Preparing for an Expedition

Preparation for the expedition was exhaustive, and Jefferson had his own territorial and economic motivations for the journey. He had acquired plenty of knowledge about the subject which was shared with Lewis. Lewis was directed by Jefferson to study various matters related to medicine, astronomy, navigation, geography, and mapping under his supervision. Other well-known experts assisted Lewis with his studies, and Lewis took to the preparations well.

The explorers prepared a keelboat created near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It held various provisions and items for their journey. They traveled down the Ohio River to meet Clark near Louisville, Kentucky, in 1803. Their boat contained many items for trade with the native Indians. It included silver peace medals with Jefferson inscribed on them. These friendship medals were to be distributed to tribes they met. The boat also held weapons to display military prowess and protect the party, such as high-grade European weaponry, firearms, knives, metals, and the best mapping and cartography equipment. They also prepared medicines, gifts, flags, and all kinds of survival equipment.

Lewis and Clark were prepared as much as they could be. They had been influenced by the journey of Moncacht-Apé who was a Native American explorer from the Yazoo tribe near Mississippi. It is believed he made a journey in the early 1700s across North America. His story and itinerary were given to French explorer Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, who then published this in his memoirs. In the 1750s. A book with Le Page’s book was published in 1763 and was used by European and American pioneers,

Jefferson had Le Page’s book with Moncacht-Apé’s itinerary, and Lewis also took a copy with him during the expedition of the Northwest. However, it was in no way a perfect guide as it did not contain information about getting through the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark believed that it was possible to transport boats from Missouri’s headwaters flowing westward, which proved to be untrue.

The journey was influenced by Jefferson’s knowledge and readings of explorers such as Captain James Cook and his voyages to the Pacific Ocean. Jefferson also read about Alexander Mackenzie’s routes to the Pacific coast in British Columbia in 1793. Mackenzie’s writings influenced Jefferson’s need to find a way westwards as soon as possible. Jefferson knew from Mackenzie’s reports of the Brit’s intention of controlling the area through the Columbia River. His interest in the journey was based upon this fact.

The Louisiana Purchase

The Lewis and Clark expedition came about because of The Louisiana Purchase, which was negotiated between Thomas Jefferson and Napolean from France. The Kingdom of France wanted to sell the land to the U.S because of financial pressures resulting from other conflicts with the United Kingdom and other revolts in their territories. Thomas Jefferson was excited about the prospect of acquiring the land and wanted to get control of the Mississippi River port of New Orleans. It was possible for the government to purchase an area of land that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains for $15 million. The price of $2.50 per square mile was hard for Jefferson to pass over, and he perused the sale.

The purchase was not supported by the Federalist Party, but Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison convinced Congress to fund the purchase after the debate. The sale would add 828,000 square miles (2,144,510 square km) of land from France. In April 1803, the land was purchased under President Thomas Jefferson’s government. The purchase would result in The Louisiana Purchase, which included areas of the Mississippi River that were mostly unexplored and unknown to both the U.S. and France.

The Louisiana Purchase almost doubled the size of the U.S. It covers many states and provinces in the present-day U.S and Canada. The purchase also includes Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. Big areas of North and South Dakota; Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and some of Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan were also discovered during the journey.

Thomas Jefferson and others in the government wanted to know what was purchased as they had little knowledge of the area in question. After the purchase of the land, President Jefferson asked Congress to approve $2,500 for a journey of exploration into the west.

The goal of the journey would be to map the newly acquired Louisiana territory. Another primary objective was to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean through the north-west and increase trade throughout the region and the U.S. Other secondary purposes were to study plant and animal life as well as geography. Establishing relations and dealing with the Indian tribes was another objective. The journey would accomplish a resounding number of goals related to biology, scientific discovery, botany, archeology, and even climatology.

From the beginning of the journey, many of the party took journals of what they saw and experienced on their trip. The journey was important in the history of the U.S and exploration and expansion. It would be of vital importance in the subsequent knowledge of the area and what other explorers could expect on their journey westward. The Lousiana Purchase needed to be justified, and a group of men would be responsible for showing the fruitfulness of such a purchase by Jefferson and the government.

The Explorers

A team of explorers was made up of 35 men, including Captain Meriwether Lewis and Army officer William Clark. Lewis was experienced with the western lands and was possessed with excellent leadership skills, strength, and knowledge of different outdoor environments. He also understood pressure situations and had a cool head. Clark was his equal, had an excellent understanding of the outdoors, and was a mapmaker with an excellent knowledge of geography. Both men were accomplished leaders but were not perfect and had their own demons to fight. They were short-tempered at times, and Lewis was known for his drinking and bouts of depression. At times Clark would beat his slave and work against the interests of the native Indians.

