedition across America has been romanticized, demonized, and everything in between. Many people think the expedition was the physical start of manifest destiny in the American culture, which brought the extermination of cultures, bison and prairie lands. Many others see it as a true tale of American exceptionalism overcoming adversity. Both of these ways of looking at it might have some truth, and some embellishments however, amid all the excitement and folklore over the expedition, I think there is at least one thing that professors and students can gain from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. That one thing is that nothing beats a good journal entry. Historian Donald Jackson stated that Lewis, Clark, and the rest of the team were the heaviest writers in exploration history. They documented every new or major thing they saw, whether it be the vast plains, the strange animals, the unique vegetation, or the enormous mountain ranges. They captured and preserved as much as they could, and then had notes good enough to report back to the President of the United States. These notes are still useful to researchers today. Lewis and Clark set a good example for field researchers like us: journal everything!

Image Source:

Although Clark’s journals are somewhat sparse, Lewis trained as a naturalist and took copious notes on the specimens he collected. Some days were a lot less eventful and I’m sure that some days his sickness prevented him from witnessing everything. Also, many things they saw were so new they were difficult to describe. This makes his journaling job even more difficult, since it would force them to pick and choose what they would journal however, one thing is for certain, Lewis and Clark’s journals provide a great example of how important good notes are to biological and geographic exploration and study.


Woodger, Elin, and Brandon Toropov, Encyclopedia of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. New York: Facts On File, 2004. Print.

Lewis and Clark

The two-year expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean and back got under way in May 1804 in Missouri, then the western edge of the United States, and ended when the Corps of Discovery, as President Thomas Jefferson named it, returned to St. Louis in September 1806. The explorers gathered new information about the West, its people, animals, geography, vegetation, rivers and lakes. The explorers described in detail the Missouri and Columbia rivers, the Indians who lived along their shores, and, in the Columbia drainage, abundant salmon.

Officially, so as not to offend Spain, whose possessions were to the southwest of the Missouri River, or Great Britain, whose possessions were to the north of it, the expedition was a scientific and literary expedition, despite the fact that Lewis and Clark were U.S. Army officers and most of their 43 men were soldiers. The true purposes, however, were commercial and political. Jefferson, who conceived the expedition, sought to beat Great Britain to the western fur trade by finding a water route across the continent to the Pacific Ocean.

Publicly, Jefferson’s intent for the cross-country exploration was to enhance geographic knowledge of the West. Privately he aimed to expand the United States and wrest the fur trade from the British. In his January 1803 request to Congress for $2,500 to finance the expedition, he couched his intent in terms of promoting commerce, which was within the powers granted Congress in the Constitution. He wrote that the Indians of the Missouri River drainage supplied furs “to the trade of another nation” — an obvious reference to Great Britain — and that the United States would do well to know these tribes better. He theorized that the Missouri might provide a better transportation route to the Pacific for this commerce.

Thus through westward expansion, the United States would usurp the fur trade from Great Britain. Jefferson wrote, in part: “. The interests of commerce place the principal object within the constitutional powers and care of Congress, and that it should accidentally advance the geographical knowledge of our own continent can not but be an additional gratification.”

A month before his March 1801 inauguration, Jefferson had appointed Lewis, then 26, his personal secretary. It appears, although this is a matter of dispute among historians, that Jefferson had been grooming Lewis for command of the expedition ever since. In his June 20, 1803, instructions to Lewis regarding the exploration, Jefferson wrote:

“The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, and such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oragan [sic], Colorado, or any other river, may offer the most direct and practicable water-communication across the continent, for the purposes of commerce.”

The Columbia, as Lewis and Clark discovered, is not a principal stream of the Missouri. That did not matter. The goal was not the headwaters of the Missouri but the Pacific Ocean. Historian Bernard DeVoto wrote that Jefferson already had decided to send an exploratory mission west across then-Spanish Louisiana when he took office in 1801. To the expansionist Jefferson, the exploration would knit together the eastern and western ends of the American continent, if tenuously.

The Columbia River was virtually unknown in 1804. Robert Gray had discovered it only 12 years earlier. Jefferson imagined that the portage between the headwaters of the Missouri River, which drained east to the Mississippi, and the headwaters of the Columbia, which drained west to the Pacific, would be only a short distance, easily portaged by fur caravans. In fact, as Lewis and Clark discovered, it is not a short portage and it is not at all easy.

The Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide in August 1805, some 15 months after beginning their westward journey, and entered salmon country. On August 13, at a camp of Lemhi Shoshone Indians in the mountains of present-day central Idaho, Lewis wrote, “An Indian gave me a piece of fresh salmon roasted, which I ate with a very good relish. This was the first salmon I had seen, and it perfectly convinced me we were in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.”

The explorers would record other observations of Lemhi salmon. Clark noted that salmon were a principal food for the Indians: “. one man killed a Small Sammon, and the Indians gave me another which afforded us a Sleight brackfast. These Pore people are here depending on what fish they can catch, without anything else to depend on.”

Upon learning that the Lemhi River drained to the Salmon (their present-day names), and that the canyon there was too difficult to pass, the expedition followed a trail into the next drainage north, that of the Clearwater River. Here the expedition encountered Nez Perce Indians. Now the men ate salmon regularly, and so frequently that they tired of it. The expedition followed the Clearwater to the Snake and the Snake to the Columbia. Upon reaching the Columbia in mid-October, Clark was impressed by the sheer numbers of salmon:

“I took two men in a Small canoe and ascended the Columbia river 10 miles [from the confluence with the Snake River] to an Island near the Stard. [starboard: right, or north side, in this case] Shore on which two large Mat Lodges of Indians were drying Salmon. The number of dead Salmon on the Shores & floating in the river is incredible to say — and at this Season they have only to collect the fish Split them open and dry them on the Scaffolds of which they have great numbers.

“. Saw great numbers of Dead Salmon on the Shores and floating in the water, great numbers of Indians on the banks and viewing me and 18 canoes accompanied me from the point. The waters of this river is clear, as Salmon may be seen at the deabth of 15 or 20 feet. . .passed three lodges on the Star. Side near which great number of Salmon was drying on scaffolds. One of those Mat lodges I entered and found it crouded with men women and children and near the entrance of those houses I saw maney squars engaged in Splitting and drying Salmon.”

As Clark and his party returned downriver they passed more villages and noted “great numbers of Dead Salmon on the Shores and floating in the water, great numbers of Indians on the banks viewing me. . .” At one village, the party stopped and entered a lodge constructed of rush mats. It was “crouded with men and women and children.” The Indians boiled salmon for their guests in baskets of water, into which they had placed rocks heated in a fire. The boiled fish, Clark noted, “was delicious.” The Indians also gave the explorers gifts of several fish.

After the brief foray up the Columbia from the confluence of the Snake, Clark wrote that was little wood in the area, and that much of what the tribes had appeared to have floated down the river from places upstream. About the Indian dwellings he observed:

“The Houses or Lodges of the tribes of the main Columbia river is of large mats made of rushes, those houses are from 15 to 60 feet in length generally of an Oblong squar form, Supported by poles on forks in the in[n]er Side, Six feet high, the top is covered also with mats leaving a Seperation in the whole length of about 12 or 15 inches wide, left for the purpose of admitting light and for the Smok of the fire to pass which is made in the middle of the house.”

