William Clark, as Jerry Garrett points out during his tours of Clark’s monument, is most commonly known by today’s public as the co-captain of the roundtrip expedition of 9,800 miles that started Aug. 31, 1803, in Pittsburgh. From there, Lewis and a small crew launched a 55-foot boat into the Ohio River. Throughout September and into mid-October, they journeyed down the river to the Falls of the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky. There, as previously planned, Lewis met up with Clark.
The two leaders recruited expedition members and continued down the Ohio River, then up the Mississippi River for a short, strenuous distance. On December 14, they started constructing Camp River Dubois for a winter stay near today’s city of Wood River, Illinois. During this stay, they learned the United States had made the Louisiana Purchase from France of what is now all or parts of 11 states in the middle of America. On May 14, 1804, the expedition left Camp Dubois and headed up the Missouri River.
The next winter encampment, in 1804-05, was Fort Mandan in what today is North Dakota. Up to this point, the explorers were already somewhat familiar with the geography and local tribes by viewing existing maps, most scanty in details, though, and by conversing with traders and Indians they encountered as the expedition moved up the river.
After April 7, 1805, when the explorers departed the fort they built among the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa nations, they entered northwestern lands unexplored and unmapped by white men. Nine months later, the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.
Their journey into the Pacific Northwest helped to solidify the United States claim not only to the Louisiana Purchase lands but also to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and areas of today’s Montana and Wyoming not considered to be part of the Louisiana Purchase.
During his tours, Jerry alludes to the keen leadership skills of both Lewis and Clark. He notes that it was not an easy job molding their men into a team. And correct he is. Lewis and Clark demanded military discipline of his men and sometimes resorted to lashes as punishment. But there was more than that which caused the explorers to become a team. It was likely a combination of hard work, living side by side with companions, mutual experiences with danger and hazards, the development of trust among the explorers, and perhaps some humor and, undoubtedly, the quality of the leadership.
As Lewis and Clark historian James P. Ronda emphasized in an article posted on Lewis-Clark.org, “The members of the expedition began their journey as a wild bunch of hard drinking, brawling, and insubordinate rowdies. It is easy for us to forget that at their beginnings the explorers were not clean-shaven, keen-eyed eagle scouts.
“They did not leave Wood River with the ‘right stuff.’ They were not the John Glenns and Neil Armstrongs of their day. But somehow this passel of rough and tumble galoots became the best of families willing to share the risks and hazards of a common life in pursuit of an important goal.”