We know what we’ve read in history books. The issue with historical accounts is that they tend to ‘deify’ people, make them seem heroic to a point that’s almost unrealistic. Every so often, a historian comes out with a different account of what happened, and the public is fascinated by this because it really humanizes the people, and makes it more relatable.
We’ve found this to be true of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Of course, they’ve served a monumental role in the Pacific US’s development, but we wanted to share some things about their journey that have been less talked about.
How They Met
Meriwether Lewis was 21 years old when he drunkenly crashed a party of military officers. He was thrown out, and then challenged Lieutenant Elliott, the host, to a duel. Lewis was arrested and court-martialed, later to be “acquitted with honor”.
Lewis was then transferred to a different company, which was led by Captain William Clark. Well, the rest is history…
Thomas Jefferson’s Paranoia
We all know the purpose of this expedition was to find a water route that connected the Mississippi River with the Pacific Ocean. What lied between those two bodies of water was anybody’s guess.
The land was completely uncharted, so Jefferson had to prepare his explorers for the worst. Jefferson believed they would encounter woolly mammoths, mountains made of salt, giant ground sloths and Welsh-speaking Indians.
Lewis and Clark Came Locked and Loaded
It’s no surprise that, since they expected to see woolly mammoths, Lewis and Clark brought a lot of stuff to protect them.
The contents of that arsenal are less known, though. Along with knives, pikes and tomahawks, they also brought 200 pounds of gunpowder and over 400 pounds of lead for bullets. Lewis also brought a state-of-the-art rifle, which he showed off to the Indian tribes they encountered.
Fortunately, these weapons were hardly used, save for one skirmish on the return journey (only one person died on the whole expedition – allegedly a “burst appendix” from Sergeant Charles Floyd).
Sacagawea’s Poignant Family Reunion
Sacagawea was kidnapped when she was 12 years old, and later sold to a French-Canadian fur trader named Touissant Charbonneau (who also became her husband). Years later, she met Lewis and Clark and, as history says, was a valuable asset for their expedition.
But what some people may not know is the family reunion that happened along the way.
The expedition encountered a tribe of Shoshone Indians in 1805. When the tribe’s chief emerged, Sacagawea discovered it was her long lost brother! This facilitated peaceful relations between the parties, and led to the Expedition obtaining some horses for the rest of the trip.
Sleepless Nights in the Woods
You’d imagine that, while camping in uncharted territory of the U.S., it might be difficult to get a good night’s sleep every now and then.
Such is recorded from Lewis and Clark’s journals, as published in University of Nebraska’s online library. Some of the excerpts are quite fascinating: the slapping of beaver tails at the Yellowstone River keeping men awake, or sleepless nights on the Missouri River caused by buzzing mosquitoes, or a buffalo bull stampeding their camp and equipment.
One of our favorites was when the men ate too much salmon and camas in Idaho. Clark journaled that the food “filled us so full of wind, that we were scarcely able to Breathe all night”. What a night!
The Lewis and Clark Expedition is filled with riveting details. They are the stars of the Pacific Northwest, and a focal point of many historical tours and treks.
Our Columbia River cruises are a great way to continue learning about their journey, and especially to travel across the same sites and trails that they took. Book your Columbia River cruise now, and cruise your way through history!