Lewis and Clark in Missouri

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

for land. Many chose Missouri land--first choice among many wondrous lands seen. Lewis became Governor of the Missouri Territory, but he died a couple years later. Clark became territorial governor and ran, unsuccessfully, in Missouri's first gubernatorial election. He was a key frontier figure in U. S. relations with Indians for more than three decades.

Revisiting the Missouri River

The bicentennial celebration of the Corps of Discovery offers a good reason to experience the river that Lewis and Clark traveled. Many communities along the river have comfortable riverfront parks where, after a few minutes relaxing on a bench, visitors can almost envision a keelboat appearing on misty water.

Many conservation areas preserve wetlands, oxbow lakes and bottomland forests that were common in 1804. Some features Lewis and Clark saw are hard to find. For example, the bottomland forests of today are much smaller and fragmented. Weston Bend State Park offers a striking overlook of an oldgrowth forest, which is preserved on Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Oxbow lakes were common havens for waterfowl, wading and migratory birds as well as other wildlife. This same rich diversity can be found today at oxbows in Grand Pass, Cooley Lake and Little Bean Marsh conservation areas, or in Lewis and Clark State Park.

Almost all of Missouri's native prairies have been cultivated for many years, making prairie vistas described by the journals hard to find. The Conservation Department's Star School Hill Prairie, near Rockport, is one of several conservation areas where a visitor can see and begin to appreciate prairies like William Clark described. Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge also contains rich prairie land.

Traveling the river by boat will allow you to fully appreciate both the beauty and the hazards faced by the expedition. Motorboats make river travel easier, but the Missouri River still requires a healthy respect for safety. About 40 Conservation Department accesses to the Missouri, along with community owned and private ramps, provide many good options for launching boats on the river.

River sandbars are especially good places to explore. The river is constantly rearranging and uncovering materials and artifacts as it flows along. You might find a fossil from Montana, a fragment of a steamboat wreck, a bone from an Ice Age mammal, tools used by early native Americans, or at least some sense of wonder experienced by the expedition itself.

It's never far from a ramp to a quiet wilderness. Expect to be pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty of the river, its great fishing opportunities and the variety of wildlife viewing it offers.

York remained several years in St. Louis before he left as a free man. George Shannon, who is buried in Palmyra, was the youngest soldier in the group and later became an attorney and Missouri State Senator. John Colter had many adventures out west, including making the first report of today's Yellowstone National Park. He later settled in Franklin County, where he was buried and some of his descendants live today.

After leaving Missouri in 1804, Lewis and Clark wintered in North Dakota. There, they added Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea and their newborn son, Jean Baptiste, to the Corps of Discovery. She carried the baby to the Pacific and back. When he was older, his parents brought Jean Baptiste to Missouri to be educated. He later guided many important expeditions to the far west.

The Corps of Discovery was the first, but not the only, important expedition to explore Missouri. In 1806, while Lewis and Clark were still returning through the Rocky Mountains, Zebulon Pike went up the Osage River, exploring what is now western Missouri, on his way to Colorado. In 1818, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft explored the interior of the Ozarks. All these expeditions kept records and provided additional important information about our state and its natural resources.

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