Meriwether Lewis and his close friend William Clark, better known as Lewis and Clark was send out by Thomas Jefferson to explore and find water routes to the Pacific. It was officially known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition. It took from May 1804 to September 1806 to complete it.
The mission at hand was the government wanted to map out and see what was actually in the Louisiana Purchase that the United States just paid for basically site unseen. A secondary reason for making the trip was to make there was not British military trying to lay claim to the lands as this was the height of the British empire.
Some believe they were also looking for new plants, herbs, trees and other things for scientific research. This was in addition to the starting trade with the Native Americans in the lands.
All of this was finished and they returned to St. Louis in the fall of 1906 to give Thomas Jefferson the maps, sketches and journals that the government needed to develop the western part of the United States.
The impact that the trip had on American history is larger than many even realize. Everything from State parks to colleges are named in their honor because of they did for the development of the United States.
Officially, the President said,
The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, & such principle stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.
What is the route of Lewis and Clark?
They started out in St. Louis, Missouri at Camp Wood and worked westward until they came just south of St. Joseph, Missouri where the crossed the river and worked north.
Being chased by the Spanish, they moved up to 80 miles a day across the Nebraska plains. They found the Great Plains to be full of elk, deer, bison, and beavers. This is interesting but William Clark wrote some less than favorable remarks about the Sioux Indians called them “the vilest of the savage race.”
In November 1805, they finally reached the Pacific and they had to make a decision. It was the first time that a woman and a minority (a slave of William Clark) was allowed a voice in a governmental decision.
On th way back, the dog of Lewis was stolen by Indians and that led the leadership, namely Lewis & Clark to warn the Chiefs that if this happened again, the army would destroy the tribesmen. It never happened again.
Shortly after that, they got into an army conflict with the Blackfeet tribe and had to fled over 100 miles the next day. This was one of the few actual conflicts they had on the Corps of Discovery Expedition.
For Lewis, things got a little more rough. He was shot by another American soldier that mistaked him for a elk. It was quite the rough trip back to St. Louis for him personally.
Later impact on American history
Much of the tone concerning Native Americans is based on the relations that Lewis & Clark experienced. Those who they had trouble with were treated very differently for the next two generations than the ones that were friendly and helpful. The maps of location of tribes was used heavily in the Indian-American war.
However, the main impact was in the universities in America. They bought back information about plants and animals that would change the research in the schools for several generations. Thomas Jefferson even started grow some Indian corn himself. The complete impact it had on farming in the United States is much more than we know.
There was some desire to know more about the minerals that they found. Even back then, there was interest in minerals. America was a growing nation and that meant there was needs for energy. This was the first experience that would lead to more research and ultimate a gold rush for California.
The interesting legacy of Lewis & Clark is that hardly anyone had heard of them until 1950. The first 150 years since their trip, it was largely forgotten by society. In fact, most of what the congressional hearing was about had to do more with budgets than the actual information gathered.