Later, descending the Columbia, the explorers noted the abundance of salmon at Celilo Falls, the great Indian fishery about 13 miles upriver from present-day The Dalles, Oregon. Here the river tumbled over a series of low falls, which afforded easy access to Indians fishing with dip nets mounted on long poles. Clark noted that the Indians would dry the fish, pound it flat and pack it into baskets that he estimated weighed 90 to 100 pounds apiece. “Thus preserved those fish may be kept Sound and Sweet Several years, as those people inform me, Great quantities as they inform us are Sold to the whites peoples who visit the mouth of this river as well as the nativs below.”

Typically, the baskets were stacked together in groups of 12, seven on the bottom and five on top. Each basket was about two feet long and one foot in diameter. Salmon, dried and pounded flat, were pressed into the baskets, which were lined with stretched and dried salmon skins on three sides. When a basket was full, it was covered with stretched salmon skins, and these were tightly secured. The baskets then were stacked in a dry place and covered with grass mats. Lewis and Clark counted 107 of these stacks at The Dalles weighing, in total, an estimated 50 tons.

At the Long Narrows of the Columbia, near present-day The Dalles, the channel of the Columbia narrows and the river flows through a series of long basalt chutes bordered by high basalt cliffs on both shores. This area was flooded in 1957 by the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam. But in 1805 the place was foreboding, as Clark described in his diary for October 24. He determined that a portage over the cliffs would be impossible, and so the only alternative was to risk the agitated water:

“The whole of the current of this great river must at all Stages pass thro’ this narrow channel of 45 yards wide. as the portage of our canoes over this high rock would be impossible with our Strength, and the only danger is passing thro those narrows was the whorls and Swills. . .by good Stearing we could pass down Safe, accordingly I deturmined to pass through this place notwithstanding the horrid appearance of this agitated gut Swelling, boiling & whorling in every direction (which from the top of the rock did not appear as bad as when I was in it however we passed Safe to the astonishment of all the Inds . . .”

It is a tribute to the skill of the boatmen that they were able to maneuver through the rapids and emerge safely below. The Indians, Clark noted, were astonished by the feat. The expedition was fortunate to reach this place in the late fall. In the spring, during the annual freshet, the water route likely would have been impossible.

At Fort Clatsop, near present-day Astoria, Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1805-06, Lewis had time to write more of his reflections in the journal of the expedition. On January14th he reminisced about salmon:

“From the best estimate we were able to make as we descended the Columbia, we conceived that the natives inhabiting that noble stream, for some miles about the great falls to the grand rappids inclusive annually prepare about 30,000 pounds of pounded sammon for market, but whether this fish is an article of commerce with the whites or is exclusively sold to, and consumed by the natives of the sea coast, we are at a loss to determine.”

Lewis assumed the pounded, dried fish was bartered primarily to European fur traders. He wrote: . .still I must confess that I cannot imagine what the white merchant’s object can be in purchasing this fish, or where they dispose of it.

The local Indians had great quantities of dried fish, which they caught in the nearby rivers and inlets, Lewis noted, “. . .and I have never seen this pounded fish in their lodges, which I presume would be the case if they purchased this pounded fish for their own consumption. The Indians who prepared this dryed and pounded fish, informed us that it was to trade with the whites, and shewed us many articles of European manufacture which they obtained for it.”

Lewis surmised that the Celilo fishers obtained the European trade goods from coastal tribes, who had received them in trade with European fur traders. He assumed that the coastal tribes then consumed some of the dried fish themselves and traded the remainder to other coastal tribes in exchange for the trade goods. This scenario was confirmed for him by Indians who visited on January 20th, and Lewis noted the fact in the journal: “The Indians who visited us today understood us sufficiently to inform us that the whites did not barter for the pounded fish that it was purchased and consumed by the Clatsops, Chinnooks, Cathlahmahs and Skillutes.” The trading among Indian groups, the location and the broad, deep river convinced Lewis and Clark that the mouth of the river would be a good place for a trading post to service the cross-country and cross-ocean trade that Jefferson envisioned.

The explorers hoped they might encounter a trading ship in the Columbia estuary so they could send some of their accumulated materials home and acquire a supply of trade goods for the return journey. But no ship arrived, and the party abandoned Fort Clatsop on March 23, 1806. A month or so later, a Russian trading ship tried unsuccessfully to cross the Columbia bar. On board was Nicolai Rezanov, co-founder of the Russian-American Company, a fur-trading enterprise based at Sitka. Rezanov envisioned a Russian settlement at the mouth of the river, but it never came to pass. At the time Rezanov’s ship waited in vane for calm conditions on the bar, Lewis and Clark were near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers on their eastward return journey about 80 miles upriver. Rezanov sailed on to California.

Lewis and Clark observed more salmon fishing on their return journey. Clark’s journal entry for April 6, 1806, when the party again was near Celilo Falls, notes: “We observed many stacks of fish remaining untouched on either side of the river. This is the great mart of all this country. Ten different tribes visit those people for the purpose of purchasing their fish. ” And on April 19, also at Celilo, Clark wrote: “There was great joy with the natives last night, in consequence of the arrival of the salmon. One of those fish was caught. This was a harbinger of good news to them.”

A month later, reflecting on the potential of the area today known as the Columbia Plateau, Lewis wrote, “. this country would form an extensive settlement the climate appears quite as mild as that of similar latitude on the Atlantic coast if not more so, and it cannot be other wise than healthy it possesses a fine dry pure air. the grass and many plants are now upwards of knee high. I have no doubt but that this tract of country if cultivated would produce in great abundance every article essentially necessary to the comfort and subsistence of civilized man.”

The returning Lewis and Clark reach the first white settlement on the Missouri - HISTORY

May 21, 1804 - Departing Saint Charles

"All the forepart of the Day arranging our party and procureing the different articles necessary for them at this place - set out half passed three oClock under three Cheers from the gentlemen on the bank and proceeded on to the head of the Island (which is situated on the Stbd Side) 3 miles Soon after we set out to day a hard wind from the W. S.W accompanied with a hard rain, which lasted with short intervales all night." Clark

"Delay one hour for 4 french men who got liberty to return to arrange some business they had forgotten in Town, at 6 oClock we proceeded on, passed several Small farms on the bank, and a large creek Called Bonom (bon homme) a camp of Kickapoos on the St. side Those Indians told me Several days ago that they would come on & hunt and by the time I got to their Camp they would have some provisions for us, we camped in a Bend at the Mo of a small creek, soon after we came too the Indians arrived with 4 Deer as a present, for which we gave them two qts of whiskey-" Clark

"run on a log under water and detained one hour proceeded on . hatled at an endented part of a Rock which juted over the water, called by the french the tavern* which is a cave 40 yds. long with the river 4 feet Deep & about 20 feet high, this is a place the Indians & french pay omage to, many names are wrote up on the rock. Stoped about one mile above for Capt Lewis' who had assended the Clifts which is about at the said Cave 300 feet high, hanging over the water, and was near falling from a Peninsulia saved himself by the assistance of his Knife." Clark

the tavern* - Tavern Rock lies in present Franklin County, Missouri and probably took its name from its use as a rest stop for river travelers.

