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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT

National Historic Oregon
Trail Interpretive Center

Explorer Bits

Can you answer these questions about the Lewis and Clark Expedition?

1. When wild game was plentiful and the Lewis and Clark Expedition could have as much meat as they wished, on average how much meat would each individual eat per day?

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When buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and other animals were abundant the expedition members would consume around 8-10 lbs. of meat each day. This means that in one day alone, the crew would eat between 12,000 and 15,000 calories. On May 6th, 1805, Captain Lewis wrote in his journal, "it is now only amusement for Capt. C. and myself to kill as much meat as the party can consume." However, this diet would not last throughout the duration of their journey, when in many areas the expedition relied on roots, dog meat, fish, and portable soup to sustain them.

2. Which prominent member of the Corps of Discovery survived an accidental gunshot wound inflicted by another member of the expedition?

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A little over six weeks away from their return to St. Louis, Captain Meriwether Lewis was accidentally shot by crew member Pierre Cruzatte, on August 11th, 1806. Lewis describes this account in his journal entry on the same day. "I went out with Cruzatte only, we fired on the Elk I killed one and he wounded another, we reloaded our guns and took different routes through the thick willows in pursuit of the Elk; I was in the act of firing on the Elk a second time when a ball struck my left thye and cut the thickness of the bullet across the hinder part of the right thye; the stroke was severe; I instantly supposed that Cruzatte had shot me in mistake for an Elk as I was dressed in brown leather and he cannot see very well."

3. One of the famed captains from the Corps of Discovery was not an official captain. Was it Meriwether Lewis or William Clark?

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Although Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are generally known as being the co-captains that led the Lewis and Clark Expedition, William Clark was not officially a captain. When Lewis petitioned Clark to join him in leading the expedition, he stated that President Jefferson would be willing to promote Clark to the position of a captain. Before the expedition began, Lewis and Clark were notified by the Secretary of War that Clark would not be given a captain's title; instead he was given a lieutenant's title. Angered at this news, Lewis sent Clark a letter stating, "I think it will be best to let none of our party or any other persons know anything about the grade, you will observe that the grade has no effect upon your commission, which by G-d, shall be equal to my own." From then on Lewis and Clark were known as the co-leaders and co-captains of the expedition.

4. Who served as the primary physician on the Lewis and Clark Expedition?

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The Corps of Discovery did not bring a licensed doctor on their expedition, so both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark served as the primary physicians on their journey. In the army, during the time of Lewis and Clark, it was very common for army leaders to assume the role of doctor for the men that served under them, especially in smaller regiments. Before Lewis left to begin his journey across the continent, he was tutored in many different areas including medicine. Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the top physicians in the country, tutored and advised Lewis in the area of medicine. Lewis also gained much of his medical knowledge form his mother Lucy Marks, who was a well known herbalist. Lewis and Clark did not just treat their expedition members; they also treated many Native Americans who had ailments.

5. The Lewis and Clark Expedition began their journey on the Missouri River with a 55 foot keelboat, which could carry around 12 tons. How did the Corps of Discovery move this keelboat upstream against the strong currents of the Missouri River?

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The expedition members employed a variety of methods in moving their keelboat upstream, including rowing, sailing, poling, and cordelling. The keelboat was equipped with 22 oars and a large square sail. Poles were used to propel the boat forward in shallow waters, and cordelling was a method in which the expedition members would tow the keelboat with a rope by walking along the shore.

6. After their almost two and a half year journey the Lewis and Clark Expedition returned to St. Louis in September of 1806. How long after their return was it until Lewis and Clark's journals were published and made available to the public?

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It was not until eight years after their return that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's journals were published in 1814. There were 1,417 copies of this first edition published.

Although Lewis and Clark's journals are generally the most well known records of the expedition, theirs was not the first to be published. Several other expedition members recorded their journey to the Pacific Ocean, including Sergeant Patrick Gass. Patrick Gass's journal, published in 1807, was the first journal from the Lewis and Clark expedition made available to the public.

7. Assistance from Native American tribes was vital to the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. How many different Native American tribes did the Lewis and Clark Expedition come into contact with throughout their journey?

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The Lewis and Clark Expedition conversed with almost fifty different native American tribes. Many of these tribes played an extremely important role in the success of the expedition, by providing geographical information, food, horses, and advice to the crew. Before the commencement of their journey, President Thomas Jefferson instructed Meriwether Lewis to establish diplomatic relations with the Native American tribes that he would be encountering. Lewis was also instructed to learn about different aspects of the lives of the tribes encountered.

8. What was the most troublesome insect named by the Lewis and Clark Expedition?

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Mosquitoes were an incessant problem for the Corps of Discovery. The journals mention many sleepless nights due to these tiny insects. The following is a passage from Captain Lewis's journal on July 15th, 1806: "The musquetoes continue to infest us in such manner that we can scarcely exist; for my own part I am confined by them to my bier (mosquito curtain) at least 3/4ths of my time. my dog even howls with the torture he experiences from them, they are almost insupportable, they are so numerous that we frequently get them in our thr[o]ats as we breath." In another journal entry dated August 5th, 1806, co-leader William Clark described an instance where mosquitoes were so bad that they interfered with a hunt: "The Musquetors was so noumerous that I could not keep them off my gun long enough to take sight and by that means Missed."