Bucky And His Bike

The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Lewis and Clark 1803: Louisville to St. Louis and Camp DuBois.

For Meriwether Lewis, the spring and summer of 1803 is an intense period of studying, planning, purchasing of boats, supplies, arms and equipment, and recruiting members of the expedition (including William Clark). It is also a time of patiently waiting for the completion of the long-delayed keelboat in Pittsburgh; on August 31, 1803, Captain Lewis boards her and sails her down the Ohio River, the very day its builder nailed the last board to the vessel.

On October 10, 1803, Lewis arrives in Louisville, KY, crosses the Ohio River to Clarksville, Indiana Territory, and re-unites with Clark. Lewis had not seen Clark in seven years. On October 26, 1804, the two "captains", together with the initial recruits for the Corps of Discovery, head southwest down the Ohio River from Louisville to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. On November 30, 1803, after almost a week's rest at the Confluence, which included practice taking latitude and longitude measurements and using triangulation to estimate the width of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the small band of travelers heads north up the Mississippi River.

Some historians believe the day that Lewis and Clark start moving up the Misssissippi River was a "watershed". The two men, see how difficult it is to handle the keelboat through the changing current, shifting sandbars, sawyers, snags, and trees floating down the river. The conclude the challenges the Mississippi River present will surely be faced on the Missouri River, too. As a result, Lewis and Clark decide to significantly enlarge the size of the Corps of Discovery and pick up additional soldiers, engage voyageurs and add boats.

On November 28, 1803, Lewis and Clark stop at Fort Kaskaskia, 60 miles south of St. Louis, and pick up 12 additional U.S. Army men for the expedition. Lewis and Clark separately continue up the Mississippi River towards St. Louis. Lewis travels by horse; Clark travels by boat. The two re-connect at Cahokia on December 9, 1803. Based on previous conversations and Lewis's discussions in St. Louis the previous day, the two men agree to locate the winter camp on the east side of the Mississippi at the mouth of the Wood River on American soil, if it is as suitable a site as they have been told.

The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Lewis and Clark: Winter 1803/1804 in St. Louis and Camp DuBois

St. Louis

Lewis's and Clark's Work over the Winter.

Ceremonies Marking the Transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France and from France to the United States.

Both Lewis and Clark attend the St. Louis ceremony marking the transfer of local governance of Louisiana from Spain to France and from France to the United States on March 8 and 9, 1804. The official transfer of ownership of Louisiana took place at a ceremony in New Orleans on December 20, 1803.

The Men Are Getting Anxious to Start...

By early April 1804, after a long winter in Camp DuBois, the men of the Corp of Discovery were itching to head out, but Lewis felt he needed more time to properly complete outfitting the company, buy trade goods, and make other last minute arrangements.

Stephen Ambrose (1) writes from the point of view of the men at Camp Dubois...

Loose Ends Before Leaving St. Louis.

On May 6, 1804, Lewis receives extremely disappointing news at St. Louis, and must write Clark at Camp DuBois to inform Clark that he did not get his commission as a "Captain". It seems almost un-imaginable that the Clark's commission, any commission, would come so late.

On May 11, 1804, Droulliard brings to Camp Dubois seven voyagers recruited via Chouteau (rather than Manuel Lisa), another sign of the captains' decision to enlarge the expedition.

Departing Camp DuBois and St. Louis, at Last

Clark wrote in his journal on the morning of May 14th, "fixing for a Start" (2), and indeed, mid-afternoon on May 14, 1804, Clark and the Corps of Discovery finally board their boats, push off from the bank, and leave their winter quarters on the Wood River. St. Charles is about 28 miles upriver. Clark notes "a heavy rain in the afternoon (3)." Clark's May 15, 1804 entry notes "the water excessively rapid, and Banks falling in... (4) ." On May 16, 1804, Clark and the Corps arrive in St Charles. Clark estimates the village has about 100 homes and 450 inhabitants (5).

On May 20, 1804, Lewis leaves St. Louis via horseback to join Clark and the Corps in St. Charles. He hits thunderstorms en route and arrives about 6:30pm. Just before their departure to the Pacific, the captains (presumably Lewis) sent a map to Thomas Jefferson. The map is a compendium of all they had learned about the Missouri River and points north and west during their time in St. Louis. Lewis and Clark knew the President would be thirsty for any new information they could provide about the Louisiana Purchase and the American west.

One of the last things Lewis did before the expedition set off is to hire Labiche and Cruzatte and enlist them at St. Charles. Cruzatte was recruited in part because he was 1/2 French and 1/2 Omaha Indian, spoke Omaha, and had good sign language skills. Labiche was brought into the Corps because of his knowledge of several indian languages (6).