Set out early passed a small Isd in the Midlle of the river, opposit the on the Ldb. Side is projecting Rock of 1/2 a mile in extent against which the Current runs, this place is called the Devils race grounds*, above this Coms in a small Creek called the little quiver**, a Sand Island on the Stbd Side, passed several Islands & 2 creeks, on the Stbd Side*** a small Island on the Ldb Side above we were verry near losing our Boat in Toeing She struck the sands (which is continerly roaling) (&turned) the Violence of the Current was so great that the Toe roap Broke, the Boat turned Broadside, as the Current Washed the Sand from under her, She wheeled & lodged on the bank below as often as three times, before we got her in Deep water." Clark

Devils race grounds* - Perhaps what was later called Liffecue Rocks, in Franklin County just above the May 23, camp. The river has changed its course considerably over the years.

Creek called the little quiver** - Perhaps Fiddle Creek, just above Liffecue Rocks

several Islands & 2 creeks, on the Stbd Side*** - Probably Sehrt Creek and Bigelow Creek, just above present Augusta in St. Charles County, Missouri

"Set out early Course West . Camped at the mouth of a Creek called River a Chauritte above a Small french Village* of 7 houses and as many families, Settled at this place to be convt. to hunt & trade with the Indians, here we met with Mr. Louisell** he gave us a good deel of information some letters*** he informed us that he saw no Indians on the river below the Poncas." Clark

Small french Village* - LaCharette, on Charette Creek, in Warren County, in 1804 the westernmost white settlement on the Missouri. French and American settlers had come there before 1800, and a small Spanish fort, San Juan del Misuri, was established about 1796. From the fort came the alternative name used by Patrick Gass, St. John. Daniel Boone moved there from Boone's Settlement sometime after 1804 he died and was buried there, but in 1845 his remains and those of his wife were moved to Kentucky. The village site, near present Marthasville, has been washed away by the Missouri.

Mr. Louisell** - Regis Loisel was apparently born in the Parish of L'Assomption, Montreal, and came to St. Louis in about 1793. By 1796 he had formed a partnership with Jacques Clamorgan, which in 1798 became the reorganized Missouri Company. After this combination broke up, he formed a new partnership with Hugh Heney on July 6, 1801. The date on which he founded his fort on Cedar Island is uncertain it may have been in 1800, or perhaps two years later. For the post, in present Lyman County, South Dakota, September 22, 1804. Loisel wintered there with his partner, Pierre-Antoine Tabeau, in 1803 -04. After his meeting with Lewis and Clark, he carried to New Orleans a copy of his report on the Missouri River tribes, which he delivered to the Marquis of Casa Calvo, the former Spanish governor of Louisiana. The latter forwarded it to Madrid, with a recommendation that Loisel be made an Indian agent to secure the friendship of the tribes for Spain and forestall American ambitions in the West. Loisel, however, died in New Orleans in October 1804, at the age of thirty-one.

some letters*** - Perhaps letters of introduction to some of Loisel's trading associates, such as Heney and Tabeau, both of whom the captains would meet later up the Missouri.

" Set out after a heavy shour of rain (George Drewyer & John Sheilds, Sent by Land with the two horses with directions to proceed on one day & hunt the next) passed several islands to day. camped on an Island on the Starboard Side near the Southern extrem of Luter Island*"


One of Thomas Jefferson's goals was to find "the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce." He also placed special importance on declaring US sovereignty over the land occupied by the many different Native American tribes along the Missouri River, and getting an accurate sense of the resources in the recently completed Louisiana Purchase. [3] [4] [5] [6] The expedition made notable contributions to science, [7] but scientific research was not the main goal of the mission. [8]

During the 19th century, references to Lewis and Clark "scarcely appeared" in history books, even during the United States Centennial in 1876, and the expedition was largely forgotten. [9] [10] Lewis and Clark began to gain attention around the start of the 20th century. Both the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon showcased them as American pioneers. However, the story remained relatively shallow until mid-century as a celebration of US conquest and personal adventures, but more recently the expedition has been more thoroughly researched. [9]

In 2004, a complete and reliable set of the expedition's journals was compiled by Gary E. Moulton. [11] [12] [13] In the 2000s, the bicentennial of the expedition further elevated popular interest in Lewis and Clark. [10] As of 1984, no US exploration party was more famous, and no American expedition leaders are more recognizable by name. [9]


The timeline covers the primary events associated with the expedition, from January 1803 through January 1807.

For years, Thomas Jefferson read accounts about the ventures of various explorers in the western frontier, and consequently had a long-held interest in further exploring this mostly unknown region of the continent. In the 1780s, while Minister to France, Jefferson met John Ledyard in Paris and they discussed a possible trip to the Pacific Northwest. [14] [15] Jefferson had also read Captain James Cook's A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784), an account of Cook's third voyage, and Le Page du Pratz's The History of Louisiana (London, 1763), all of which greatly influenced his decision to send an expedition. Like Captain Cook, he wished to discover a practical route through the Northwest to the Pacific coast. Alexander Mackenzie had already charted a route in his quest for the Pacific, following Canada's Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 1789. Mackenzie and his party were the first to cross America north of Mexico, reaching the Pacific coast in British Columbia in 1793–a dozen years before Lewis and Clark. Mackenzie's accounts in Voyages from Montreal (1801) informed Jefferson of Britain's intent to establish control over the lucrative fur trade of the Columbia River and convinced him of the importance of securing the territory as soon as possible. [16] [17]

Two years into his presidency, Jefferson asked Congress to fund an expedition through the Louisiana territory to the Pacific Ocean. He did not attempt to make a secret of the Lewis and Clark expedition from Spanish, French, and British officials, but rather claimed different reasons for the venture. He used a secret message to ask for funding due to poor relations with the opposition Federalist Party in Congress. [18] [19] [20] [21] Congress subsequently appropriated $2,324 for supplies and food, the appropriation of which was left in Lewis's charge. [22]

In 1803, Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery and named Army Captain Meriwether Lewis its leader, who then invited William Clark to co-lead the expedition with him. [23] Lewis demonstrated remarkable skills and potential as a frontiersman, and Jefferson made efforts to prepare him for the long journey ahead as the expedition was gaining approval and funding. [24] [25] Jefferson explained his choice of Lewis:

It was impossible to find a character who to a complete science in botany, natural history, mineralogy & astronomy, joined the firmness of constitution & character, prudence, habits adapted to the woods & a familiarity with the Indian manners and character, requisite for this undertaking. All the latter qualifications Capt. Lewis has. [26]

