Lewis and Clark follow-up | Get out of town | The gallery
In 1803, the United States negotiated the purchase of Louisiana. We paid France $ 15 million and got a territory that roughly doubled the size of the country.
Surprisingly, the price was about five cents an acre. Thomas Jefferson was president at the time. He wasn’t sure if he was constitutionally authorized to negotiate the purchase, but the short version is a good deal, it’s a good deal, and he went ahead. The Senate finally supported him and the treaty was signed. You could make a strong case that the Louisiana Purchase took place when the United States first became a major world power. There was opposition back then – some thought we were paying for an unnecessary desert. (Interestingly, France’s setbacks in Haiti, caused by the slave revolution led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, sparked France’s willingness to sell: Napoleon needed money for his imperial designs.)
Since we now had all this land, what should we do? Jefferson decided to send several expeditions with various missions. (Zebulon Pike led one of them.) Of the various efforts, the Lewis and Clark Expedition is probably the most famous.
A brief summary of the Lewis and Clark mission: explore the Missouri River and determine if there is a waterway to the Pacific; learn about Native American trade practices and British trade routes with the Native American tribes of the Missouri River and whether Americans can support them; and create cards that will help improve trading.
There are many books and documents available on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, almost overwhelmingly. In addition, Ken Burns made a documentary a few years ago called “The Journey of the Corps of Discovery”. From 2004 to 2006, several activities were organized across the country to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the expedition. I have always been interested in seeing some of the actual locations.
A few years ago we went to Montana to Great Falls and visited some of the sights. A great visit was to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls – very informative.
This time our itinerary took us to several locations in southwestern Montana. We left the Three Forks area and took Hwy 41 through Twin Bridges to Dillon. This route takes you through Beaverhead Rock. Beaverhead Rock was important to the expedition as this is where Sacagawea recognized the rock and knew she was in the region of her tribe, the Lemhi Shoshone. (The expedition was quickly running out of river and needed horses to continue. And they had to get those horses back from the Shoshone.)
Just south of Dillon, along I-15, is another important site: the Clark Canyon Reservoir. Underwater today in the reservoir is the location of Camp Fortunate. It was called that because this is where the main body of the expedition led by Clark met Lewis and the Shoshone (Lewis and a small group had contacted them earlier towards Lemhi Pass), and where Sacagawea saw his brother. Cameahwait, a Shoshone leader. One of the most amazing and happy coincidences in American history is this reunion of Sacagawea and his brother.
Next month I’ll be talking about other aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I am amazed to this day at how they were able to figure out where they were going and how to map it. (I find this quite difficult today with all the technology and amenities.)
We were going to see one of the most difficult areas of the expedition on this trip, the Bitterroot Mountains, but fires in the area prevented the visit.
Doug McCormick is retired from the Air Force after spending 21 years as a space operator. He spent 14 years as a defense contractor with Air Force Space Command. He is now a tour guide and has started his own business, American History Tours LLC, specializing in taking people to places associated with important American history. His e-mail address is [email protected].