TwHP Lessons

The Lewis & Clark Expedition: Documenting the Uncharted Northwest

[Photo] Top to bottom--Lemhi Pass, Fort Clatop, and Lolo Trail.
(From top to bottom, Lemhi Pass, Salt Works at Fort Clatsop National Memorial, and Lolo Trail)

[Photo] Meriwether Lewis. [Photo] William Clark.
(From left to right, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, Independence National Historical Park)


ll in health and readiness to set out. Boats and everything Complete, with the necessary stores of provisions & such articles of merchandize as we thought ourselves authorised to procure -- tho' not as much as I think nessy. for the multitude of Inds. thro which we must pass on our road across the Continent.

William Clark Sunday May the 13th 1804 ¹

Beginning their journey mid-May 1804, what became known as the Corps of Discovery, under the command of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, set out to investigate the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, locate a water route to the Pacific Ocean, and strengthen American claims to the northwest. With 55 expedition members, the corps set out to find the most practical water route from the headwaters of the Missouri River to the Columbia River and then on to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the expedition was forced to navigate a variety of terrains: from the powerful currents of the lower Missouri, to the treacherous peaks of the Rockies, to the wetlands of the Pacific Coast. And with each new environment came a unique and previously undocumented complement of plants, animals, and people. Carefully taking note of hardships, successes, and discoveries, Lewis and Clark's journals, as well as journals from other members of the expedition, provide a glimpse of what it must have been like to venture into the unknown on a two and a half year journey.

Discover the significance of Lemhi Pass and the hardships endured on the Lolo Trail, both near the present-day Montana/Idaho border. Also learn about the preparations made at the winter encampment called Fort Clatsop upon reaching their destination of the Pacific Ocean and the Oregon Country. In reading their words, examining their maps, and appreciating their detailed illustrations, one can follow their trail of discovery to the Pacific Northwest. Although the corps' findings destroyed the dream of a water route to the Pacific Ocean, their accomplishments had far reaching effects in expanding human knowledge and opening a new course for American history.

¹ Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Vol 1 (New York: Antiquarian Press LTD, 1959), 16.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. The United States in 1800
 2. The United States in 1810
 3. The Lewis & Clark Trail

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. The Corps of Discovery
 2. Lemhi Pass & Lolo Trail
 3. Wintering on the West Coast
 4. The Lemhi Shoshone & Coastal Tribes

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Lewis & Clark expedition, 1814
 2. Lewis & Clark expedition, 1958
 3. Jefferson Peace Medal
 4. Fort Clatsop
 5. Salt Works
 6. Shoshone smoking pipe
 7. Fern leaf

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. The Legacy of Lewis and Clark
 2. The American Indians
 3. The Power of the Pen
 4. Creating Maps

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The lesson is based on Lemhi Pass, Lolo Trail, and Fort Clatsop, three of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Lemhi Pass and Lolo Trail have been designated National Historic Landmarks.



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