President Jefferson moved at once to secure definite and reliable information concerning Louisiana. His first step was the organization of the expedition of Lewis and Clark. The object of this tour of exploration was to discover the courses and sources of the Missouri River, and to find the most convenient way by inland water to the Pacific Ocean. It was to explore, so far as possible, the territory of the late Purchase from France. On the Atlantic Slope vague and erroneous conceptions existed in regard to this new and remote land. New England was opposed to the acquisition of French Louisiana, and was, generally, always against the extension of the boundaries of the United States to the westward. And this opposition to the Jefferson Purchase was not confined to New England. Objection was made in other sections bordering the Atlantic. It was supposed the settlers straying into the vast expanse west of the Mississippi would be lost to civilization and to the population of the United States. For in those days there were but indifferent means of communication between the various parts of our country. St. Louis was then more inaccessible to Washington City than is Patagonia at this time. And New England was even then very jealous of the South. As Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams abandoned Texas in 1819, and it required the War with Mexico in 1846 to recover that territory and permanently restore it to the United States.
Trade was the stimulus of all the early expeditions into the Western Wilderness. That trade was carried on with savages. With rum and tawdry trinkets such products as an Indian country afforded could be bought. Later the Indians came to require hatchets, axes, kettles, and other metal implements, as well as cloth. To ascertain the possibilities for such trade in the regions in and beyond the Rocky Mountains, Jefferson had considered a plan of exploration from the Missouri River into the wilderness of the extreme West as early as 1783. And now, twenty years later, having made French Louisiana a part of the United States, he hastened to consummate his earlier design. The extent of the country was unknown. Its western bounds were uncertain, and it is quite probable that it was believed that these touched the Pacific. It was realized that no intelligent action could be taken in the interest of those barbarous regions without a knowledge of them. And very little was certainly known of the country beyond the Mississippi.
This expedition of exploration was to be under the direction of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark. They were both officers of the Army of the United States. Lewis was the Private Secretary of the President, and Clark was brother to George Rogers Clark who saved us the Northwest-territory country in the Revolution.
In their instructions they were informed that the object of their mission was to explore the Missouri River, taking their observations with great pains. They were to study the possibility of Commerce with the Indian tribes inhabiting the countries through which they passednoting the extent of their possessions, their relations with other tribes, their language, occupations, their food and clothing, the diseases with which they were afflicted, their laws and customs, and the articles of commerce necessary to them and those they could furnish traders in barter.
The expedition was made up of the following persons:
- The Commanders
- Nine young men from Kentucky
- Fourteen soldiers of the United States Army, who had volunteered for the service
- Two French watermen
- One interpreter and hunter
- Captain Clark’s negro servantYork
- In addition, there were a corporal, six soldiers, and nine watermen to go as far as the Mandan country, on the Upper Missouri
The supplies carried consisted of clothing, tools, flints for guns, powder and ball, articles for presents to the Indian tribes to be encountered on the waymedals, flags, knives, tomahawks, paints, and other things prized by Indians.
The party had three boats. The largest was a keel-boat fifty-five feet long, drawing three feet of water, carrying one large square sail, and having twenty-two oars. At the bow and stern there were decks ten feet long, forming a forecastle and a cabin. The middle space was taken up by movable lockers, which, in case of attack, could be elevated to form a breastwork against rifle-balls or arrows. The other boats were what the early navigators of the Western streams called perogues. They were open boats, sometimes built on canoes bound firmly together. Usually two canoes were used to each boat. One carried six oarsthe other seven. They were steered with long sweeps at their sterns, and were well adapted to the purpose for which they were designed.
Two horses were led or ridden along the banks of the Missouri to be used by hunters in scouting and bringing in game for food for the party.
The explorers had camped the winter of 1803-04 at the mouth of Wood or Du Bois River, a small stream emptying into the Mississippi opposite the mouth of the Missouri. This camp was abandoned on the 14th day of May, 1804, at four o’clock in the afternoon, and the expedition got four miles up the Missouri before night.
On the 5th day of June two French traders were met descending the Missouri on a raft made by joining two canoes. They had spent the winter on the Kansas River, eighty leagues up, and had trapped many beavers, but prairie fires had destroyed some of their game. They said the Kansas Indians had passed the winter on the Kansas River and were then hunting buffalo on the Plains.
Lewis and Clark reached the mouth of the Kansas River on the 26th day of June. They found heavy currents where the Missouri strikes the bluffs, and is deflected to the eastward at the present Kansas City, Mo., and it was only after unusual exertion that they reached the upper point at the mouth of the Kansas. They remained there two days (June 26th and 27th) to take the necessary observations and repair their boats. They seem to have recruited some additional men there, but they may have only waited for some absent members of their force to come up. They found the Kansas River to be 340¼ yards over at the mouth, but wider a little distance up-stream. The Missouri there was found to be about 500 yards in width. They learned that the Kansas Indians had two towns up the Kansas River. And it seems that the hunters saw some buffalothe first sighted on the journeywhile the expedition was camped at the mouth of the Kansas.
Resuming their explorations, they left their first camp on Kansas soil on the 29th of June. On the 2d of July they reached Kickapoo Island. It was then called Wan-car-da-war-ear-da, or Wakan-da-wakhdi Island, meaning Bear Medicine Island, or the island where Wakanda was slainWakanda being the Thunder-god of the Indians of that region. He was perhaps a god of the Kansas Indian Mythology. On the west bank of the river was discovered an old Kansas Indian village in the mouth of a valley, between two high points of land. Back of the village about a mile stood the remains of a French fort, but no account of the French party which had been stationed there could be obtained. That French fort was also a trading-stationthe first known to us in Kansas.
After a strenuous day the expedition came to camp on the 4th of July on the north bank of a stream which was then and there named Independence Creek, in honor of the day. The stream still retains the name. The town of Doniphan, Atchison County, stands on or near this camping-place. The day was celebrated by firing an evening gun and dealing to each man an additional gill of whiskeythe first celebration recorded to the credit of Kansas. On the 5th the country south of the creek was explored. A beautiful prairie was seen. On the south bank of the creek were found the remains of “the second Kansas village.” The indications were that it had been a very extensive settlement or town, which later explorations have confirmed.
On the 11th of July the expedition passed above the present line separating Kansas and Nebraska. The exploration of the Kansas shore of the Missouri had continued for fifteen days, and the record made is one of the first of reliability made in Kansas.