And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: August 31st, 1803, 211 years ago today . . . the start of Lewis and Clark's most excellent adventure.
For on that day, Meriwether Lewis pushed off from Pittsburgh harbor, heading west on a journey that would make history.
Alongside Lewis on his newly-constructed, 55-foot-long keel boat was his Newfoundland dog, aptly named "Seaman."
Together they would travel down the Ohio River, and then up the Missouri, where they were joined by Lewis' hand-picked partner, William Clark.
The two men were on a mission authorized by President Thomas Jefferson, who had just purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for a mere $15 million. The territory doubled the size of the young nation.
Jefferson persuaded Congress to appropriate $2,500 to fund a small expedition -- the Corps of Discovery -- to map the new acquisition, and maybe find a "Northwest Passage," a river-to-river, all-water route across the continent, which the President believed would be a boon to commerce.
It was a perilous outing that launched officially the following May from Camp Wood near St. Louis, heading northwest up the Missouri to Fort Mandan in North Dakota, then west to their final destination: Fort Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River, just west of Portland.
As they traveled, Clark was charting their course and making maps, while Lewis was often ashore, studying rock formations, soil, animals and plants.
With the prospect of crossing as-yet-unexplored Indian territory, the expedition hired a 17-year-old Shoshone Indian named Sacagawea, to act as an interpreter.
Lewis and Clark would establish relations with two dozen Indian nations, which helped their expedition survive harsh winters and find its way across the vast ranges of the Rocky Mountains.
Though they never did find that Northwest Passage, Lewis and Clark did contribute a wealth of information about the natural world of the West, and carved out a path that would eventually help expand America from sea to shining sea.
For more info:
- Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, N.D.
- Lewis & Clark's Historic Trail
- Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (University of Nebraska - Lincoln)
- Lewis & Clark: National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary (NPS)