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The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Extracts from the Journals of William Clark
Digital History ID 1128

Author:   Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Annotation: To gather information about the geography, natural resources, and people of Louisiana, and to establish territorial claims to the trans-Mississippi West, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched an expedition, led by his private secretary, Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809), and William Clark (1770-1838), a Virginia-born military officer.

Lewis and Clark led some 30 soldiers and ten civilians on one of history's great adventures. The Lewis and Clark expedition has been likened to the first trip to the moon, except that unlike the astronauts, Lewis and Clark were out of contact with their countrymen for two years. With the assistance of Sacagawea (1787?-1812), a Shoshoni Indian, who served as an interpreter, and Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trapper, the expedition travelled up the Missouri River to the Rockies and then on to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition helped establish American claims to the Pacific Northwest and encouraged an expansionist spirit that later became known as "Manifest Destiny."

Document: 13 May 1804

I dispatched an express this morning to Captain Lewis at St. Louis. All our provisions, goods, and equipage on board of a boat of 22 oars, a large pirogue of 71 oars, a second pirogue of 6 oars, complete with sails, &c. Men completed with powder cartridges and 100 balls each, all in health and readiness to set out. Boats and everything complete, with the necessary stores of provisions and such articles of merchandise as we thought ourselves authorized to procure-though not as much as I think necessary for the multitude of Indians through which we must pass on our road across the continent.

25 September 1804

Invited those chiefs on board to show them our boat, and such curiosities as were strange to them. We gave them 1/4 glass of whiskey, which they appeared to be very fond of; sucked the bottle after it was out and soon began to be troublesome' one, the second chief, assuming drunkenness as a cloak for his rascally intentions. I went with those chiefs, in one of the pirogues with 5 men-3 and 2 Indians (which left the boat with great reluctance)-to shore, with a view of reconciling those men to us.

As soon as I landed the pirogue, three of their young men seized the cable of the pirogue. The chiefs' soldier hugged the mast, and the 2nd chief was very insolent, both in words and gestures, declaring I should not go on, stating he had not received presents sufficient from us. His gestures were of such a personal nature, I felt myself compelled to draw my sword, and made a signal to the boat to prepare for action. At this motion Captain Lewis ordered all under arms in the boat. Those with me also showed a disposition to defend themselves and me. The grand chief then took hold of the rope and ordered the young warriors away.

We proceeded on about one mile, and anchored out off a willow island. Placed a guard on shore to protect the cooks and a guard in the boat. Fastened the pirogues to the boat. I called this island Bad Humored Island, as we were in a bad humor.

28 July 1805

Our present camp is precisely on the spot that the Snake Indians were encamped at the time the Minnetarees of the Knife River first came in sight of them five years since. From hence they retreated about three miles up Jefferson's River and concealed themselves in the woods. The Minnetarees pursued, attacked them, killed four men, four women, a number of boys, and made prisoners of all the females and four boys. Sacagawea, our Indian woman, was one of the female prisoners taken at that time, though I cannot discover that she shows any emotion of sorrow in recollecting this event, or of joy in being again restored to her native country. If she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear, I believe she would be perfectly content anywhere.

11 August 1806

…I was in the act of firing on the elk a second time when a ball struck my left thigh about an inch below my hip joint. Missing the bone, it passed through the left thigh and cut the thickness of the bullet across the hinder part of the right thigh. The stroke was very severe. I instantly supposed that Cruzat had shot me in mistake for an elk, as I was dressed in brown leather and he cannot see very well. Under this impression I called out to him, "Damn you, you have shot me," and looked toward the place from whence the ball had come. Seeing nothing, I called Cruzat several times as loud as I could, but received no answer.

I was now persuaded that it was an Indian that had shot me, as the report of the gun did not appear to be more than 40 paces from me and Cruzat appeared to be out of hearing of me. In this situation, not knowing how many Indians there might be concealed in the bushes, I thought it best to make good my retreat to the pirogue, calling out as I ran for the first hundred paces as loud as I could to Cruzat to retreat, that there were Indians, hoping to alarm him in time to make his escape also. I still retained the charge in my gun which I was about to discharge at the moment the ball struck me …

In this state of anxiety and suspense I remained about 20 minutes, when the party returned with Cruzat and reported that there were no Indians nor the appearance of any. Cruzat seemed much alarmed, and declared if he had shot me it was not his intention, that he had shot an elk in the willows after he left or separated from me. I asked him whether he did not hear me when I called to him so frequently, which he absolutely denied. I do not believe that the fellow did it intentionally but after finding that he had shot me, was anxious to conceal his knowledge of having done so.

Captain Clark, 17 September 1806

At 11 A.M., we met a Captain McClallan, late a Captain of Artillery of the U. States Army, ascending in a large boat. This gentleman, an acquaintance of my friend Captain Lewis, was somewhat astonished to see us return and appeared rejoiced to meet us. We found him a man of information and from him we received a partial account of the political state of our country. We were making inquiries and exchanging answers, &c., until near midnight.

This gentleman informed us that we had been long since given up by the people of the U.S. generally, and almost forgotten. The President of the U. States had yet hopes of us. We received some civilities of Captain McClallan. He gave us some biscuit, chocolate, sugar, and whiskey, for which our party were in want, and for which we made a return of a barrel of corn and much obliged to him.

Source: PBS film, Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery

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