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William Clark, portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1810; in Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia.
Expedition from May 14, 1804, to October 16, 1805
Over the duration of the trip, from May 14, 1804, to September 23, 1806, from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean and back, the Corps of Discovery, as the expedition company was called, traveled nearly 8,000 miles (13,000 km). The entourage, numbering about four dozen men, covered 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 km) a day—poling, pushing, and pulling their 10-ton keelboat and two pirogues (dugout boats) up the Missouri River. Lewis’s iron-framed boat was later assembled and covered with skins near Great Falls (in present-day Montana) but had to be abandoned because the seams leaked and there was no pitch to seal them. The captains and at least five others kept journals. President Jefferson had instructed Lewis to make observations of latitude and longitude and to take detailed notes about the soil, climate, animals, plants, and native peoples. Lewis identified 178 plants new to science, including bitterroot, prairie sagebrush, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine, as well as 122 animals, such as grizzly bear, prairie dog, and pronghorn antelope. The scientific names Philadelphus lewisii (mock orange), Lewisia rediva (bitterroot), and Clarkia pucella (pink fairy, or ragged robin) are but three examples of the men’s discoveries. The expedition encountered immense animal herds and ate well, consuming one buffalo, two elk, or four deer per day, supplemented by roots, berries, and fish. They named geographic locations after expedition members, peers, loved ones, and even their dog (Seaman’s Creek). They experienced dysentery, venereal disease, boils, tick bites, and injuries from prickly pear, yet only one man perished over the course of the journey.