FMIS students guide others on the Lewis and Clark expedition

Fifth graders in the classroom of teacher Jeff Ashley at FMIS, this week, provided a glimpse into the Lewis and Clark expedition for other students in their school.

Led by students and spread out over several classrooms, several tours were provided. Each included a look at Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon as they completed the Louisiana Purchase, the biography of Louis and Clark, a glimpse at a keelboat and canoe as a mode of transportation, a Native American Village and animals encountered on the expedition. Also, the guests were introduced to Sacagawea and York and learned their importance.

The event began similar to a play with students dressed in costume and using their best accents.  President Thomas Jefferson, in 1803, guided a splendid piece of foreign diplomacy through the U.S. Senate with the purchase of Louisiana territory for a negotiated price of $15 million from France. The students shared that the cost boiled down to three-cents an acre for the 530 million acres. The reason for the purchase, the young Jefferson told his peers was “they wanted to be richer and they needed a bigger country.”

After the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was made, Jefferson initiated an exploration of the newly purchased land and the territory beyond the "great rock mountains" in the West.

Jefferson chose his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, an intelligent and literate man who also possessed skills as a frontiersman. Lewis in turn solicited the help of William Clark, whose abilities as draftsman and frontiersman were even stronger. Lewis so respected Clark that he made him a co-commanding captain of the expedition. Together they collected a diverse military that would be able to undertake a two-year journey to the great ocean.

Jefferson hoped that Lewis and Clark would find a water route linking the Columbia and Missouri rivers. This water link would connect the Pacific Ocean with the Mississippi River system, thus giving the new western land access to port markets out of the Gulf of Mexico and to eastern cities along the Ohio River and its minor tributaries.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition paddled its way down the Ohio as it prepared the expedition to be launched officially from Camp Wood, just outside St. Louis, in the summer of 1804. That summer and fall the company of explorers paddled and pulled themselves upstream, northwest on the Missouri River to Fort Mandan, a trading post, where they set up camp, wintered, and prepared for the journey to the Pacific.

When the spring of 1805 brought high water and favorable weather, the Lewis and Clark expedition set out on the next leg of its journey. They traveled up the Missouri to present-day Three Forks, Montana, wisely choosing to follow the western-most tributary, the Jefferson River. This route delivered the explorers to the doorstep of the Shoshone Indians. Once over the Bitterroot Mountains, they shaped canoe-like vessels that transported them swiftly downriver to the mouth of the Columbia, where they wintered.

With journals in hand, Lewis, Clark, and the other members of the expedition returned to St. Louis by September 1806 to report their findings to Jefferson. Along the way, they continued to trade what few goods they still had with the Indians and set up diplomatic relations with the Indians. Additionally, they recorded their contact with Indians and described the shape of the landscape and the creatures of this western world—new to the white man. In doing so, they fulfilled many of Jefferson's wishes for the expedition. Along the way, William Clark drew a series of detailed maps, noting and naming rivers and creeks, significant points in the landscape, the shape of river shore, and spots where they spent each night or camped or portaged for longer periods of time. Later explorers used these maps to further probe the western portion of the continent.

The event ended with the students on the tour meeting Sacagawea, a Shoshone Native American woman, who helped explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis and their 'Corps of Discovery,' on their way to the Pacific Ocean serving as an interpreter and a guide.

She was sold to her future husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, at 14, as a slave. She gave birth to her son during the trip that covered more than 4,500 miles.

Linda HicksFMIS