The Lewis & Clark Story at Their Destination
“Ocian in view! O! the joy.”
When Capt. William Clark wrote these words in his journal on November 7, 1805, he was not standing at the Pacific Ocean but the Columbia River estuary. It would be another couple of weeks before he and Capt. Meriwether Lewis would stand at what they had “been so long anxious to see.” By then they had traveled more than 4,000 miles across the North American continent with a contingent of 31 explorers, mostly U.S. Army enlisted men, known as the Corps of Discovery.
The expedition was President Thomas Jefferson’s idea. He had for years been fascinated by the vast and virtually unknown territory west of the Mississippi River, and in June 1803 he announced plans to send an exploratory party overland to the Pacific. He had chosen Lewis to head it, and Lewis selected Clark, his friend and former commanding officer to share the responsibilities. They were to explore the Missouri River to its source, then establish the most direct water route to the Pacific, making scientific and geographic observations along the way. They were also to learn what they could of Indian tribes they encountered and impress them with the technology and authority of the United States.