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Excerpts from Lewis and Clark Expedition journals     Send a link to a friend

The departure in their own words

[MAY 3, 2004]  HARTFORD -- Some might say they were obsessive, recording every observation, problem and discovery, every day noting their exact location by latitude and longitude. Because of this obsession, we have a vivid, detailed account of the entire 28-month, 8,000-mile Lewis and Clark Expedition written by the men who lived it.

Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and several other men on the expedition kept journals that detailed their thoughts and experiences. Some, like Clark, made daily entries; others wrote less frequently. Lewis' entries are obviously penned by someone with an education, while journals written by several of the enlisted men demonstrate little or no formal schooling. Taken as a whole, these journals provide us with an invaluable record of the greatest journey of discovery in American history.

In fact, President Jefferson gave Lewis specific instructions to keep detailed notes of the journey: "Your observations are to be taken with great pains & accuracy to be entered distinctly & intelligibly for others as well as yourself to comprehend all of the elements necessary…"

The 200th anniversary of the start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition will be celebrated during "The Departure," a special event scheduled for May 13-16 at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford. To commemorate this bicentennial observance, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which administers the historic site, is providing the following information that should prove interesting for history enthusiasts of all ages.

These are notes made by several of the men exactly 200 years ago during the first few days of the journey, when the men departed from Camp River Dubois in what is now the state of Illinois. The authentic spelling and punctuation have been kept to give you a better feel for the men who wrote these entries.

Capt. William Clark, co-leader of the journey of discovery

From Clark's Camp Dubois field notes:

May 13, 1804

All in health and readiness to Set out. Boats and every thing Complete, with the necessary Stores of provisions & such articles of merchandize as we thought ourselves autherised to procure.

May 14, 1804

A Cloudy morning fixing for a Start Some provisions on examination is found to be wet rain at 9 oClock Many of the Neighbours Came from the Countrey Mail and feeMail rained the greater part of the day, I set out at 4 oClock to the head of the first Island in the Missourie 6 Miles and incamped, on the Island rained…

From Clark's journal:

May the 14th - Monday

Set out from Camp River a Dubois at 4 oClock P.M. and proceeded up the Missouris under Sail to the first Island in the Missouri and Camped on the upper point opposite a Creek on the South Side below a ledge of limestone rock Called Colewater, made 4 ˝ miles, the Party Consisted of 2, Self one frenchman and 22 Men in the Boat of 20 ores, 1 Serjt. & 7 french in a large Perogue, a Corp and and 6 Soldiers in a large Perogue. a Cloudy rainey day. wind from the N.E. men in high Spirits

Tuesday 15

Rained the greater part of the last night, and this morning untile 7 oClock- at 9 oClock Set out and proceeded on 9 miles. passed two Islands & incamped on the Starbd. Side at a Mr. Pipers Landing opposit an Island, the Boat run on logs three times to day, owing her being too heavyly loaded a Sturn, a fair after noon, I Saw a number of Goslings to day on the Shore, the water excessively rapid, & Banks falling in-

May 16th Wednesday

a fair morning Set out at 5 oClk pass a remarkable Coal Hill on the Larboard Side Called by the french Carbonere, this hill appear to Contain great quantity of Coal & ore of a appearance from this hill the village of St Charles may be Seen at 7 miles distance- we arrived at St. Charles at 12 oClock a number Spectators French & Indians flocked to the bank to See the party. This Village is about one mile in length, Situated on the North Side of the Missourie at the foot of a hill from which it takes its name Petiete Coete or the Little hill This village Contns. About 100 houses, the most of them Small and indefferent and about 450 inhabitents Chiefly French, those people appear pore, polite & harmonious- I was invited to Dine with a Mr. Ducett this gentleman was once a merchant from Canadia, from misfortunes aded to to the loss of a Cargo Sold to the late Judge Turner he has become Somewhat reduced, he has a Charming wife an eligent Situation on the hill Serounded by orchards & a excellent gardain.

Tuesday May 15th

It rained during the greater part of last night and continued untill 7 OCk. A.M. after which the Prarty proceeded, passed two Islands and incamped on the Stard. Shore at Mr. Fifer's landing opposite an Island, the evening was fair. some wild gees with their young brudes were seen today. the barge run foul three several times (today) -- on logs, and in one instance it was with much difficulty they could get her off; happily no injury was sustained, tho' the barge was several minutes in eminent danger; this was cased by her being too heavily laden in the stern. Persons accustomed to the navigation of the Missouri and the Mississippi also below the mouth of this river, uniformly take the precaution to load their vessels heavyest in the bow when they ascend the stream in order to avoid the danger incedent to runing foul of the concealed timber which lyes in great quantities in the beds of these rivers.


