PREPARING FOR THE JOURNEY
An uninformed Spaniard. A company of picked men. Some curious supplies. The journal of the expedition.
On July 5, 1803, Captain Lewis left Washington for Pittsburg. With Captain Clark he gathered stores and recruited his men from the military stations along the Ohio River. All this took time. It was not until December that they reached St. Louis. They intended to pass the winter at La Charrette, the uppermost settlement on the Missouri. But this was still held by the Spaniards. Although Louisiana by this time had passed from Spain to France and from France to the United States, the Spanish commandant had not yet been officially notified. At that day, when railroads were unknown, it required a month and a half for letters from eastern cities to reach St. Louis. The commandant refused to allow this armed force to enter Spanish territory. Lewis and Clark therefore recrossed the Mississippi to the eastern or American side, and passed the winter of 1803ó1804 at the mouth of Wood River, a little above St. Louis. While they are waiting there we may inspect their force and their equipment for the great journey which lay before them.
Picked men were needed for such perilous work. They were chosen wisely with a view to their special fitness for the task. There were fourteen soldiers selected from a large number who had volunteered from the regular army. There were nine young frontiersmen from Kentucky, men who had used the rifle from boyhood in hunting and in Indian warfare There were two French canoemen, or voyageurs, one of whom could speak many Indian languages, while the other was a skilled hunter. These men were all enrolled as privates in the army, and with a negro servant of Captain Clark they made up the force. Three of the men were appointed sergeants. In addition, a corporal and six soldiers with nine boatmen were sent to accompany the expedition until they should reach the Mandan Indians, who dwelt near the present site of Bismarck, North Dakota. It was a small force, but a large company would have had difficulties over supplies, and would have excited the suspicions and hostility of the Indians.
The first necessities were food, clothing, tools, the flintlock rifles of the time, and a supply of powder, ball, and flints. But it was necessary also to provide for the Indians who might be encountered. In order to make friends of them there were fourteen bales and one box of gold-laced coats, medals, flags, knives and tomahawks, beads, looking-glasses, and paints, which were to be given as presents. The expeditionís own stores were contained in seven bales and a box.
For transportation there was first a keel boat fifty-five feet long and drawing three feet of water. This was decked over at bow and stern, thus forming a forecastle and a cabin. The middle was covered with lockers, which could be raised to form breastworks in case of attack. This boat had one large sail and twenty-two oars. There were two other boats, both open, one with six and one with seven oars. Two horses were to be led along the banks for the use of the hunters.
One of the strange turns of fate which appear so often in the history of Louisiana awaited the records of this expedition. The journals of the explorers were kept most carefully. President Jefferson used some of this material in his messages to Congress, and his citations were republished under a false claim that they gave the complete narrative. The actual journals were revised and largely rewritten by Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia, but it so happened that another was able to claim the editorship, and they were published in 1814 with the name of Paul Allen on the title-page as editor. This Biddle edition was republished in several foreign countries. The story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as told in this volume, is taken from the Biddle text.1
1 There have been many different editions, ranging from the elaborate and carefully annotated edition of Dr. Elliott Cones, to inexpensive small reprints. An abridged edition was published at New York in 1842 and reprinted several times. Mention should be made of William R. Lightonís excellent "Lewis and Clark," and the useful condensed narrative prepared by the late Noah Brooks in 1901.
But with all this array of editions it has so happened that the revised Biddle text has always been followed. The original journals have not been reprinted as the explorers wrote them, although Mr. Reuben G. Thwaites is now engaged in preparing them for publication.
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman