In 1803 the United States bought a heap of land from France about the size of Denmark that the President decided to call the Louisiana Purchase. Being an inquisitive sort of fellow, Thomas Jefferson decided to send a scouting party to see what they could find in the way of fertile farmlands, perennial water and perhaps an ounce or two of gold.

The squad included a bunch of scientists, some soldiers and a few servants to do the washing up, and was commanded by army captain Meriwether Lewis and his ahem ‘very, very close friend’ second lieutenant William Clark, so you know how the trail got its name. Meriwether Lewis remained a happy bachelor, while William Clark married later and had five kids so you got it wrong.

Two years venturing

Two years venturing into unknown territory.
History Banter

Their journey began at St Louis, Missouri in May, 1804, and ended in December 1805 in what is now Portland, Oregon. After they built a fort they hunted and fished and chatted up the locals, before returning to the point they started at in time for Christmas 1806.

America’s always looking for an excuse for another national park, and Lewis and Clark provided a natural one. So now we have a 3,000 mile hikin’, shootin’, bikin’, fishin’ and campin’ trail that stretches all the way from Wood River, Illinois to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. There’s a cute visitor center at trail headquarters in Omega, Nebraska, where you can learn more about sites along the trail and see fascinating exhibits.

Lewis and Clark’s two-year journey into the unknown and back was not without a spot of drama. Their pioneer tent-wagon loaded with 3,000 lbs of kit only made it as far as the Ohio River, where they had to spend the summer of 1803 figuring out how to build a keelboat good for 981 miles complete with mounted cannon. They felt so good about their progress that they fired the weapon on Independence Day, 1804. This may have been an incentive for Missouri Indians to accept their peace medals, although there’s no mention of a pipe. That may have been because they had already run out of bourbon.

The wilderness, now a national park

The wilderness, now a national park.
 RoadRunner

Their next hassle was a series of mighty waterfalls they had to carry their boat around, and that took thirty days. Later on, they ran out of water and climbed the continental divide where they bought twenty-nine horses and one mule from the Shoshones tribe in August 1805. After passing through rugged mountains and three weeks of ferocious storms, they finally ran out tobacco just as they reached their turning point in March 1806. That’s disgusting! You mean our god-fearing ancestors smoked? The return journey only took six months, but then they knew their way back and didn’t have to stop for smoke breaks.

So what exactly did Jefferson get for the $2,500 he extracted from Congress to fund the expedition? It failed to find a navigable river through the continental divide which was a fat hope in any case. However it did find some deep waterfalls and high craggy mountains. This provided the U.S. National Park Service with an excuse to build a great outdoor recreation area, although I doubt Lewis and Clark ever had this in mind.