Lewis and Clark in Missouri
and fast flowing channel. The natural river had roaring rapids, huge eddies, islands and backwaters.
In some ways, upstream travel in keelboats and canoes would have been easier then because the force of the current varied across the wide river. Expanses of shallow water allowed a crew of wading men to pull the boats along with ropes. In fact, eddies in the river sometimes helped move boats upstream.
However, keelboats often "grounded" on those same shallows. Other hazards included sand bars that constantly shifted, banks that unexpectedly caved in, and dislodged trees. These trees often became "sawyers, " logs lodged in the mud with jagged limbs pointing downstream. They could rip holes in any passing boat.
The expedition faced a steep learning curve. Only a few days out, its boat lodged on a sand bar. When the sand shifted, the current ripped the boat loose and spun it around three times before the crew regained control. Had it rolled over and been torn apart in the current, or had its hull been splintered by a sawyer, the expedition might have ended right there.
As they ascended the lower Missouri, the crew learned how to navigate the river and depend on one another. By the time they left the borders of what would be Missouri in July 1804, this group of young, inexperienced soldiers had become an experienced, efficient and indomitable crew of rivermen.
The expedition made careful records and maps of the river and lands nearby. Lewis usually walked on shore. Clark commanded the boats. Hunters on horseback ranged inland. They all gathered and reported information. Wherever they could, the leaders climbed to high points to get a clear view up and down stream and take precise angular readings.
On one such climb near St. Albans, Lewis slipped and took a near tragic tumble. A trail on Weldon Springs Conservation Area and a high point on Engelmann Woods Natural Area are near, and perhaps in sight of the bluff where he fell. Other great overlooks include new trails to the top of the bluffs at Grand Bluffs and Diana Bend conservation areas, and a new State Historic Site at Clark's Hill, overlooking Smoky Waters Conservation Area.
Thirty of the expedition members who left St. Charles in 1803 made it to the Pacific and back. Those returning, with the exception of York, Captain Clark's slave, received both pay and a warrant