While the French initially refused America’s offer, the French now knew the United States was interested in paying for the territory


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By the early 1800s the United States stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. With overland transportation still unreliable, the Mississippi River was a vital transportation route for farmers to get their products to markets in the East. President Thomas Jefferson knew whoever controlled New Orleans, controlled the Mississippi River.

  • By the early 1800s the United States stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. With overland transportation still unreliable, the Mississippi River was a vital transportation route for farmers to get their products to markets in the East. President Thomas Jefferson knew whoever controlled New Orleans, controlled the Mississippi River.

  • In 1802 Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans for $10 million. Monroe also was sent to Spain to negotiate the purchase of the territory of Florida.

  • While the French initially refused America’s offer, the French now knew the United States was interested in paying for the territory.



Before the purchase of the Louisiana territory was official, President Jefferson began planning to send an expedition to map the territory.

  • Before the purchase of the Louisiana territory was official, President Jefferson began planning to send an expedition to map the territory.

  • Jefferson chose his secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis. He and his old friend organized an expedition of thirty-one men, mostly soldiers. This Corps of Discovery headed for the unknown lands west of the Mississippi River.

  • The Corps’ mission was to travel up the Missouri River in search of a northwest passage, an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean. The men were to make contact with American Indian tribes in the region.

  • Contrary to popular belief, Lewis and Clark were not the first to lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean. Alexander MacKenzie crossed to the Pacific in 1793.



One of the men in the Corps of Discovery was York, the slave of William Clark.

  • One of the men in the Corps of Discovery was York, the slave of William Clark.

  • As the Corps met Indians in their journey west, York’s appearance amazed the Indians. Many Indians had never seen an African-American man and believed him to be part bear.





In the spring of 1803, Meriwether Lewis made his way to Philadelphia, the scientific capital of the United States, to train for the mission. In Philadelphia he was educated in mapmaking and the sciences. Lewis spent much of his time at the museum of Charles Willson Peale located on the second floor of Independence Hall.

  • In the spring of 1803, Meriwether Lewis made his way to Philadelphia, the scientific capital of the United States, to train for the mission. In Philadelphia he was educated in mapmaking and the sciences. Lewis spent much of his time at the museum of Charles Willson Peale located on the second floor of Independence Hall.

  • Lewis also purchased scientific instruments and other supplies with the $2,500 Congress had given him to finance the expedition.

  • After stopping in Pittsburgh to oversee the building of the keelboat, Lewis joined Clark at the Corps’ winter camp in Illinois.



150 Yards (140 meters) of cloth to be oiled and sewn into tents and sheets 6 large needles pliers chisels handsaws oilskin bags 25 hatchets whetstones 30 steels for striking or making fire iron corn mill 2 dozen tablespoons mosquito curtains 10.5 pounds (5 kilograms) of fishing hooks and fishing lines 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) of soap 193 pounds (87.5 kilograms) of “portable soup” (a thick paste concocted by boiling down beef, eggs, and vegetables, to be used if no other food was available on the trail) 3 bushels (106 liters) of salt writing paper, ink, and crayons

  • 150 Yards (140 meters) of cloth to be oiled and sewn into tents and sheets 6 large needles pliers chisels handsaws oilskin bags 25 hatchets whetstones 30 steels for striking or making fire iron corn mill 2 dozen tablespoons mosquito curtains 10.5 pounds (5 kilograms) of fishing hooks and fishing lines 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) of soap 193 pounds (87.5 kilograms) of “portable soup” (a thick paste concocted by boiling down beef, eggs, and vegetables, to be used if no other food was available on the trail) 3 bushels (106 liters) of salt writing paper, ink, and crayons



12 dozen pocket mirrors 4,600 sewing needles 144 small scissors 10 pounds of sewing thread silk ribbons ivory combs handkerchiefs yards of bright-colored cloth 130 rolls of tobacco tomahawks that doubled as pipes 288 knives 8 brass kettles vermilion face paint 20 pounds of assorted beads, mostly blue 5 pounds of small, white, glass beads 288 brass thimbles armbands ear trinkets

  • 12 dozen pocket mirrors 4,600 sewing needles 144 small scissors 10 pounds of sewing thread silk ribbons ivory combs handkerchiefs yards of bright-colored cloth 130 rolls of tobacco tomahawks that doubled as pipes 288 knives 8 brass kettles vermilion face paint 20 pounds of assorted beads, mostly blue 5 pounds of small, white, glass beads 288 brass thimbles armbands ear trinkets



The primary means of transportation west was a large keel boat and two smaller open boats. Lewis also brought a collapsible boat he had designed. However, by the time the expedition needed the boats, there were no pine trees to make pitch (tar from burned pine trees), used to water-proof boats.

  • The primary means of transportation west was a large keel boat and two smaller open boats. Lewis also brought a collapsible boat he had designed. However, by the time the expedition needed the boats, there were no pine trees to make pitch (tar from burned pine trees), used to water-proof boats.

  • The Corps hoped at some point they would be able to trade with native people for horses.



On May 20, 1804, the Corps of Discovery left St. Louis on their journey up the Missouri River.

  • On May 20, 1804, the Corps of Discovery left St. Louis on their journey up the Missouri River.

  • The group traveled more than six hundred miles up the Missouri before meeting a single American Indian.

  • On August 2, the Corps had their first encounter with Indians when they met members of the Oto and Missouri tribes. The tribes warned the Corps of the powerful Teton-Sioux that lived farther up the Missouri. The group would soon learn why the Sioux earned the nickname, Pirates of the Missouri.



One of the missions assigned to the Corps was to record the discovery of new plants and animals. They also hoped to bring some animals back for further study.

  • One of the missions assigned to the Corps was to record the discovery of new plants and animals. They also hoped to bring some animals back for further study.

  • Throughout their 8,000- mile journey, the group would discover one hundred seventy-eight plants and one hundred twenty-two species and sub-species of animals.





The Corps reached what is today Bismarck, North Dakota, in October 1804 and began constructing their winter quarters.

  • The Corps reached what is today Bismarck, North Dakota, in October 1804 and began constructing their winter quarters.

  • This was the traditional homeland of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians who lived off the plains buffalo.

  • It was here that the Corps would hire Toussaint Charbonneau and his young wife, Sacagawea, to guide them west.

  • On February 11, 1805, Sacagawea gave birth to a son with the help of Meriwether Lewis. She named her son Jean-Baptiste. The members of the Corps nicknamed him Pompy, or “little dancer.” Pompy became the youngest member of the Corps.



Sacagawea was a young Shoshone women who had been kidnapped from her tribe when she was young.

  • Sacagawea was a young Shoshone women who had been kidnapped from her tribe when she was young.

  • She later married a French fur trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau .

  • When the Corps arrived at Fort Mandan, they hired Charbonneau to be their guide. It was agreed his wife Sacagawea and their young son, Jean-Baptiste, would accompany the expedition.

  • Sacagawea proved to be an unexpected asset to the Corps. Throughout the expedition, she would play the crucial roles of guide, translator, and even more importantly, a peace symbol. Indians who saw the Corps approaching assumed the group came in peace because the group of men included a woman and young child.



On August 17, 1805, the Corps reached a Shoshone village at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and they began to trade for horses.

  • On August 17, 1805, the Corps reached a Shoshone village at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and they began to trade for horses.

  • During this initial meeting, Sacagawea realized the Shoshone chief, Cameahwait, was her long-lost brother. This was the same tribe from which Sacagawea had been kidnapped many years before!

  • Needless to say, the Shoshone provided the Corps with the horses they needed and even sent guides to help the expedition through the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains.



Shortly after their arrival at the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark held a vote among the Corps to decide where to build their camp.

  • Shortly after their arrival at the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark held a vote among the Corps to decide where to build their camp.

  • Both Sacagawea and York were allowed to vote. This demonstration of America’s democratic values would not be repeated for more than a hundred years.

  • The Corps decided to build its winter quarters near the Clatsop people who lived by fishing the abundant salmon that migrated up the Columbia every year. The Corps named their fort in honor of the Clatsop.



When the Corps of Discovery returned to St. Louis more than two years after it had left, the Corps was greeted with cannon fire and hailed as heroes.

  • When the Corps of Discovery returned to St. Louis more than two years after it had left, the Corps was greeted with cannon fire and hailed as heroes.

  • Many Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, had given up hope of the Corps returning alive.

  • When Jefferson finally received the maps the expedition had prepared, he is reported to have spread them on the floor and studied the maps for days.



Captain William Clark took nearly two years to piece together his maps (right) and create a complete map of the expedition (above).

  • Captain William Clark took nearly two years to piece together his maps (right) and create a complete map of the expedition (above).



The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. The United States paid France $15 million for the Louisiana Territory. When the final calculations were done, this vast tract of land cost about four cents and acre!

  • The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. The United States paid France $15 million for the Louisiana Territory. When the final calculations were done, this vast tract of land cost about four cents and acre!

  • The final cost of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was $39,000, which was substantially more than the $2,500 Congress had authorized.

  • Only one man died on the journey, and he appeared to have succumbed to an appendicitis.

  • Students often ask what happened to Jean-Baptiste, Sacagawea’s son. He grew up, traveled to Europe, and returned to America. He made his fortune as a forty-niner during the California Gold Rush.

  • Sacagawea became only the second American woman to be honored on American currency. In 2000 she and her son’s likenesses were engraved on a new $1 coin.

  • Sadly, Sacagawea died of an unknown illness in 1812. William Clark took responsibility for raising Jean-Baptiste and Lisette.

  • When York returned home, he asked Captain Clark for his freedom. Clark refused and noted in his diary that he had to whip York because Clark stated that York became “uppity.” Clark told Washington Irving in 1835 that he had freed York. However, there is no official record that Clark freed York.




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