The American history is full of several significant expeditions, discoveries, and marvels. The expedition team headed by the U.S. army soldiers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, represents one of the most famous events in the country’s great history. Throughout their mission, which started in 1804 and ended in 1806, the team encountered several difficulties, came across new and intriguing cultures, and observed some of the most unbelievable land that God created.
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In 1803, when the U. S. bought the Louisiana territory from France, it did not have a clear-cut knowledge of what it was purchasing, and France was not sure of the precise area of land it was selling. Therefore, after this acquisition of new land, interest was ignited on the possibility of further extension westward.
Not so many weeks after the purchase, President Thomas Jefferson, initiated an exploration of the newly acquired land. Jefferson selected his personal assistant, Meriwether Lewis, to lead the exploration past the “great rock mountains” in the West. Lewis chose William Clark to aid him in the exploration. Jointly, the two men gathered a varied military Corps of Discovery to carry out the mission of fulfilling the wishes of the president.
President Jefferson outlined the objectives of the Lewis and Clark expedition in a letter dated June 20, 1983. The president anticipated that the mission could discover a water route connecting Columbia and Missouri rivers. This water route could then link the inaccessible Pacific Ocean with the Mississippi River. Therefore, this would increase trade opportunities within the American continent because of the improved water communication.
The explorers were also instructed to study the Northwest’s natural resources, occupants, and possibilities of expanding the territory of the U.S. up to the new area. Another objective of the journey was to assess the extent of encroachment of the British traders and Sioux hunters in the area. Lastly, and not to be ignored, the president had a vision of the future of the U.S. He held that correct information about the Native Americans was important in building a peaceful environment for the existence of both peoples.
Ronda notes, “From the beginning, Jefferson sought to fashion an expedition capable of gathering valuable information about western Indians while living at peace with them” (1). Thus, he instructed the explorers to study almost every aspect of the Indian life, such as their languages, traditions, livelihoods, illnesses, and behaviors.
Even though the exploration was not the first in the area, the voyagers failed to attain their most important goal of discovering a water link passing across the continent. However, the importance of the mission can be measured in some other ways. First, one of the great contributions of the journey was in the area of geography and mapping (Ronda, 225).
Americans now had an improved perception of the geography of the Northwest area. During the voyage, the explorers produced about one hundred and forty accurate maps of the northwestern United States. Prior to the journey, the majority of the Americans were not conversant with the size and the extent Rocky Mountains since they perceived that it could take a person one day’s journey to cross it.
Conversely, the expedition discovered that it is not the perceived one-day’s journey, but an eleven-day ordeal. They also said in their report to President Jefferson that an easy water link across the continent was not present. Second, the expedition brought a lot of knew information concerning the natural resources that were existing in the Northwestern America.
During the two-year voyage, Lewis and Clark documented different species of animals and plants, landscapes, rivers, and native cultures, which had never been done before. Their scientific journey was very essential, particularly during the Age of Enlightenment since the new information they obtained sparked the nation’s interest in the west and reinforced its claim for the region.
Another accomplishment of the journey was that it founded cordial associations with most of the Native American Indians, without which the mission could not have been a success. The Indians played a role in the “cooperative endeavor”; otherwise, the expedition could have starved to death or desperately disappeared in the strange land. The success of Lewis and Clark is particularly indebted to a Shoshone woman called Sacagawea (Ronda, 116).
Sacagawea and her spouse, called Toussaint Charbonneau, offered guide services to the expedition after meeting the team during the winter they spent at Fort Mandan. During this time, Sacagawea had an infant baby boy whose sight reassured the Indians that the voyagers did not have any warlike intentions.
The couple was hired as interpreters because they comprehended the sign language of the Indians. The majority of the meetings between the explorers and the at least fifty-five tribes they encountered did not have any problems since they helped the Indians to understand that the explorers were good people who came to establish commercial ties with them.
All through the period of their expedition, the explorers met several different tribes and each one treated them in various ways. Some were hospitable enough to give them something to eat while others gave them useful information concerning the places they were yet to go to.
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For example, when the team arrived in Chinook on October 26, 1805, the villagers offered them gifts of food and the Corps reacted by giving them medals and trinkets. However, in some instances, the expedition was stolen from and was offered too high prices for necessities such as food.
For instance, during their initial meeting with the Teton Sioux, such conflicts between them caused the expedition to leave sooner than expected. No one in the team could speak Sioux hence caused the conflicts between the two groups. In addition, the locals regarded them as competitors for trade in the region. Throughout the journey, Lewis and Clark recognized that every tribe of the Indians was unique and behaved differently in the “cooperative endeavor.”
The explorers arrived in the present-day Washburn, North Dakota in October 1804 and stayed there until the winter was over. The men in the expedition constructed a log fort, made of cottonwood trees, which they named Fort Mandan, since they found the Mandan Indians to be very welcoming.
For the next five months, Lewis and Clark concentrated their activities at this fort until the end of winter. During this time, the explorers were getting ready to head west to the Pacific Ocean. They also interviewed many Indians who had gone to the west and sketched maps.
This initiative was very essential for the next leg of their voyage. The expedition quickly recruited the wife of Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea, as a guide and interpreter as described in the earlier section of this paper. Since Lewis and Clark wanted the assistance of the Shoshone tribes who lived at the headwaters of the Missouri River, she became very instrumental for the success of the mission. Lewis and Clark remained at this place up to April 1805 when they headed towards the west along Missouri River.
Fort Clatsop, named after the local Clatsop tribe of Indians, served as the place of stay for the explorers during the winter of December 1805 to March 1806. The expedition was mainly miserable throughout the damp cold winter spent there. At Fort Clatsop, the dealings of the visitors with the local Clatsop tribe were not very social. They were mainly restricted to small-scale trading. However, this is different from the previous winter they had spent at Fort Mandan.
This difference can arise because the fort was only opened for twenty-four days during the whole winter period because of unfavorable weather conditions. In addition, the limited interaction between the two groups may also have been because the locals had prior experience dealing with other European traders and explorers who had visited the area earlier; therefore, they were shrewd at valuing the mission’s “Indian trinkets.”
In conclusion, Ronda’s thesis in this edition is to “write a narrative history informed by a reinvigorated Indian history and a renewed western history” (Ronda, p.xii). Therefore, he centered on exploration history with its journey structure and the outstanding adventures of Lewis and Clark in establishing diplomatic ties with the Native Americans.
The book carefully tells the story of and draws useful conclusions concerning the meetings of the Corps of Discovery with the Native Americans and their future relations with the rest of the United States.
Ronda, James, P. Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. Print.