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Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse

Born about 1775 in Fairfax County, Va.

Joined Lewis at Fort Kaskaskia, Illinois territory, in November 1803

The following is an excerpt from his journal:

Monday 14th May 1804. hard Showers of rain. this being the day appointed by Capt. Clark to Set out, a number of the Sitizens of Gotian Settlement came to See us start. we got in readiness. Capt. Lewis is now at St. Louis but will join us at St. Charls. about 3 Oclock P.M. Capt. Clark and the party consisting of three Sergeants and 38 men who manned the Batteaux and pirogues. we fired our Swivel on the bow hoisted Sail and Set out in high spirits for the western Expedition. we entered the mouth of the Missourie haveing a fair wind Sailed abt. 6 miles and Camped on the North Side.-

Tuesday 15th May 1804. hard rain. we Set out eairly. the current Swift, & water muddy. passed Islands & Some inhabitants &c. the after part of the day proved pleasant. (w)e Camped on the North Side.-

(Wedn)esday 16th May 1804. a clear morning. Set out (early) and proceeded on verry well. about 2 oclock P.M. (we ar)rived at St. Charls. and passed the evening with a (gr)eat deal of Satisfaction, all chearful and in good Spirits. this place is an old French village Situated on the North Side of the Missourie and are dressy polite people and Roman Catholicks.-

Sergeant Patrick Gass

Born 1771 in Pennsylvania; lived until 1870

His skills as a carpenter served the expedition well.

This account was published in April 1807 based on a journal Gass kept during the expedition.

The corps consisted of forty-three men (including Captain Lewis and Captain Clarke, who were to command the expedition) part of the regular troops of the United States, and part engaged for this particular enterprize. The expedition was embarked on board a bateau and two periogues. The day was showery and in the evening we encamped on the north bank six miles up the river. Here we had leisure to reflect on our situation, and the nature of our engagements: and, as we had all entered this service as volunteers, to consider how far we stood pledged for the success of an expedition, which the government had projected; and which had been undertaken for the benefit and at the expence of the Union: of course of much interest and high expectation.

(Source for all of the above: "The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition," edited by Gary Moulton)

Sgt. John Ordway

Born 1775 in New Hampshire

Left in charge at Camp River Dubois when both Lewis and Clark were absent

Highest ranking enlisted man on the journey of discovery

The following is a letter written to his parents:

Honored Parence, Camp River Dubois April the 8th 1804

I now embrace this oppertunity of writing to you once more to let you know where I am and where I am going. I am well thank God, and in high spirits. I am now on an expidition to the westward, with Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clark, who are appointed by the President of the united States to go on an expidition through the interior parts of North America. We are to ascend the Missouri River with a boat as far as it is navigable and then go by land, to the western ocean, if nothing prevents, &c.

This party consists of 25 picked Men of the armey & country likewise and I am So happy as to be one of them pick'd Men from the armey, and I and all the party are if we live to Return, to receive our Discharge when ever we return again to the united States if we chuse it. This place is on the Mississippi River oppisite to the Mouth of the Missouri River and we are to Start in ten days up the Missouri River. This has been our winter quarters. We expect to be gone 18 months or two years. We are to Receive a great Reward for this expidition, when we Return. I am to Receive 15 dollars pr. Month and at least 400 ackers of first Rate land, and if we make Great Discoveries as we expect, the united States, has promised to make us Great Rewards more than we are promised, &c. For fear of exidants I wish to inform you that I left 200 dollars in cash, at Kaskaskias. Put it on interest with a Substantial man by the name of Charles Smith &c. pertnership which were three(?) more Substantial men binding with him and Capt. Clark is bound to See me paid at the time and place where I receive my discharge and if I should not live to return my heirs can git that and all the pay Due me from the U.S. by applying to the Seat of Government. I have Recd. no letters Since Betseys yet, but will write next winter if I have a chance. Yours, &c.

John Ordway Sergt.

(Source: "Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," edited by Donald Jackson)

[Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
news release]

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