How long does it take to fly across America these days? I’m guessing that if all goes smoothly and there are no weather delays, connecting flights or cancellations, it’d probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of six to seven hours from start to finish. Hell, under good conditions, one could probably drive the entire length of the country in five or six days if they put their pedal to the metal and their mind to it.
Now picture walking across it or riding on horseback because that’s exactly what Lewis and Clark and the band of explorers known as the Corps of Discovery ( a great name btw!) did way back in 1804. It was a journey that would take over two years and span approximately 3700 miles and cover what was then uncharted territory.
The Plan Is Hatched
Back in 1803 Thomas Jefferson pulled off one of the greatest real estate deals of all-time when he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from France. Suffice to say that the deal covered over 800,000 square miles and just about doubled the size of the country at the time.
Since most of the land was considered “virgin territory” Jefferson, in his infinite wisdom, decided to send out an expedition to see if he got what he paid for. He commissioned his private secretary, one Meriwether Lewis, to form a team of soldiers to trek across the continent and report back their findings. Lewis, in turn, called upon an old friend by the name of William Clark to assist him in plotting the expedition.
The two of them put their heads together and decided to ask for volunteers to join them on their journey. Although the volunteers were soldiers, theirs was a peaceful mission that was committed to the advances in exploration, science, diplomacy and discovery. Each man was handpicked according to his talents and abilities. Most, if not all, had no families to speak of and were single. All in all, twenty eight soldiers were chosen. Four of them were Sergeants and the rest were Privates. Five civilians were also called upon to take the trip. The last member of the team, was “a dogg of the Newfoundland breed” who went by the name of “Seaman.”
The Supplies Are Purchased
When you think about it, this must have been one hell of a logistical nightmare. Walking off into lands unknown with thirty four people under your charge is a daunting task. To help Lewis get started, Congress magnanimously allocated a whopping $2500 in order to purchase much needed supplies.
Either Lewis was a shrewd shopper or things didn’t cost that much back then but here’s a partial listing of the supplies that the men would have to carry with them.
Math and Science Stuff
A set of plotting instruments
A Little Touch Of Home
150 yards of cloth to be oiled and sewn into tents and sheets
30 steels for striking to make fire
Iron corn mill
Two dozen tablespoons
10 1/2 pounds of fishing hooks and fishing lines
12 pounds of soap
193 pounds of "portable soup" (a thick paste concocted by boiling down beef
Three bushels of salt
Golden Trinkets for the Indians
12 dozen pocket mirror
4,600 sewing needle
144 small scissor
10 pounds of sewing thread
130 rolls of tobacco
s that doubled as pipes
Vermilion face paint
33 pounds of tiny beads of assorted colors
The Clothes on Your Back
45 flannel shirts
Just In Case
15 prototype Model 1803 muzzle-loading .54 caliber rifles
500 Rifle flints
420 pounds of sheet lead for bullets
176 pounds of gunpowder
packed in 52 lead canisters
1 long-barreled rifle that fired its bullet with compressed air, rather than by flint
, spark and powder
Is There A Doctor In The House?
50 dozen Dr. Rush’s patented "Rush’s pills
1,300 doses of physic
1,100 hundred doses of emetic
3,500 doses of diaphoretic (sweat inducer)
Other drugs for blistering, salivation and increased kidney output
Some Light Reading
Barton’s Elements of Botany
Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz’s History of Louisiana
Richard Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy
A Practical Introduction to Spherics and Nautical Astronomy
The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris
A four-volume dictionary
A two-volume edition of Linnaeus (the founder of the Latin classification of plants)
Tables for finding longitude
A map of the Great Bend of the Missouri River
In addition, the men toted canoes, a keelboat and a couple of other smaller water craft to travel the rivers and forge the streams that lie ahead.
What A Long Strange Trip It's Been
Rather than recount every step of the way, let’s just say that the Corps of Discovery lived up to its name. When all was said and done, they were responsible for recording and documenting over 180 new forms of plant life, over 120 new forms of fish and animal life and 48 different Indian tribes that had not yet been “discovered” by the white man. Amazingly, only one man under their charge died on the entire trip and that came about as a result of a ruptured appendix.
In my mind's eye, even though they don’t get much recognition in the history books, all of the men of the Corps of Discovery are heroes in their own right. The hardships they faced and the discoveries they made rank right up there with some of the greatest accomplishments of all time.
There's one other thing that bears mentioning. As esteemed user Chiisuta
points out, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, life size figures of them carved out of butter
, that's right, butter, were on display at the 2004
Ohio State Fair. It was truly a sight to behold and the creamy goodness contained therein was an inspiration to all who gazed upon them.