June 2, 2017
Even after America won her independence from King George III, England, France and Spain desired to gain control of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon Territory in the Americas. Yet so did President Thomas Jefferson. A few non-native explorers traveled the wild, untamed western lands, but one had yet to lay claim to them. Jefferson was determined to change that.
Jefferson understood the importance of building strong relationships with the natives. (see and ) Several countries had already benefited from their help in the French and Indian War as well as the Revolutionary War. Britain was already enticing northern tribes to support their cause as well as trade only with them. For national and economic security, Jefferson began work to form alliances with the Indians. (see and ) Yet, he was very clear about not coercing or taking the land from the Native Americans. As far as he was concerned, the land was theirs as long as they wanted it. However, if Indian Nations purchased American goods on credit and used the land to cover their debt, he would not prevent the transaction.
Regardless of who owned the land, exploratory and discovery credit would hold a lot of weight when disputes inevitably arose with the European countries. As a result, Jefferson requested funds from Congress in January 1803 for an expedition. His purpose included improving trade relations, which involved finding a water route to the Pacific, as well as scientific research. During this time, France's Napoleon Bonaparte offered their claim of the Louisiana Territory to the United States for pennies an acre. Jefferson accepted the deal, doubling America's territory. (see ) The expedition was approved.
Jefferson chose Captain Meriwether Lewis to conduct the expedition, sending him to Philadelphia for instruction in the sciences. Lewis received medical training from Benjamin Rush (see ) and navigational guidance from Andrew Ellicott, as well as education in other disciplines. Jefferson not only wanted Lewis to gather information about the native people, but also collect samples of plants and animals indigenous to the west along with mapping the territory.
Lewis selected friend and former military superior, Lieutenant William Clark, as his co-commander. Lewis wished for Clark to share command of the unit, yet the U.S. secretary of war denied Lewis' request. Despite that, the two men addressed each other as "captain" during the entire journey, leading the crew to believe they were on equal footing.
Lewis and Clark first met up around Louisville, Kentucky, near the Falls of the Ohio in October 1803. Here they enlisted their first nine men for their journey. They then traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where the full 33-man "Corps of Discovery" set out in May of 1804. Travels were difficult for the crew, who experienced severe weather, dangerous waters, hunger, injuries, illness, and fatigue. As they approached their first winter, they came upon a tribe of Mandans and set up camp close by. These natives helped supply the expedition throughout their first winter, potentially saving their lives and the expedition. Around this same time, the group welcomed French-Canadian fur trapper Touissant Charbonneau and his Shoshone Indian wife, Sacagawea into the corps. Charbonneau and Sacagawea secured horses for the men as well as becoming their interpreters for the voyage. In February, before packing up camp and resuming their travels, Sacagawea gave birth to a son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Recent history has begun to highlight Sacagawea as the primary guide for Lewis and Clark. Though she was important, her husband was just as vital to the expedition’s success.
Per Jefferson's direction, Lewis gathered plant and animal samples, keeping a detailed journal of his collection. In addition, Lewis encountered multiple native tribes, most of whom were gracious, friendly and helpful, providing food, supplies, shelter, geographic knowledge, and directions. Important trade relations were established, as well as primarily peaceful exchanges. However, there were a few confrontations with particular tribes that ended without incident.
As was their custom, the Indians presented Lewis and Clark with gifts, which were then sent to Jefferson. Knowing the importance of gifts to the natives, Jefferson made sure the explorers had plenty of appropriate gifts to reciprocate to the Indians. He also accepted the natives' gifts with respect and national esteem.
On June 2, 1805, the group came to a fork in the Missouri River. Discussions ensued as to whether the principle stream was the north or south fork. Exploratory teams were sent out, but both came back without conclusive evidence either way. The captains needed to make a choice. If they chose poorly, it could cost precious time and supplies. While Lewis and Clark favored the southern fork, the rest of the group believed the northern fork was the main stream. Following their instincts, the captains overruled, and proved to be right. After two weeks, they arrived at Great Falls in modern day Montana. Harsh weather and rough terrain slowed the expedition, yet they finally spotted the Pacific on November 7th.
It took the group two more weeks to actually reach the ocean. As winter was quickly approaching, the group needed to decide their plans for camping for the winter. In pure democratic fashion, they took a vote on November 24th. In fact, Sacagawea and Clark's slave, York, were allowed to cast votes. This is the first known instance that a woman and a slave were able to vote in America. The group elected to stay on the southern side of the Columbia River for the winter near current day Astoria, Oregon.
Once the winter ended, the Corps of Discovery set out to return home. Once they crossed the Continental Divide, Lewis wanted to explore the northern fork at the Missouri River, which he named Maria's River. They split into two groups with Clark working his way along the Yellowstone River.
The group reunited and entered St. Louis on September 23, 1806, to an impressive reception. In total, the crew traveled 8,000 miles by a combination of horseback, boat and foot. The men documented over 200 new plants and animal species, as well as opening relations with more than 70 Indian tribes. The expedition also produced approximately 140 maps, documenting an extremely accurate geography of the Northwest area.
As Lewis and Clark worked their way closer to Washington D.C., Jefferson invited them to Monticello. Understanding the gifts from the natives were diplomatic ones, Jefferson wrote Lewis, "Perhaps while in our neighborhood, it may be gratifying to him [Sheheke], & not otherwise to yourself to take a ride to Monticello and see in what manner I have arranged the tokens of friendship I have received from his country particularly as well as from other Indian friends: that I am in fact preparing a kind of Indian hall."
For the men's efforts, Congress granted each of them double pay as well as 320 acres of public land, with Lewis and Clark each receiving 1,600 acres. In addition, Jefferson assigned Lewis governor over the Upper Louisiana Territory, while Clark became an Indian agent. In the end, Jefferson's original $2,5000 expeditionary budget swelled to a final cost of $38,000.
Though there were times where the white man treated the Native Americans horribly, which we cannot deny (see , , and ), it is also not right to disregard America's history of friendship, peaceful relations and respect between the natives and the settlers (see , , and ). They desired to trade with the whites as much as the whites wanted to trade with them. The Indians also sold their land to the white man, most of which they themselves obtained by fighting and defeating other native tribes. (see ) Afterwards, many Indians blended into Western culture, purchasing homes, establishing farms and owning slaves.
Liberty, it is interesting how many want to completely destroy America for their treatment of Native Americans while demanding we behave more like Europe. These “progressives”, knowingly or ignorantly, ignore the European progress, which initially settled America. Furthermore, even after the United States became her own nation, the European countries still pushed to overtake native lands in the West. If Jefferson had not stepped in, the Indians would have still most likely lost their land to more advanced societies, however they would be speaking French or Spanish or living under British rule. In fact, the British used the Indians to fight against American expansion during the War of 1812. (see ) Pretty bold for the country who repeatedly encroached on tribal territory in the East.
Lewis and Clark, along with all the men involved in the Corps of Discovery, should be commended and respected for their two and a half year journey. They braved unknown territory, without any modern-day conveniences, gathering important samples for study and education, and producing extremely detailed maps for the day. They also established vitally important relationships with the natives, which promoted peace.
This is why it is so important to study and understand all history, Liberty. We should applaud the good, and learn from the bad so as not to repeat our mistakes. In fact, the Bible is purposely full of the errors committed by the Israelites, kings, prophets, disciples and even early Christians. They guide us on what we should do, and warn us on how easy it is to fall short. In addition, we can find comfort that even the most righteous believers in the Lord were not perfect, but were still blessed with the salvation given in the blood of Jesus Christ.
That’s my 2 cents.