Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address in 1801 described his vision
of a rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, advancing
rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of a mortal eye. Jefferson
dispatched US Army officers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to
find the most direct and practicable water communication across
the continent for the purpose of commerce even before completion
of the Louisiana Purchase.
Under the command of Lewis
and Clark, the Corps of Volunteers for Northwestern Discovery
set off from Camp Wood River, Illinois, on May 14, 1804, after
extensive training and preparations throughout 1803. Journals
written along the way tell a riveting story. The expedition remains
the epic American odyssey, a pivotal event in the history of this
land. Struggling upriver, against the current of the mighty, untamed
Missouri, the expedition reached the Indian trading center at
Knife River and built Fort Mandan in time to spend the winter
of 1804 with the native people from whom they learned much about
the terra incognita to the west. In the spring of 1805, the party,
now including Sacagawea, a teenage Indian woman; her husband /
interpreter Touissant Charbonneau; their 2-month old son, Jean-Baptiste
and Lewis' Newfoundland dog, Seaman left for the Western lands.
As the year 1805 progressed,
the small band of voyagers stood astride the headwaters of the
Missouri and crossed the Continental Divide. They survived grizzly
bears, river portages, near starvation and the wild white-water
of the Snake and Columbia rivers. Seven hard months after leaving
Fort Mandan, they took their final steps and reached the wet and
stormy Pacific Ocean.
The expedition wintered in
Oregon, outside of present day Astoria. They called their winter
quarters Fort Clatsop
after the native tribe who befriended them and helped them through
the rough winter of 1805 - 1806.