Lewis and Clark
I read with dismay the story by Polly Letofsky in the April 18 edition of your paper. I realize that she is trying to set up a tongue-in-cheek historical dialogue, but the facts were so far amiss as to make me cringe in horror! First of all, President Jefferson initiated the idea of a trip long before Louisiana territory was purchased. The funds for the expedition were authorized by Congress in a secret act on Jan. 18, 1803. The actual Louisiana Purchase treaty was not signed until April 30, 1803. The U.S. Senate did not ratify the treaty until October 20 of that year.
The Louisiana Purchase itself did not substantially alter the nature of the expedition. Jefferson’s instructions make it clear that the purpose of the expedition was “to explore the Missouri River and such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce.” In other words, find a commercially viable route to the Pacific.
Meriwether Lewis set off alone on his journey from Washington, D.C., after recruiting William Clark via letter. Clark joined the expedition on Oct. 15, at Clarksville, Indiana Territory. Several young men from Kentucky, believed to be nine in number, joined the expedition at that time. As they traveled down the Ohio River, then later up the Missouri, members of the party joined and left. It is generally accepted that 33 people and one dog traveled from Fort Mandan, in present day North Dakota, to the Pacific Ocean.
The actual Bicentennial Commemorations of the Lewis and Clark Expedition are taking place from Jan. 18, 2003, through September 2006. We are mindful that they are commemorations of actual events. The expedition traveled through lands that were home to at least 65 different tribes. We must remember that this was a journey through lands already peopled by a wide variety of American Indians. For reasons sensitivity and respect, we chose to commemorate the expedition, not celebrate it.
The media make much of the Lewis and Clark story, and we are pleased that it has such wide interest. The story of the Lewis and Clark expedition truly has something for everyone. For more information see http://www.lewisandclark.org or http://www.lewisandclark200.org.
Jill C. Jackson
Director of Library and Education Services
William P. Sherman Library and Archive
Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation Inc.