In 1803, Jefferson sent Lewis to Philadelphia to study medicinal cures under Benjamin Rush, a physician and humanitarian. He also arranged for Lewis to be further educated by Andrew Ellicott, an astronomer who instructed him in the use of the sextant and other navigational instruments. [27] [28] From Benjamin Smith Barton, Lewis learned how to describe and preserve plant and animal specimens, from Robert Patterson refinements in computing latitude and longitude, while Caspar Wistar covered fossils, and the search for possible living remnants. [29] [30] Lewis, however, was not ignorant of science and had demonstrated a marked capacity to learn, especially with Jefferson as his teacher. At Monticello, Jefferson possessed an enormous library on the subject of the geography of the North American continent, and Lewis had full access to it. He spent time consulting maps and books and conferring with Jefferson. [31]

The keelboat used for the first year of the journey was built near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1803 at Lewis's specifications. The boat was completed on August 31 and was immediately loaded with equipment and provisions. Lewis and his crew set sail that afternoon, traveling down the Ohio River to meet up with Clark near Louisville, Kentucky in October 1803 at the Falls of the Ohio. [32] [33] Their goals were to explore the vast territory acquired by the Louisiana Purchase and to establish trade and US sovereignty over the Native Americans along the Missouri River. Jefferson also wanted to establish a US claim of "discovery" to the Pacific Northwest and Oregon territory by documenting an American presence there before European nations could claim the land. [5] [34] [35] [36] According to some historians, Jefferson understood that he would have a better claim of ownership to the Pacific Northwest if the team gathered scientific data on animals and plants. [37] [38] However, his main objectives were centered around finding an all-water route to the Pacific coast and commerce. His instructions to the expedition stated:

The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such principle stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce. [39]

The US mint prepared special silver medals with a portrait of Jefferson and inscribed with a message of friendship and peace, called Indian Peace Medals. The soldiers were to distribute them to the tribes that they met. The expedition also prepared advanced weapons to display their military firepower. Among these was an Austrian-made .46 caliber Girandoni air rifle, a repeating rifle with a 20-round tubular magazine that was powerful enough to kill a deer. [40] [41] [42] The expedition was prepared with flintlock firearms, knives, blacksmithing supplies, and cartography equipment. They also carried flags, gift bundles, medicine, and other items that they would need for their journey. [40] [41] The route of Lewis and Clark's expedition took them up the Missouri River to its headwaters, then on to the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River, and it may have been influenced by the purported transcontinental journey of Moncacht-Apé by the same route about a century before. Jefferson had a copy of Le Page's book in his library detailing Moncacht-Apé's itinerary, and Lewis carried a copy with him during the expedition. Le Page's description of Moncacht-Apé's route across the continent neglects to mention the need to cross the Rocky Mountains, and it might be the source of Lewis and Clark's mistaken belief that they could easily carry boats from the Missouri's headwaters to the westward-flowing Columbia. [43]


The Corps of Discovery departed from Camp Dubois (Camp Wood) at 4 pm on May 14, 1804. Under Clark's command, they traveled up the Missouri River in their keelboat and two pirogues to St. Charles, Missouri where Lewis joined them six days later. The expedition set out the next afternoon, May 21. [44] While accounts vary, it is believed the Corps had as many as 45 members, including the officers, enlisted military personnel, civilian volunteers, and Clark's African-American slave York. [45]

From St. Charles, the expedition followed the Missouri through what is now Kansas City, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska. On August 20, 1804, Sergeant Charles Floyd died, apparently from acute appendicitis. He had been among the first to sign up with the Corps of Discovery and was the only member to die during the expedition. He was buried at a bluff by the river, now named after him, [46] in what is now Sioux City, Iowa. His burial site was marked with a cedar post on which was inscribed his name and day of death. 1 mile (2 km) up the river, the expedition camped at a small river which they named Floyd's River. [47] [48] [49] During the final week of August, Lewis and Clark reached the edge of the Great Plains, a place abounding with elk, deer, bison, and beavers.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition established relations with two dozen Indian nations, without whose help the expedition would have risked starvation during the harsh winters or become hopelessly lost in the vast ranges of the Rocky Mountains. [50]

The Americans and the Lakota nation (whom the Americans called Sioux or "Teton-wan Sioux") had problems when they met, and there was a concern the two sides might fight. According to Harry W. Fritz, "All earlier Missouri River travelers had warned of this powerful and aggressive tribe, determined to block free trade on the river. . The Sioux were also expecting a retaliatory raid from the Omaha Indians, to the south. A recent Sioux raid had killed 75 Omaha men, burned 40 lodges, and taken four dozen prisoners." [51] The expedition held talks with the Lakota near the confluence of the Missouri and Bad Rivers in what is now Fort Pierre, South Dakota. [52]

One of their horses disappeared, and they believed the Sioux were responsible. Afterward, the two sides met and there was a disagreement, and the Sioux asked the men to stay or to give more gifts instead before being allowed to pass through their territory. They came close to fighting several times, and both sides finally backed down and the expedition continued on to Arikara territory. Clark wrote they [ clarification needed ] were "warlike" and were the "vilest miscreants of the savage race". [53] [54] [55] [56]

In the winter of 1804–05, the party built Fort Mandan, near present-day Washburn, North Dakota. Just before departing on April 7, 1805, the expedition sent the keelboat back to St. Louis with a sample of specimens, some never seen before east of the Mississippi. [57] One chief asked Lewis and Clark to provide a boat for passage through their national territory. As tensions increased, Lewis and Clark prepared to fight, but the two sides fell back in the end. The Americans quickly continued westward (upriver), and camped for the winter in the Mandan nation's territory.

After the expedition had set up camp, nearby Indians came to visit in fair numbers, some staying all night. For several days, Lewis and Clark met in council with Mandan chiefs. Here they met a French-Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, and his young Shoshone wife Sacagawea. Charbonneau at this time began to serve as the expedition's translator. Peace was established between the expedition and the Mandan chiefs with the sharing of a Mandan ceremonial pipe. [58] By April 25, Captain Lewis wrote his progress report of the expedition's activities and observations of the Native American nations they have encountered to date: A Statistical view of the Indian nations inhabiting the Territory of Louisiana, which outlined the names of various tribes, their locations, trading practices, and water routes used, among other things. President Jefferson would later present this report to Congress. [59]

They followed the Missouri to its headwaters, and over the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass. In canoes, they descended the mountains by the Clearwater River, the Snake River, and the Columbia River, past Celilo Falls, and past what is now Portland, Oregon, at the meeting of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Lewis and Clark used William Robert Broughton's 1792 notes and maps to orient themselves once they reached the lower Columbia River. The sighting of Mount Hood and other stratovolcanos confirmed that the expedition had almost reached the Pacific Ocean. [60]

Pacific Ocean

The expedition sighted the Pacific Ocean for the first time on November 7, 1805, arriving two weeks later. [61] [62] The expedition faced its second bitter winter camped on the north side of the Columbia River, in a storm-wracked area. [61] Lack of food was a major factor. The elk, the party's main source of food, had retreated from their usual haunts into the mountains, and the party was now too poor to purchase enough food from neighboring tribes. [63] On November 24, 1805, the party voted to move their camp to the south side of the Columbia River near modern Astoria, Oregon. Sacagawea, and Clark's slave York, were both allowed to participate in the vote. [64]

