A Year: Day to Day Men: 23rd of September

The Lure of Nature’s Forests

September 23, 1806 marks the return of Lewis and Clark Expedition to the city of Saint Louis.

The Corps of Discovery Expedition, known to history as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. It was a selected group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his friend Second Lieutenant William Clark. Its commission by President Thomas Jefferson was to explore and map the new territory of the Louisiana Purchase and establish an American presence in the territory.

Merwether Lewis had no formal education in his early years; but he became a skilled hunter and outdoorsman in the Broad River Valley of Georgia, developing a life-long interest in natural history. In 1793, Lewis graduated from Washington and Lee University. In 1795 Lewis joined the US Army, commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, rising to the rank of Captain in 1800 and ending his service in 1801. When President Jefferson began to plan the exploration of the newly purchased Louisiana territory, he chose Lewis, then at the age of 28, to lead the expedition. Meriwether Lewis recruited his close army friend William Clark, then age 33, to share command.

Meriwether Lewis spent the year of 1803 in study for preparation for the trip. He was sent to Philadelphia to study medicinal cures under Benjamin Rush, a physician, and was further educated by Andrew Ellicott, an astronomer who instructed him in the use of the sextant and other navigational instruments. At Monticello, Jefferson possessed the largest library in the world on the geography of the North American continent; and Lewis had full access to it.

The Corps of Discovery 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. The Corps was not successful in finding a continuous waterway to the Pacific Ocean 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.

The Corps 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 Indian tribes during the course of their journey. The Corps also learned and recorded much about the language and customs of the American Indian tribes they encountered, and brought back many artifacts, including bows, clothing and ceremonial robes.

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