Lewis and Clark in Missouri

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Lewis and Clark moved through what would become the state of Missouri in about 10 weeks, but this area was both a launching point and an important testing ground for the rugged explorers that comprised the Corps of Discovery. They learned lessons here that helped prepare them for their expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back.

As early as 1792, Thomas Jefferson dreamed of sending an expedition up the Missouri River and on to the Pacific ocean. He knew how important it was to explore the western frontier of our young, developing nation. He believed that resources in the west could fuel growth and help secure peace for the entire country.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 accelerated plans to send a group of explorers into the region west of the Mississippi River. Jefferson directed his personal secretary Meriwether Lewis and Lewis's friend, William Clark to lead an expedition to the lands west of the Mississippi River.

Jefferson wrote more than 2, 000 words of instructions to Lewis before the Corps of Discovery departed. The full text of his instructions is available at <lewisandclarktrail. com/legacy/letter. htm>, but instructions began:

"The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it's course & communication with the water of the Pacific ocean may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce. "

The expedition members wintered at Camp Dubois on the east bank of the Mississippi River during the winter of 1803-04. They departed on their epic voyage up the Missouri River on May 14, 1804.

Historians typically focus on Corps of Discovery events that occurred west of Missouri. In doing so, they omit some good stories and key events. The trials the expedition faced in Missouri had the potential to abort the entire mission. Instead, they laid the foundations of caution, determination and teamwork that allowed the expedition to proceed toward a successful conclusion.

Lewis, for example, nearly fell to his death only a few miles from St. Charles. Had he not survived, the mission likely would have been scrapped. More than once, the expedition's keelboat narrowly escaped destruction. While in Missouri, the crew also had to resolve disciplinary problems and learn to work as a team. Here they also met Indian bands and traders of mixed nationality, constantly gathering critical information about what lay ahead.

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