Captain Meriwether Lewis was born in 1774 in Virginia. During the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, he was the private secretary of the President. Lieutenant William Clark was also born in Virginia in 1770. He was a close friend of Captain Lewis. Together, both friends explored the American West.
In 1803, American government purchased the Louisiana territory from France. This was a large portion of land which extended from the border of Canada in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south and from Rocky Mountains in the West to the Mississippi River in the East.
After the land came into America’s ownership, the problem was that no one in America knew about the routes, mountains and valleys of the region or about the people who lived in the area. So President Thomas Jefferson asked Captain Lewis in 1804 to go as an explorer into the area. His task was not just to travel west from United States of America and cross the Louisiana Territory. It was to travel even further and to reach the other side of the continent, meeting the Pacific Ocean.
On May 14, 1804, Captain Lewis and his friend Lieutenant Clark started the journey with 40 men. They knew that their journey was going to take years. So they took a lot of provisions including warm clothes, food and rifles. They started their journey at the city of St. Louis and started to travel up along the Missouri River.
Their journey comprised of thousands of miles. During this journey, they had to travel through rivers, cross mountainous areas and pass through forests. They met many native Indian tribes on their way and became friends with them. They spent their first winter with the Mandan nation who provided them many important supplies such as food. Along their journey, they also met a French fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife, Sacagawea.
Sacagawea was a native Indian woman who knew many Indian languages. She knew about the plants, herbs, beans and fruits of the region. So she helped the expedition greatly with her knowledge. With her help, Lewis and Clark were able to establish friendly relationships with the Indian as they journeyed towards the Pacific Ocean. She also helped them get provisions from Indian tribes. It is quite possible that without her help, the expedition may have failed.
The Lewis and Clark expedition finally reached the Pacific Ocean in November, 1805. Here they built Fort Clatsop and spent the winter season in the present-day state of Oregon. They finally started their journey back in 1806 and it took them only 6 months on their way back.
In all, the expedition covered 8000 miles. And it proved very important because it sparked American interest in the area. Captain Lewis also wrote down about the plants, herbs and other details on the way along the journey, so this knowledge greatly helped later explorers who went to explore into the West.