On the south side of the Columbia River, 2 miles (3 km) upstream on the west side of the Netul River (now Lewis and Clark River), they constructed Fort Clatsop. [61] They did this not just for shelter and protection, but also to officially establish the American presence there, with the American flag flying over the fort. [54] [65] During the winter at Fort Clatsop, Lewis committed himself to writing. He filled many pages of his journals with valuable knowledge, mostly about botany, because of the abundant growth and forests that covered that part of the continent. [66] The health of the men also became a problem, with many suffering from colds and influenza. [63]

Knowing that maritime fur traders sometimes visited the lower Columbia River, Lewis and Clark repeatedly asked the local Chinooks about trading ships. They learned that Captain Samuel Hill had been there in early 1805. Miscommunication caused Clark to record the name as "Haley". Captain Hill returned in November, 1805, and anchored about 10 miles (16 km) from Fort Clatsop. The Chinook told Hill about Lewis and Clark, but no direct contact was made. [67]

Return trip

Lewis was determined to remain at the fort until April 1, but was still anxious to move out at the earliest opportunity. By March 22, the stormy weather had subsided and the following morning, on March 23, 1806, the journey home began. The Corps began their journey homeward using canoes to ascend the Columbia River, and later by trekking over land. [68] [69]

Before leaving, Clark gave the Chinook a letter to give to the next ship captain to visit, which was the same Captain Hill who had been nearby during the winter. Hill took the letter to Canton and had it forwarded to Thomas Jefferson, who thus received it before Lewis and Clark returned. [67]

They made their way to Camp Chopunnish [note 1] in Idaho, along the north bank of the Clearwater River, where the members of the expedition collected 65 horses in preparation to cross the Bitterroot Mountains, lying between modern-day Idaho and western Montana. However, the range was still covered in snow, which prevented the expedition from making the crossing. On April 11, while the Corps was waiting for the snow to diminish, Lewis's dog, Seaman, was stolen by Native Americans, but was retrieved shortly. Worried that other such acts might follow, Lewis warned the chief that any other wrongdoing or mischievous acts would result in instant death.

On July 3, before crossing the Continental Divide, the Corps split into two teams so Lewis could explore the Marias River. Lewis's group of four met some men from the Blackfeet nation. During the night, the Blackfeet tried to steal their weapons. In the struggle, the soldiers killed two Blackfeet men. Lewis, George Drouillard, and the Field brothers fled over 100 miles (160 kilometres) in a day before they camped again.

Meanwhile, Clark had entered the Crow tribe's territory. In the night, half of Clark's horses disappeared, but not a single Crow had been seen. Lewis and Clark stayed separated until they reached the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers on August 11. As the groups reunited, one of Clark's hunters, Pierre Cruzatte, mistook Lewis for an elk and fired, injuring Lewis in the thigh. [70] Once together, the Corps was able to return home quickly via the Missouri River. They reached St. Louis on September 23, 1806. [71]

Spanish interference

In March 1804, before the expedition began in May, the Spanish in New Mexico learned from General James Wilkinson [note 2] that the Americans were encroaching on territory claimed by Spain. After the Lewis and Clark expedition set off in May, the Spanish sent four armed expeditions of 52 soldiers, mercenaries [ further explanation needed ] , and Native Americans on August 1, 1804 from Santa Fe, New Mexico northward under Pedro Vial and José Jarvet to intercept Lewis and Clark and imprison the entire expedition. They reached the Pawnee settlement on the Platte River in central Nebraska and learned that the expedition had been there many days before. The expedition was covering 70 to 80 miles (110 to 130 km) a day and Vial's attempt to intercept them was unsuccessful. [72] [73]

The Lewis and Clark Expedition gained an understanding of the geography of the Northwest and produced the first accurate maps of the area. During the journey, Lewis and Clark drew about 140 maps. Stephen Ambrose says the expedition "filled in the main outlines" of the area. [74]

The expedition documented natural resources and plants that had been previously unknown to Euro-Americans, though not to the indigenous peoples. [75] Lewis and Clark were the first Americans to cross the Continental Divide, and the first Americans to see Yellowstone, enter into Montana, and produce an official description of these different regions. [76] [77] Their visit to the Pacific Northwest, maps, and proclamations of sovereignty with medals and flags were legal steps needed to claim title to each indigenous nation's lands under the Doctrine of Discovery. [78]

The expedition was sponsored by the American Philosophical Society (APS). [79] Lewis and Clark received some instruction in astronomy, botany, climatology, ethnology, geography, meteorology, mineralogy, ornithology, and zoology. [80] During the expedition, they made contact with over 70 Native American tribes and described more than 200 new plant and animal species. [81]

Jefferson had the expedition declare "sovereignty" and demonstrate their military strength to ensure native tribes would be subordinate to the U.S., as European colonizers did elsewhere. After the expedition, the maps that were produced allowed the further discovery and settlement of this vast territory in the years that followed. [82] [83]

In 1807, Patrick Gass, a private in the U.S. Army, published an account of the journey. He was promoted to sergeant during the course of the expedition. [84] Paul Allen edited a two-volume history of the Lewis and Clark expedition that was published in 1814, in Philadelphia, but without mention of the actual author, banker Nicholas Biddle. [85] [note 3] Even then, the complete report was not made public until more recently. [86] The earliest authorized edition of the Lewis and Clark journals resides in the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library at the University of Montana.

One of the expedition's primary objectives as directed by President Jefferson was to be a surveillance mission that would report back the whereabouts, military strength, lives, activities, and cultures of the various Native American tribes that inhabited the territory newly acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase and the northwest in general. The expedition was to make native people understand that their lands now belonged to the United States and that "their great father" in Washington was now their sovereign. [87] The expedition encountered many different native nations and tribes along the way, many of whom offered their assistance, providing the expedition with their knowledge of the wilderness and with the acquisition of food. The expedition had blank leather-bound journals and ink for the purpose of recording such encounters, as well as for scientific and geological information. They were also provided with various gifts of medals, ribbons, needles, mirrors, and other articles which were intended to ease any tensions when negotiating their passage with the various Indian chiefs whom they would encounter along their way. [88] [89] [90] [91]

Many of the tribes had friendly experiences with British and French fur traders in various isolated encounters along the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, and for the most part the expedition did not encounter hostilities. However, there was a tense confrontation on September 25, 1804 with the Teton-Sioux tribe (also known as the Lakota people, one of the three tribes that comprise the Great Sioux Nation), under chiefs that included Black Buffalo and the Partisan. These chiefs confronted the expedition and demanded tribute from the expedition for their passage over the river. [88] [89] [90] [91] The seven native tribes that comprised the Lakota people controlled a vast inland empire and expected gifts from strangers who wished to navigate their rivers or to pass through their lands. [92] According to Harry W. Fritz, "All earlier Missouri River travelers had warned of this powerful and aggressive tribe, determined to block free trade on the river. . The Sioux were also expecting a retaliatory raid from the Omaha Indians, to the south. A recent Sioux raid had killed 75 Omaha men, burned 40 lodges, and taken four dozen prisoners." [93]

