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Mythbuster: Lewis and Clark

It is no myth that Lewis and Clark traveled from the eastern coast of North America to the west in order to fulfill Thomas Jefferson’s long awaited curiosity of the North American western land (2). It was already well known to the Euro-Americans that there were Natives in the west as well as an entire ocean (Pacific) where they did most of their trading through (2). Why Lewis and Clark entitled their trip a discovery, though there were already Natives in the west is unknown.

Lewis and Clark’s expedition began right after Thomas Jefferson the third president bought land in Louisiana, the Louisiana trade purchase. Jefferson wanted to know what the land in the west was like so he chose his secretary Meriwether Lewis to explore the west. Lewis was allowed to chose one co-captain, William Clark. Along with a group of military corps they traveled from the east coast to the west coast (3).

Throughout their journey both Lewis and Clark keep journals of their observations. Jefferson and the other Euro-Americans already knew there were going to be Native encounters as Lewis and Clark traveled west, “President Jefferson had specifically mentioned the need to make a friendly impression [to the Natives]” (5). The journals of Lewis and Clark consist of the journey itself such as the different problems they ran into with the weather, and conditions of the boats as well as the geography, climate, tribes, and the different types of animals that they seen (2).

The west wasn’t necessarily discovered by Lewis and Clark since there were already Natives over there but “The Americans, Lewis and Clark, had first explored the broad stretches of its middle waters” (1). To the Euro-Americans the Natives in the west were uncivilized and had no type of order with in the tribes, Lewis and Clark were “About to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden” on (4). The term discovery refers to the first “civilized” man in the west and not necessarily the first people in the west, the Natives.

Author: Jennifer Hoaglund


(1) Bakeless, John. “Lewis and Clark”. New York. The Domain of Canada. 1947.

(2) “Following the Voyage of Discovery”. Farcountry Press. 2001. 29 October, 2009. http://www.lewisandclark.com/facts/faqs.html

(3) Johnson, Michael L. “Hunger for the Wild Americas Obsession with the Untamed West”. Kansas. The University Press of Kansas, 1992.

(4) Lewis and Clark. “The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. University of Nebraska Lincoln. 29 October, 2009. http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/read/?_xmlsrc=1803-08- 30.xml&_xslsrc=LCstyles.xsl

(5) “Lewis and Clark Journey Log”. National Geographic Society. 1996. 29 October, 2009. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lewisandclark/journey_intro.html

(6) Perry, Douglass. “Teaching with Documents: The Lewis and Clark Expedition”. The US National Archives and Records Administration. 29 October, 2009. http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/lewis-clark/

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