Lewis & Clark



Join us for a program focusing upon Lewis & Clark’s expedition that opened the West over 200 years ago. We will discuss the achievements and challenges of the expedition as well as the legacies it left for the young nation.  Building upon the experiences from the expedition, we will also discuss the evolution of our country’s relationship with Native Americans and the lands they inhabited.

Key Lecture Points

  • In 1804, just two months after the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery began the journey up the Missouri River, seeking the Northwest Passage. 18 harrowing months later, they viewed the Pacific Ocean. After spending the winter on what is today the Oregon coast, the Corps began their homeward journey, arriving back in St. Louis in 1806.
  • The journey marks a crucial juncture in the history of strained relations between the US Federal Government and Native American peoples. In their 26-month journey, Lewis and Clark came in contact with approximately 50 different Native American tribes from Missouri to Oregon, some of which had never seen a white skinned person before. At each meeting, Lewis and Clark announced the new sovereignty of the US over the land that these tribes occupied. The Lewis and Clark expedition and the settlers who came after them changed forever the way of life for the Native Americans who befriended and helped the Corps of Discovery.
  • Sacagawea played a crucial role in the success of the expedition as an interpreter, by providing an understanding of the land and by demonstrating the peaceful intent of the expedition to the Indian tribes they encountered by her presence and the presence of her child.
  • The Louisiana Purchase and the Voyage of Discovery were a triumph for Jefferson’s Presidency. This shrewd real estate deal combined with the courageous feat of exploration made Jefferson’s vision of a transcontinental US a reality. The Louisiana Purchase was one of the greatest diplomatic achievements of US history. It was a peaceful and inexpensive acquisition of territory that doubled the size of the US and opened the door to America’s transcontinental expansion. Unfortunately the Louisiana Purchase also set the stage for the Civil War as southern and northern states jockeyed to impose their respective labor systems on the new territories.
  • The journey continues to fascinate us because it is just a plain old great story, with plot twists, heroes and villains (of both European and Native descent) and a positively Shakespearian ending (with Clark living a happy and fulfilled life and Lewis dead by his own hand a mere three years after his heroic journey). The journey was harrowing, but remarkably free of death. Only one Corps member died (of appendicitis), and there was only one deadly conflict between the Corps and the Native Americans (killing two Blackfeet Indians who, according to journal reports, were attempting to steal horses).

Exploration Questions

  • What were the goals of the Voyage of Discovery?
  • Why is the expedition important? What did it accomplish?

Reflective Questions

  • The story of the Lewis and Clark expedition is filled with diverse personalities. Whom do you find the most interesting and why?
  • Have you ever traveled along any of the Lewis and Clark Trail? What do you remember most?
  • What do you think were the most difficult parts of the journey? Why?

More to Explore

  • Journal excerpts from Lewis, Clark and other members of the Corps Click here
  • History of the Expedition Click here
  • Interactive map of the Lewis and Clark Trail Click here

Books For Further Reading

  • Ambrose Stephen E. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West (paperback) Simon & Schuster, 1997. 528 pages. The definitive account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
    Click here to order
  • Harris, Bill. The Mountain Men:How the West was Won. Skyhorse Publishing, 2012. 175 pages. Tells the history and unique culture of the men who established the fur trade in the American wilderness.
    Click here to order
  • Blevins, Win. Give Your Heart to the Hawks. (eBook) Tom Doherty Associates, 2005. Tells the stories of the Mountain Men who explored the West and opened the way for the pioneer settlers who followed them.