On May 21, 1804, the expedition and captains, finally having joined together in St. Charles, head out. They will not return to St. Louis until September 23, 1806, 2 years and four month later. Stephen Ambrose, in Undaunted Courage, says that the Corp set out on an "independent command, such as the US Army had not previously seen and never would again (7)." I compare the expedition with the United States' effort to land a man on the moon... another challenging voyage. The astronauts, and everyone involved in that trip, howeve, could see the moon, and knew the path to get there. Lewis and Clark only had the latitude and longitude of the mouth of the Columbia River (from Grey's sea voyage in 1792) and information up to the Mandan villages. They knew almost nothing else about what lay ahead.

(2)Ambrose, p. 141.

(3)DeVoto, p. 3.


(5)Ibid., p. 5.

(6)Ambrose, p. 130 and p. 138.

(7)Ibid. p. 139.

The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Lewis and Clark: St Louis to the Kansas River (Present day Kansas City)

The journey from St. Charles to the Kansas River, (near present day downtown Kansas City, which itself evolved from Westport Landing and Westport, founded in 1831 to served the bustling Santa Fe Trail trade) was a shakedown cruise, with the men of the expedition learning how to work together to manage the keelboat, picking up the rhythms of the river, and inoculating themselves with the behaviors, responsibilities, and discipline necessary to safely move their entire band forward.

Because the Expedition departed St. Charles at 3:30pm, they only travelled 3 miles upriver on May 21st. The river was high, at springtime levels, and it was raining. May 22, 1804 was the first real day of travel. On May 24, 1804, the Corps tries to pass Devils Race Ground. "The [larbard] bank was being chewed away and falling so fast, ... that the Corps tried to move upstream by going between the starbard bank and a mid river sand bar, but... The swiftness of the current wheeled the boat, Broke our toe rope, and was nearly over Setting the boat. [Clark] (8) ."

On May 25, 1804, the Corps camped at the mouth of La Charrette Creek, near current day Washington, Missouri. On May 26th, 1804, Detachment Orders were issued by Lewis and Clark. They included procedures to ensure safe and well regulated operations of the company. They covered areas such as security: posting sentinels, guarding the camp site, operation of the night watch, camping on islands where possible for added security. The Corps was broken down into three "messes". The Detachment Orders also covered boat operations, whiskey distribution, and other routines where laxity of forethought or execution would present danger and risk. On June 1, 1804, the Corp reaches the Osage River. On June 5, 1804, "we passed on the l.s. of this sand [bar] and was obligated to return, the watr. uncertain the quick Sand moveing (9)."

On June 9, 1804, Camp is made just upriver from present day Arrow Rock, Missouri. The men were trying to find a place to store the keelboat, and "in going around a Snag her Stern Struck a log under water {et} She Swung round on the Snag. With her broad Side to the Current expd. [exposed] to the Drifting timber, by the active exertions of our party we got her off in a fiew Mints. [minutes] without engerey [injury]. [Clark] (10)."

Jun 16, 1804: "Sand Collecting etC forming Bars and Bars washg a way, the boat Struck and turned, She was near oversetting. We saved her by Some extrordany exertions of our party...(11).

Jun 17, 1804: "Came too [,] to make oars, and repair our cable {et} toe rope {et}c. {et}c... The Countrey about this place is butifull on the river rich {et} well timbered... [a often repeated reference to the fertile nature of the country they are passing through] "The Ticks {et} Musquiters are verry troublesome.[Clark] (12) ."

"The party is much afflicted with Boils, and Several have the Deasentary ... [Clark] (13)."

On Jun 26, 1804, the expedition arrives at the Kansas River (near what became Westport Landing and Westport in 1831, and now is Kansas City, Missouri). The Corps plans a two day stay before heading north, up the Missouri, to the Platte River and beyond. The last evening at the Kansas River camp, June 28, 1804, there was a "raid" on the expedition's whiskey stores. A trial was convened in the morning of June 29th, with initial penalties imposed on the "raiders" at 3:30pm that afternoon. The expedition left present day Kansas City, and headed north the following day.

Crossing what is now the state of Missouri, Lewis focused on botanical and zoological observations and tended to travel on the land. Clark, recognized as the better waterman, managed the river operations. This was a pattern that would prevail through the entire trip.

There are no known journals from Captain Lewis on this first section of their travels.

(8) DeVoto, P.5.

(9) DeVoto, P.7.

(10) Ibid., p.7.

(11)Abrose, p. 141.

(12) DeVoto, p. 8

(13) Ibid.


Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Simon and Schuster, 1996.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark, Edited by Bernard DeVoto, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953.

Last Update: December 29, 2013.