The other men were made up of experienced builders, hunters, interpreters, navigators, and outdoorsmen. The team was chosen carefully for their skills, reliability, and experience. They had to share many responsibilities to ensure the journey was successful. The party needed to predict the geography, navigate well and understand various animals and plants. They were responsible for the health of their own animals and other people in the party. The group also had to understand the customs and languages of the native Indians. An incredible range of outdoor skills for making fire, finding water, and predicting the weather was also required.

These skills are to be admired in light of the journey that the men were undertaking. Some of the lands were completely unknown by both the French or the U.S government. The explorers needed to travel down rivers and across the land with a large number of items for the party or trading with the Indians they may come across. The men would be confronted with a whole range of challenges and needed all their skills.

The Land and the Route

The Lewis and Clark expedition did not discover a route for water and a Northwest Passage as Thomas Jefferson had hoped. However, the group traveled 8000 miles and returned with only one person deceased. The journey was without widespread deceit or violence from within the group. The party successfully surveyed the Louisiana Territory from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Maps and information resulting from the journey contained valuable information about the geography and terrain of the area. These maps would prove to be hugely important for westward expansion and further exploration to support the economy.

Hundreds of animals and botanical species were also documented during the journey, and the expedition had made diplomatic and trade relations with native Indian tribes. Despite some conflict with the Teton Sioux, most associations with the native Indians were relatively peaceful. Gifts and other items were exchanged with the Indian chiefs as they moved west. The natives proved to be a valuable source of information and often guided them through the challenging terrain. Knowing good native guides would be significant for more discovery of the area in the future.

The journey was viewed by the government and public as a resounding success. They acknowledged the scientific and geographic discoveries and peaceful contact with the native Indians.

The Native Indians

Native American tribes occupied much of the land that the Lewis and Clark expedition moved through, and around 50 tribes were encountered during the journey. Tribes discovered included the Shoshone, Mandan, Minitari, Blackfeet, Chinook, and the Sioux people. Most encounters were peaceful and friendly because Lewis and Clark had built up a reputation for developing a protocol when making their first contact. However, they were assisted during the expedition by a native American woman named Sacagawea, who met the party in Mandan.

Sacagawea’s knowledge meant that Lewis and Clark were aware they would be in contact with Shoshone tribes heading west. Sacagawea was used as an interpreter and a peacemaker. Weapons were traded between the party, and Shoshone tribes were also aided by Sacagawea. The help of the tribes was also important during the long winter and while navigating through difficult areas.

Lewis and Clark usually bartered goods and gave Jefferson Indian Peace Medal to the tribes before being welcomed. They also offered military protection in exchange for peace. Some Indians trusted the white men while others were more hostile, like the Teton Sioux, who tried to prevent the expedition from leaving. The military soon helped disperse the conflict with superior firepower.


Further westward expansion was greatly assisted by Lewis and Clark’s discoveries which were well documented during their trip. Lewis and Clark’s journey gave valuable information and insights into what other explorers might encounter on their journey. Immediately after the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was Zebulon Zebulon Pike’s expeditions which were also instigated by Thomas Jefferson.

Pike was a 26-year-old American Brigadier General responsible for exploring the southern portion of the Louisiana Territory. He traversed the Rocky Mountains to Colorado and moved through the Spanish territories along the Rio Grande and the Red River. This opened up trade in the Southwest after he reported wealthy towns in the region.

Another important part of expansion west was further mapping and surveying. by John C. Frémont. He mapped territory between the Mississippi Valley and the Pacific Ocean, which inspired many people to try living in the areas he had mapped.

The expansion involved resulted in more claims over disputed lands which were supported by the finding of the Lewis and Clark expedition and many others that followed. The trip documented disputed boundaries between the U.S and Spain. The U.S claimed the entire western portion of the Mississippi River to the crest of the Rocky Mountains, The Rio Grande area and West Florida were part of the purchase. Spain believed that the purchase included the western bank of the Mississippi River, the cities of New Orleans and St. Louis.

The Lewis and Clark expeditions and subsequent journeys provided enough maps, journals, and other evidence to define the disputed boundaries. This eventually led to the Adams–Onís of 1819, in which the United States gained most of what it had claimed in the west.

Trade and Commerce

The initial findings of the expedition may not have had immediate consequences for trade and commerce. Still, the botanical and zoological discoveries were priceless for people’s understanding of the natural land in the country that they were living in. Artifacts gifted by the native Indians also helped to establish a historical knowledge of the area.

There was an interest in some of the more edible plant species and animals that could provide valuable food or sources of clothing for people in the U.S. Seeds from the journey. Other plant species were studied for their potential food cultivation. Indian corn was reported to be an excellent food source after being cultivated and studies.

The number of new animals piqued the interest of fur traders, and many businesses started with the aim of exploiting the furs of beaver, bison, bears, and other animals. New discoveries led to trade and a better supply route to the people of the U.S. This happened after further investigation and as westward expansion continued during subsequent journeys. This continued Thomas Jefferson’s aim of establishing or settling territories following the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The addition of forts and sending troops to some areas known for trade supported further expansion and betterment of the economy.