Captain Lewis made his first mistake by offering the Sioux chief gifts first, which insulted and angered the Partisan chief. Communication was difficult, since the expedition's only Sioux language interpreter was Pierre Dorion who had stayed behind with the other party and was also involved with diplomatic affairs with another tribe. Consequently, both chiefs were offered a few gifts, but neither was satisfied and they wanted some gifts for their warriors and tribe. At that point, some of the warriors from the Partisan tribe took hold of their boat and one of the oars. Lewis took a firm stand, ordering a display of force and presenting arms Captain Clark brandished his sword and threatened violent reprisal. Just before the situation erupted into a violent confrontation, Black Buffalo ordered his warriors to back off. [88] [89] [90] [91]

The captains were able to negotiate their passage without further incident with the aid of better gifts and a bottle of whiskey. During the next two days, the expedition made camp not far from Black Buffalo's tribe. Similar incidents occurred when they tried to leave, but trouble was averted with gifts of tobacco. [88] [89] [90] [91]


As the expedition encountered the various Native American tribes during the course of their journey, they observed and recorded information regarding their lifestyles, customs and the social codes they lived by, as directed by President Jefferson. By western standards, the Native American way of life seemed harsh and unforgiving as witnessed by members of the expedition. After many encounters and camping in close proximity to the Native American nations for extended periods of time during the winter months, they soon learned first hand of their customs and social orders.

One of the primary customs that distinguished Native American cultures from those of the West was that it was customary for the men to take on two or more wives if they were able to provide for them and often took on a wife or wives who were members of the immediate family circle. e.g. men in the Minnetaree [note 4] and Mandan tribes would often take on a sister for a wife. Chastity among women was not held in high regard. Infant daughters were often sold by the father to men who were grown, usually for horses or mules. [ citation needed ]

They learned that women in Sioux nations were often bartered away for horses or other supplies, yet this was not practiced among the Shoshone nation who held their women in higher regard. [94] They witnessed that many of the Native American nations were constantly at war with other tribes, especially the Sioux, who, while remaining generally friendly to the white fur traders, had proudly boasted of and justified the almost complete destruction of the once great Cahokia nation, along with the Missouris, Illinois, Kaskaskia, and Piorias tribes that lived about the countryside adjacent to the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. [95]


On February 11, 1805, a few weeks after her first contact with the expedition, Sacagawea went into labor which was slow and painful, so the Frenchman Charbonneau suggested she be given a potion of rattlesnake's rattle to aid in her delivery. Lewis happened to have some snake's rattle with him. A short time after administering the potion, she delivered a healthy boy who was given the name Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. [96] [97]

When the expedition reached Marias River, on June 16, 1805, Sacagawea became dangerously ill. She was able to find some relief by drinking mineral water from the sulphur spring that fed into the river. [98]

Though she has been discussed in literature frequently, much of the information is exaggeration or fiction. Scholars say she did notice some geographical features, but "Sacagawea . was not the guide for the Expedition, she was important to them as an interpreter and in other ways." [99] The sight of a woman and her infant son would have been reassuring to some indigenous nations, and she played an important role in diplomatic relations by talking to chiefs, easing tensions, and giving the impression of a peaceful mission. [100] [101]

In his writings, Meriwether Lewis presented a somewhat negative view of her, though Clark had a higher regard for her, and provided some support for her children in subsequent years. In the journals, they used the terms "squar" and "savages" to refer to Sacagawea and other indigenous peoples. [102]

The Corps met their objective of reaching the Pacific, mapping and establishing their presence for a legal claim to the land. They established diplomatic relations and trade with at least two dozen indigenous nations. They did not find a continuous waterway to the Pacific Ocean [103] but located an Indian trail that led from the upper end of the Missouri River to the Columbia River which ran to the Pacific Ocean. [104] They gained information about the natural habitat, flora and fauna, bringing back various plant, seed and mineral specimens. They mapped the topography of the land, designating the location of mountain ranges, rivers and the many Native American tribes during the course of their journey. They also learned and recorded much about the language and customs of the Indian tribes they encountered, and brought back many of their artifacts, including bows, clothing and ceremonial robes. [105]

Two months passed after the expedition's end before Jefferson made his first public statement to Congress and others, giving a one-sentence summary about the success of the expedition before getting into the justification for the expenses involved. In the course of their journey, they acquired a knowledge of numerous tribes of Native Americans hitherto unknown they informed themselves of the trade which may be carried on with them, the best channels and positions for it, and they are enabled to give with accuracy the geography of the line they pursued. Back east, the botanical and zoological discoveries drew the intense interest of the American Philosophical Society who requested specimens, various artifacts traded with the Native Americans, and reports on plants and wildlife along with various seeds obtained. Jefferson used seeds from "Missouri hominy corn" along with a number of other unidentified seeds to plant at Monticello which he cultivated and studied. He later reported on the "Indian corn" he had grown as being an "excellent" food source. [106] The expedition helped establish the U.S. presence in the newly acquired territory and beyond and opened the door to further exploration, trade and scientific discoveries. [107]

Lewis and Clark returned from their expedition, bringing with them the Mandan Native American Chief Shehaka from the Upper Missouri to visit the "Great Father" in Washington. After Chief Shehaka's visit, it required multiple attempts and multiple military expeditions to safely return Shehaka to his nation.

In the 1970s, the federal government memorialized the winter assembly encampment, Camp Dubois, as the start of the Lewis and Clark voyage of discovery and in 2019 it recognized Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the start of the expedition. [108]

Since the expedition, Lewis and Clark have been commemorated and honored over the years on various coins, currency, and commemorative postage stamps, as well as in a number of other capacities.

Lewis and Clark Expedition, 2004
200th Anniversary issue U.S. postage stamp commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Expedition

Lewis and Clark Expedition
150th anniversary issue, 1954

Lewis & Clark were honored (along with the American bison) on the Series of 1901 $10 Legal Tender


The Mandan Indians knew of cataracts and called them by a descriptive (but not formal) name: Minni-Soze-Tanka-Kun-Ya, [9] or "the great falls." [10] [11] The South Piegan Blackfeet, however, had a formal name for Rainbow Falls and called it "Napa's Snarling." [12] [13] No record exists of a Native American name for any of the other four waterfalls.

Four of the five waterfalls were given names in 1805 by American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. [2] [14] Both Lewis and Clark named Crooked Falls in their journals. [2] Clark named three of the remaining waterfalls on his map: "Great Falls" (which retains its name to this day), [15] "Beautiful Cascade" (now called Rainbow Falls), and "Upper Pitch" (now known as Black Eagle Falls). [2] [10] "Beautiful Cascade" was renamed "Rainbow Falls" in 1872 by Thomas B. Rogers, an engineer with the Great Northern Railway. [2] [10] Colter Falls received its name from Paris Gibson, in honor of John Colter (a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition). [2] [10] Black Eagle Falls is named for the black eagle which built a nest in a cottonwood tree on an island in the middle of the falls. [10] [12] [16] It is not clear when the falls lost their original name of "Upper Pitch," but they had acquired their modern name by at least 1877. [17]

The Missouri River lies atop the Great Falls Tectonic Zone, an intracontinental shear zone between two geologic provinces of basement rock of the Archean period which form part of the North American continent, the Hearne province and Wyoming province. [18] Approximately 1.5 million years ago, the Missouri River, Yellowstone River and Musselshell River all flowed northward into a terminal lake. [19] [20] During the last glacial period, the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets pushed these lakes and rivers southward. [19] [21] Between 15,000 and 11,000 BCE, the Laurentide Ice Sheet blocked the Missouri River and created Glacial Lake Great Falls. [21] [22] [23] About 13,000 BCE, as the glacier retreated, Glacial Lake Great Falls emptied catastrophically in a glacial lake outburst flood. [23] The current course of the Missouri River essentially marks the southern boundary of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. [24] The Missouri, Yellowstone and Musselshell rivers flowed eastward around the glacial mass, eventually settling into their present courses. [19] As the ice retreated, meltwater poured through the Highwood Mountains and eroded the mile-long, 500-foot-deep (150 m) Shonkin Sag—one of the most famous prehistoric meltwater channels in the world. [25]

The Great Falls themselves formed on a fall line unconformity in the Great Falls Tectonic Zone. [26] The Missouri River settled into a bedrock canyon which lay beneath the clay laid down by Glacial Lake Great Falls. [27] [28] The course of the Missouri in and around the Great Falls has changed very little since then, in comparison to lower regions of the river on the ground moraine that forms much of the upper Great Plains. [29]

The Great Falls of the Missouri River formed because the Missouri is flowing over and through the Kootenai Formation, a mostly nonmarine sandstone laid down by rivers, glaciers, and lakes in the past. [27] [30] Some of the Kootenai Formation is marine, however, laid down by shallow seas. [31] The river is eating away at the softer nonmarine sandstone, with the harder rock forming the falls themselves. Until relatively recently (in geologic time) the Missouri River in the area had a much wider channel, [32] but it has now settled into its current course, where it will continue to cut more deeply into the sandstone.

Early inhabitants Edit

The first human beings to see the Great Falls were Paleo-Indians who migrated into the area between 9,500 and 8,270 BCE. [23] [33] The earliest inhabitants of North America entered Montana east of the Continental Divide between the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets. [34] The area remained only sparsely inhabited, however. [35] Salish Indians would often hunt bison in the area on a seasonal basis, but no permanent settlements existed near the Great Falls for much of prehistory. [35] Around 1600, Piegan Blackfoot Indians, migrating west, entered the area, pushing the Salish back into the Rocky Mountains and claiming the area as their own. [35] The Great Falls of the Missouri remained in the tribal territory of the Blackfeet until Americans claimed the region in 1803. [12] [36]

Although the discovery of the Great Falls by Native Americans is not recorded, the South Piegan Blackfeet were well-acquainted with the Great Falls by the late 18th century, [12] and news of the cataracts had spread among native peoples as far east as central North Dakota. [9]

Lewis and Clark Edit

The United States purchased the area around the Great Falls of the Missouri from France (which claimed the area despite Native American habitation) in 1803, as part of the Louisiana Purchase. [36] Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States, had long desired to send an expedition into the area. [37] Jefferson sought and won permission and funding for an expedition from Congress in January 1803. [37] On May 14, 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition departed St. Louis, Missouri to map the course of the Missouri River establish whether a river route to the Pacific Ocean existed study the Indian tribes, botany, geology, terrain and wildlife in the region and evaluate whether British and French Canadian hunters and trappers in the area posed a challenge to American control over the region. [37] Expedition leaders Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first learned of the "great falls" from the Mandan Indians while wintering at Fort Mandan from November 2, 1804, until April 7, 1805. [37]

The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Great Falls on June 13, 1805. [37] Meriwether Lewis was the first White person to see the falls. [7] Lewis described the encounter in a now-famous passage of his expedition diary: [38]

. my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a column of smoke which would frequently dispear again in an instant caused I presume by the wind which blew pretty hard from the S. W. I did not however loose my direction to this point which soon began to make a roaring too tremendious to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri. . I hurryed down the hill which was about 200 feet high and difficult of access, to gaze on this sublimely grand specticle. . immediately at the cascade the river is about 300 yds. wide about ninety or a hundred yards of this next the Lard. bluff is a smooth even sheet of water falling over a precipice of at least eighty feet, the remaining part of about 200 yards on my right formes the grandest sight I ever beheld, the height of the fall is the same of the other but the irregular and somewhat projecting rocks below receives the water in its passage down and brakes it into a perfect white foam which assumes a thousand forms in a moment sometimes flying up in jets of sparkling foam to the height of fifteen or twenty feet and are scarcely formed before large roling bodies of the same beaten and foaming water is thrown over and conceals them. in short the rocks seem to be most happily fixed to present a sheet of the whitest beaten froath for 200 yards in length and about 80 feet perpendicular. the water after descending strikes against the butment before mentioned or that on which I stand and seems to reverberate and being met by the more impetuous courant they role and swell into half formed billows of great height which rise and again disappear in an instant. this butment of rock defends a handsom little bottom of about three acres which is diversified and agreeably shaded with some cottonwood trees in the lower extremity of the bottom there is a very thick grove of the same kind of trees which are small, in this wood there are several Indian lodges formed of sticks. . from the reflection of the sun on the spray or mist which arrises from these falls there is a beatifull rainbow produced which adds not a little to the beauty of this majestically grand senery. after wrighting this imperfect discription I again viewed the falls and was so much disgusted with the imperfect idea which it conveyed of the scene that I determined to draw my pen across it and begin agin, but then reflected that I could not perhaps succeed better than pening the first impressions of the mind I wished for the pencil of Salvator Rosa or the pen of Thompson, that I might be enabled to give to the enlightened world some just idea of this truly magnificent and sublimely grand object, which has from the commencement of time been concealed from the view of civilized man but this was fruitless and vain. I most sincerely regretted that I had not brought a crimee obscura with me by the assistance of which even I could have hoped to have done better but alas this was also out of my reach I therefore with the assistance of my pen only indeavoured to traces some of the stronger features of this seen by the assistance of which and my recollection aided by some able pencil I hope still to give to the world some faint idea of an object which at this moment fills me with such pleasure and astonishment, and which of its kind I will venture to ascert is second to but one in the known world. . [39]

The falls which Lewis had seen were the lowest of the five falls, the Great Falls. [2] [40] Exploring the following day, Lewis discovered Crooked Falls, Rainbow Falls, Colter Falls, and Black Eagle Falls. [2] [40] At the final waterfalls, Lewis saw an amazing sight: [38]

I arrived at another cataract of 26 feet. . below this fall at a little distance a beatifull little Island well timbered is situated about the middle of the river. in this Island on a Cottonwood tree an Eagle has placed her nest a more inaccessible spot I believe she could not have found for neither man nor beast dare pass those gulphs which separate her little domain from the shores. the water is also broken in such manner as it descends over this pitch that the mist or sprey rises to a considerable height. this fall is certainly much the greatest I ever behald except those two which I have mentioned below. it is incomparably a greater cataract and a more noble interesting object than the celibrated falls of Potomac or Soolkiln &c. [41]

