Lewis and Clark are famous American explorers. Their famous expedition led to the exploration of western North America, through lands that now compose states such as Illinois, Missouri, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The exact trail that the famous explorers traveled is not known since they followed rivers, and over time rivers have shifted course as a result of natural occurrences and the formation of dams.

How They Got Started as Explorers

Newfoundland dog
Newfoundland dog

President Thomas Jefferson had an interest in what land resources were available in western North America. During that time, these territories remained largely unexplored. Jefferson asked his then secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to head the expedition. Lewis chose William Clark, who once served as Lewis' commanding officer in the army, to serve as his co-captain on this expedition. In addition, they enlisted between 33 and 38 people, including one woman by the name of Sacagawea, one slave by the name of York, one baby and Lewis' Newfoundland dog named Seaman, to be a part of the expedition. Although the expedition was planned before the famous Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it didn't begin until May 14, 1804.

Who Helped Them

Montana's landscape
Montana's landscape

Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian, was hired as an interpreter to assist Lewis and Clark when they needed to communicate with local Indian tribes. Her presence ended up being a saving grace for Lewis and Clark; women who traveled with men were viewed as non-threatening since women didn't travel with war parties. Sacagawea also became a guide for the two explorers. Her familiarity with southeastern Montana and other regional landmarks allowed her to offer some guidance to the duo.

What Came of Their Journey

Lewis and Clark didn't officially discover western North America, since Native Americans had long occupied and explored these areas, but the journals and maps made by the explorers enhanced the knowledge that Euro-Americans had of the region. The expedition provided the first descriptions of animals like bison, prairie dogs and woodpeckers, plants like the bitterroot and other root vegetables, rivers and the Rocky Mountains to Americans living in the southern and eastern parts of North America. In all, they discovered 122 new animals and 178 new plants for the Euro-Americans. Many also credit them with discovering the Pacific Ocean for Euro-Americans, but the Pacific was actually well-known to the Europeans.

Bumps in the Road

Old rifle
Old rifle

In all, only one man died during the expedition which lasted 863 days and stretched over 7,689 miles. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of a ruptured appendix during the journey. Many in the group suffered from illnesses and injuries, but none were fatal. In 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition was threatened by the Teton Sioux. Both sides were said to have drawn weapons, but no fight ensued. In 1806, however, the party did get into a bloody fight with the Blackfeet Indians. Lewis had attempted to explain in Plains Indian sign language that the Blackfeet should make peace with their Indian enemies, and once peace was restored American traders would bring guns and goods to all tribes. The Blackfeet Indians interpreted this to mean that the Americans would arm their enemies and help them to decimate the Blackfeet Indians. Needless to say, the Blackfeet Indians were offended and challenged the explorers. At least two Blackfeet were killed in the fight.