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Mapping the West: The Journey of Lewis and Clark

Mapping the West: The Journey of Lewis and Clark


By Michael Stahl

TheUnitedStatesofAmericaisoneofthelargestcountriesontheplanet.Fortyeightofthe
fiftystatesarelocatedinwhatisknownasthecontinentalsectionofthenationbecause
theyareallincludedwithinonelandmassandshareborders.Theothertwostates,Alaska
andHawaii,arepartoftheU.S.,butseparatedfromthecontinentalpart.Americasstates
stretchfromtheAtlanticOceantothePacificOcean,andevenbeyond.Thatwasnotalways
thecase,though.First,thereweretheThirteenColoniesthatEnglandruled.Afterthe
RevolutionaryWar,theU.S.wonitsindependencefromEnglandandbecameitsownsmall
country.ItoccupiedalmosttheentireeasternseaboardnexttotheAtlanticOcean.France
andSpainownedmostofthewesternpartofthelandthatwouldeventuallybecometherest
ofthecontinentalU.S.,though.Thatchangedin1803whenthePresidentoftheUnitedStates
atthattime,ThomasJefferson,boughtalargechunkoflandfromFrancesruler,Napoleon
Bonaparte,inwhatwascalledTheLouisianaPurchase.However,Americansknewverylittle
aboutthelandthatwaswestoftheMississippiatthetime.Therefore,Jeffersonaskedtwo
mentoleadanexplorationofthatarea.TheirnameswereMeriwetherLewisandWilliam
Clark.

JeffersonfeltthatAmericansneededtoexploretheirnewterritoryforafewreasons.First,
andmostimportantly,hewantedLewisandClarktofindawaterroutetothePacificOcean

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Mapping the West: The Journey of Lewis and Clark
fromtheMississippiRiver.JeffersonknewthatifAmericanscouldtravelbyriveralltheway
westtotheocean,theycouldsettlethereandincreasetradewithNativeAmericans.Second,
Jeffersonwantedtoclaimthenorthwesternportionofthecontinentsmidsectionbefore
anothercountrydid.Lastly,hethoughtthatknowledgeoftheareasgeographywouldbe
neededforalloftheothergoalstocometrue.Jeffersonknewthatwhomeverhechosefor
theexplorationwouldbeinforadangeroustrip.Infact,he,alongwithmanyothers,figured
thatthewestwashometogiganticvolcanoes,hugewoolymammothanimals,andamountain
madeofpuresalt.

JeffersonchoseagroupofmennamedTheCorpsofDiscoveryandnamedLewis,acaptainin
theU.S.military,itsleaderbecausehewasanexpertinsurvivinginthewildernessandwas
familiarwiththelifestylesofNativeAmericans.LewiswouldchooseClark,hisoldfriend,ashis
secondincommand.

InMayof1804,LewisandClarkandtheirCorpsofDiscoverybegantheirjourneyonthe
MissouriRiver,leavingSt.Louisandsailingnorthwest.Lewismainjob,besidesleadingthe
men,wastomakemapsandchartsofthegeographyoftheunknownland.Clarkwasusually
seenstudyingrocks,plants,andanimalsalongtheroute.

Asthetripcontinued,oneoftheirmenbecameillanddied.Theyalsohadtodotheirbestto
findfoodandstayhealthyduringthewintermonths.ManyNativeAmericantribesdisliked
theAmericans,andLewisandClarkwereheadeddeeperanddeeperintotheirland.Lewis
andClarkwereworriedtherewouldbebattleswiththeNativeAmericans.

LewisandClarkwouldeventuallyreachthePacificOceanaftertravelingthroughseveralrivers,
includingtheClearwater,Snake,andColumbiaRivers.However,theydidnotdiscoverone
directwaterroutethatcouldleadboatsstraighttothePacificfromtheMississippi.

Still,thetripwasanincrediblesuccess.TheyhaddiscoveredtheRockyMountains,which
werenotvolcanoesnormadeofsalt.Clarkandhiscrewhadlearnedaboutovertwohundred
plantsandanimalsthatwerenewtotheAmericans,thoughtheydidnotseeanywooly
mammoths.LewisandClarkwerethefirsttotradewithdozensanddozensofNative
AmericantribesthathadnevermettheAmericansbefore.Finally,Lewisandhismendrew
about140ofthefirstmapsofmostofthewesternUnitedStates.Ithasbeensaidthatthe
mapsprovidedafillinofwhatwasmostlyageneraloutlineofthearea.Therefore,Lewisand
ClarkmadeitmuchmorepossiblefortheUnitedStatestostretchallthewayfromseato
shiningsea.

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