Mounting a hill near Black Eagle Falls (probably where the town of Black Eagle is today), Lewis saw that the cataracts ended and that another large river joined the Missouri about two and a half miles further upstream. [37] Although it was very late in the afternoon, Lewis rushed forward to see this river and was attacked by a grizzly bear. [37] He ran more than 80 yards and launched himself into the Missouri River, and luckily the bear did not follow. [2] [37] The Lewis and Clark Expedition was forced to portage around the Great Falls, an arduous task that took nearly a month. [37]

York, an African American slave owned by William Clark and who had participated in the Expedition, was the first black American to see the Great Falls. [42]

The Lewis and Clark Expedition made a number of discoveries near the Great Falls. On June 13, Silas Goodrich [43] caught numerous Westslope cutthroat trout at the falls, the first time anyone in the expedition had seen these fish, and several samples were preserved which constituted the type specimens for the fish. [44] [45] The trout was subsequently given the scientific name Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi in honor of the expedition leaders. [43] [44] [45] The Westslope cutthroat is now the "official state fish" of Montana. [45] The explorers also collected the first samples of the gumbo evening primrose [46] and western meadowlark at the Great Falls. [47]

On June 18, while reconnoitering the series of falls on the south side of the Missouri River with a group of five others, William Clark discovered Giant Springs, which he correctly judged to be the largest spring in the world. [26] [48] [49] He was the first white person to see the springs, and the first white person to see the falls from the south side of the Missouri. [2]

Meriwether Lewis revisited the Great Falls on July 11, 1806, as the Corps of Discovery returned east. Lewis and nine men stopped at the Great Falls with the intention of exploring the Marias River and discovering its source. But during the night, Indians stole half the party's 17 horses, forcing three of the men to stay behind. [48]

Following the return passage of Lewis and Clark in 1805/06 there is no record of any white man visiting the Great Falls of the Missouri until explorer and trapper Jim Bridger reached them in 1822. [12] White people next visited the Great Falls when Bridger and Major Andrew Henry led a fur-trading expedition there in April 1823 (and were attacked by Blackfeet Indians while camping at the site). [50] British explorer Alexander Ross trapped around the Great Falls in 1824. [51] In 1838, a mapping expedition sent by the U.S. federal government and guided by Bridger spent four years in the area. [12] Margaret Harkness Woodman became first white woman to see the Great Falls in 1862. [52]

The first permanent settlement near the Great Falls was Fort Benton, established in 1846 about 40 miles (64 km) downstream from the Great Falls. [53] The Great Falls marked the limit of the navigable section of the Missouri River, [54] and the first steamboat arrived at the falls in 1859. [53] In 1860, the Mullan Road linked Fort Benton with Fort Walla Walla in the Washington Territory. [12] [55]

Politically, the Great Falls of the Missouri River passed through numerous hands in the 19th century. It was part of the unincorporated frontier until May 30, 1854, when Congress established the Nebraska Territory. [56] Indian attacks on white explorers and settlers dropped significantly after Isaac Stevens negotiated the Treaty of Hellgate in 1855, and white settlement in the area began to occur. [12] On March 2, 1861, it became part of the Dakota Territory. [57] The Great Falls were incorporated into the Idaho Territory on March 4, 1863, [58] and then into the Montana Territory on May 28, 1864. [35] It became part of the state of Montana upon that territory's admission to statehood on November 8, 1889. [35]

The Great Falls of the Missouri River became the site of a permanent settlement in 1883. Businessman Paris Gibson visited the Great Falls in 1880, and was deeply impressed by the possibilities for building a major industrial city near the falls with power provided by hydroelectricity. [59] [60] [61] [62] He returned in 1883 with surveyors and platted a city (to be named Great Falls) on the south side of the river. [12] [59] [60] The city's first citizen, Silas Beachley, arrived later that year. [12] With investments from railroad owner James J. Hill and Helena businessman C. A. Broadwater, houses, a store, and a flour mill were established in 1884. [12] [59] [60] [61] [62] A planing mill, lumber yard, bank, school, and newspaper were established in 1885. [59] [62] By 1887 the town had 1,200 citizens, and in October of that year the Great Northern Railway arrived in the city. [59] [61] [62] Great Falls, Montana, was incorporated on November 28, 1888, Black Eagle Dam was built in 1890, and by 1912 Rainbow Dam and Volta Dam (now Ryan Dam) were all operating. [12] [59] [62]

The city of Great Falls, Montana, derives its name from the waterfalls. [63] The small town of Black Eagle, Montana, derives its name from Black Eagle Falls, [12] and Cascade County (in which both are located) is named for the cataracts and rapids which make up the falls. [64]

Dams Edit

Only one of the waterfalls that comprise the Great Falls of the Missouri River, Crooked Falls, exists in its natural state today. Dams built on the falls beginning in the 1880s have significantly altered and even submerged the five waterfalls. Black Eagle Dam was built in 1890, and half of Black Eagle Falls are now submerged in the reservoir behind the dam. [12] This structure was the first hydroelectric dam built in the state. [65]

Rainbow Falls was dammed in 1910 when Rainbow Dam was built. [12] [48] [65] The reservoir behind the dam submerged Colter Falls. [12] [48]

Volta Dam was built on top of the Great Falls in 1915, and later renamed Ryan Dam in 1940 in honor of John D. Ryan, the president and founder of the Montana Power Company. [12] [66]

The Great Falls Portage, a National Historic Landmark District designated in 1966, commemorates the route by which Lewis and Clark bypassed the falls. The landmarked areas, including the expedition camps at either end of the portage, are located well above and below the series falls. [67] [68] The Great Falls are also part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, established by Congress in 1978. [69]

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center was built in 1998 on a cliff overlooking the Missouri River near Crooked Falls. It provides an extensive look into Lewis and Clark's discovery of the Great Falls and their portage around them, as well as exhibits on native peoples of the area. [70]

In 1989, the City of Great Falls, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and other public and private bodies established the River's Edge Trail, a 30-mile (48 km) series of paved and unpaved trails that follow the Great Falls as well as the Lewis and Clark Expedition portage route (along with other scenic and historic area of the City of Great Falls and town of Black Eagle). [69] [71]

The first known drawing of the Great Falls was entered by Meriwether Lewis in his diary. [2] In 1807, Lewis commissioned the Irish engraver John James Barrelet to make drawings of the Great Falls. [2] After Lewis's death in 1810, William Clark visited his home and found the drawings, but they have since disappeared. [2]

The Great Falls have been depicted in well-known paintings over the years. The waterfalls may be seen in the background of John Mix Stanley's large painting "Barter for a Bride" (originally titled "A Family Group"), which was painted some time between 1854 and 1863 and now hangs in the Diplomatic Reception Room in the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C. [72] The noted Western painter O. C. Seltzer depicted the cataracts in his 1927 work, "Lewis and Clark With Sacajawea at the Great Falls of the Missouri, 1804." [73]

The first known photograph of the Great Falls was taken by noted Western photographer James D. Hutton about 1859 or 1860. [74]

Watch the video: June 19, 2005 KRMA-TV PBS KenBurnsAmericanStories Lewisu0026Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery