This edited article about the United States of America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 419 published on 24 January 1970.
On 14th May, 1804, Lewis, aged 29, and Clark, aged 33, assembled their party and “hoisted Sail and Set out in high Spirits for the Western Expedition.”
The two men, old friends and army comrades, had been given leadership of the expedition by President Jefferson, for whom Lewis had earlier worked as private secretary. Even before the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson had been making preparations for such a mission, and in Lewis and Clark he picked the right men to lead it.
From the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, they made the difficult trip up the Missouri, and reached a point near what is now Bismarck, where they spent the winter among the Mandan Indians. Unlike later travellers, they befriended Indians, many of whom had never seen white men before, and they had only minor troubles with them.
Amazingly, of the 32 people who set out from the winter quarters in the spring, 1805, all returned safely. The only casualty of the whole expedition was a soldier who had died earlier of appendicitis.
It was at the winter quarters that Sacajawea, a young Shoshone Indian girl, and her French-Canadian husband, joined Lewis and Clark. An invaluable asset to the expedition, she helped to guide it, and interpreted for it when Lewis and Clark reached her Rocky Mountain homeland.
Only about 18 years of age, Sacajawea, whose name means “bird woman”, carried a baby thousands of miles on her back throughout the long trek – a fact, among others, that did not go unappreciated by later Americans. There are more statues of her than of any other American woman!
Undoubtedly, the greatest moment of the expedition was its arrival at the Pacific, when it reached the mouth of the Columbia River on 7th November, 1805. After that there followed a cold, wet winter at Fort Clatsop, which was built by the expedition before it set out again. On the way home, Lewis and Clark split up to explore the area more fully. Afterwards they rejoined each other, and arrived back near St. Louis in September, 1806, with a wealth of new knowledge, many maps and a great deal of scientific information. Sacajawea stayed in the West with her husband.
The first recorded account of North Dakota was in 1738, when the territory was visited by a French explorer. France vied with Spain for possession of the area, but, if anything, it belonged to the Indians. This was the territory of famous tribes like the Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Cree, some of whom can still be found there.
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