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The Lewis and Clark Expedition
Digital History ID 168

Author:   Meriwether Lewis


To gather information about the geography, natural resources, and people of Louisiana, and to establish territorial claims to the trans-Mississippi West, 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."


Tuesday, May 14th, 1805

Some fog on the [Missouri] river this morning, which is a very rare occurrence. The country much as it was yesterday with this difference that the bottoms are somewhat wider: passed some high black bluffs. Saw immense herds of buffalo today, also elk deer wolves and antelopes.... Capt. Clark walked on shore and killed a very fine buffalo cow. I felt an inclination to eat some veal and walked on shore and killed a very fine buffalo calf and a large wolf, much the whitest I had seen, it was quite as white as the wool of the common sheep. One of the party wounded a brown bear very badly, but being alone did not think proper to pursue him. In the evening the men...discovered a large brown bear lying in the open grounds about 300 paces from the river, and six of them went out to attack him, all good hunters. They took the advantage of a small eminence which concealed them and got within 40 paces of him unperceived. Two of them reserved their fires as had been previously concerted, the four others fired nearby at the same time and put each his bullet through him, two of the balls passed through the bulk of both lobes of his lungs. In an instant this monster ran at them with open mouth. The two who had reserved their fires discharged their pieces at him as he came towards them. Both of them struck him, one only slightly and the other fortunately broke his shoulder. This however only retarded his motion for a moment. The men unable to reload their guns took to flight, the bear pursued and had very nearly overtaken them before they reached the river. Two of the party betook themselves to a canoe and the others separated and concealed themselves among the willows, reloaded their pieces, each discharged his piece at him as they had an opportunity. They struck him several times again but the guns served only to direct the bear to them. In this manner he pursued the two of them separately so close that they were obliged to throw away their guns and pouches and throw themselves into the river altho' the bank was nearly twenty feet perpendicular. So enraged was this animal that he plunged into the river only a few feet behind the second man he had compelled [to] take refuge in the water, when one of those who still remained on shore shot him through the head and finally killed him. They then took him on shore and butchered him when they found eight balls had passed through him in different directions. The bear being old the flesh was indifferent, they therefore only took the skin and fleece, the latter made us several gallons of oil.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Meriwether Lewis, 1805

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