On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and his friend William Clark set off on their trip with 33 other men, starting up the Missouri river in one large boat and two smaller ones. On the way, they stopped at Fort Mandan to pick up supplies. The Mandan Indians who lived near the fort were very impressed by York, Captain Clark’s slave. They felt his face and tried to rub the color off his skin. They were disappointed, though, that Lewis and Clark didn’t have any gifts with them.
At Fort Mandan, a Frenchman, Toussaint Charbonneau, and his pregnant Shoshone wife, Sacajawea, joined the expedition. She turned out to be the most important member of the expedition, as she was able to translate for them with the Indian tribes. Her presence also made it obvious to the tribes that the mission was peaceful. Lewis and Clark, however, had a low opinion of her husband.
Lewis and Clark wrote detailed descriptions in their journals of the animals and plants they encountered along the way, plus each day’s adventures. One of these adventures occurred while Lewis hunted buffalo. While taking a walk on the banks of the Missouri, he saw a large herd of buffalo. He shot one, and before he could reload his gun, a grizzly bear started chasing him. Lewis ran to the river and grabbed a spear from one of the boats, which scared the bear away.
When the expedition reached the Yellowstone River, a storm blew up. For some reason, both Lewis and Clark were on shore when it happened. Charbonneau was steering the main boat, even though he was probably the worst man for the job. When a sudden gust of wind turned the boat, he panicked, almost capsizing the boat. Meanwhile, the equipment and provisions that the men needed were floating away. Lewis was about to swim to the boats, but he realized that the waves were too high. Terrified, Charbonneau screamed while Sacagawea, who was holding her infant son, calmly scooped equipment out of the water as it floated by. One of the men threatened to shoot Charbonneau if he didn’t grab the rudder. Finally, the main boat came under control. It was a good thing; without the boat, the expedition would have lost its most important equipment.
Lewis and Clark were not through having adventures, however. One of their men was chased by a grizzly, which they killed. One day, Lewis and his men were hunting. Lewis was aiming at an elk when he was shot from behind. He never could figure out who had shot him - whether it was one of his men or an Indian. But it took him a while to recover.
Before they crossed the Rocky Mountains, the expedition met up with the Shoshone tribe. Their chief was Sacajawea’s brother. He gave them horses to use in the crossing. Crossing the Rockies was hard, but the rest of the journey was easier. Finally, they reached the Pacific Ocean, after traveling through what is now the state of Oregon. Their journey was over! After celebrating, they retraced their steps back down the Missouri river to where they had started. When they reached Fort Mandan, they said goodbye to Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and their son, Pompey. Then Lewis and Clark continued on to give Jefferson their reports.
Lewis and Clark’s adventures were forgotten at first, but their trip gathered tremendous amounts of information and opened the way to the west for countless pioneers. Finally, almost a century after they had completed their expedition, Lewis and Clark’s journals were finally published, bringing public attention for the first time to their important expedition to unlock the mysterious West. In the year 2000, the U.S. government minted a dollar coin in Sacagawea’s honor, in remembrance of her vital role in the expedition.