Celebrating the anniversary of The Corp of Discovery Expedidtion: Lewis & Clark. Though we can call to mind many American explorers and naturalists such as Admiral Byrd, George Comer, James Audubon and Rachael Carson, Lewis and Clark and the exploration of the Louisiana Territory, holds a special place in the American consciousness. (Read the highly acclaimed Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose published in 1997).
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met in the U.S. Army where Clark was Lewis’s commanding officer. When Thomas Jefferson chose Lewis to lead his Corp of Discovery, Lewis in turn chose Clark to be his companion. They were both in their thirties and, along with Jefferson, full of the contradictions of their times. The two men were close but markedly different in background and temperament. From the time Lewis was a young boy he was an outdoorsman and keen observer of nature whose mother schooled him in knowledge of herbs and plants. He was a champion of the Cherokee tribes in the Broad River Valley where he lived. He was sent to be educated in Virginia at the age of thirteen and in 1801, after his army duty, was appointed as an aide to Thomas Jefferson and mixed in the upper echelons of society.
Clark was tutored at home but had no formal education. The son of plantation owners Clark, in the years after the Corp of Discovery expedition, was an Indian agent and territorial governor, planter and slave holder, known to be a harsh master. He was a traditionalist and man of his times in that, like Jefferson, he believed in assimilation of Indian tribes but dutifully carried out the national expansionist plans and policies of broken treaties and forced surrender of Indian lands. His compassion towards Native Americans is however, well documented and he was known for his humanitarian views toward tribes he made contact with. It was Clark that had a high regard for Sacagawea, the Indian guide on the expedition and he provided support for her children in later years. On the Corp of Discovery expedition Clark’s valet was an unpaid slave by the name of York. In contrast, Lewis had no valet at all. When encouraged to bring a man servant he chose a freed slave to accompany him. Members of the expedition established relationships with twenty-four different Indian nations without whose help they would have become lost or starved.
Clark died peacefully at the age of 68 but the detail surrounding Meriwether Lewis’s death have been controversial and never resolved. Some scholars refute the writing of Thomas Jefferson and others that Meriwether, prone to depression, committed suicide over financial ruin and a tarnished reputation contrived by a political rival, while others put forth the theory that he was robbed and murdered. Jefferson wrote of Lewis, “… honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves…”
To read more on the Corp of Discovery Expedition click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_and_Clark_Expedition