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Lewis and Clark: "We send from this place with dispatches"

 


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By early morning it was a different story. The white men awoke to find the Indians attempting to steal their rifles and drive away their horses. After a hectic and dangerous altercation the explorers routed the Indians, but only after the death of one, possibly two, young braves. They headed at top speed toward the mouth of the Marias, reaching the Missouri before news of the battle spread throughout Blackfoot territory.

Clark with the remaining members of the expedition, including York and the Charbonneaus, continued on horseback to the Yellowstone River where they built new canoes. Heading down the river to its junction with the Missouri, Clark explored the Yellowstone's banks and the surrounding territory, augmenting his already remarkable map.*

The grand union of the Lewis and Clark parties occurred, after several missed connections, on August 12,  1806, on the Missouri, a short distance upriver from the Mandan villages. Clark was alarmed to find Lewis suffering from an unexplained bullet wound, probably the result of an accidental shot by a near-sighted member of his party. Though painful and debilitating, the flesh wound was not deep, and Lewis was in no serious danger.

The Corps of Discovery arrived at the Mandan Villages two days later on August 14 where the adventurers received a hearty welcome from their old friends, the Mandan and Hidatsa chiefs, with gifts and ceremony. However, the captains were disappointed to find that fighting among several tribes in the area had been fierce and widespread and, thus, prospects for imminent alliances and trade with eastern America seemed dim.

Not surprisingly, the time had also come to take leave of some members of the close-knit band. One of the Corps received permission to join fur trappers heading for the Yellowstone. For his services, Charbonneau received funds for a horse and lodge; Sacagawea received nothing extra for herself. Clark offered to take Pomp to St. Louis to  raise and educate him. His parents said that this might be appropriate in a few years**

The push to St. Louis began on August 17, 1806. The canoes passed through land filled with buffalo herds and the home of the Teton Sioux. A threatening encounter with some Indians, assumed to be Tetons, ended without hostilities when they turned out to be friendly Yankton Sioux. Traders, hunters, and adventurers proceeding up the Missouri provided the long-isolated explorers with camaraderie, news of their president, events in St. Louis, and occurrences in other parts of the United States, including the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. A former army captain informed the explorers that they had long been given up for lost by all but President Jefferson. On September 4 the party visited Sergeant Floyd's grave, repairing some damage to the site.

On the final approach to St. Louis the weary voyagers passed villages whose residents welcomed them with salutes from their guns and excited personal greetings. Next came the site of the Wood River Camp, home of the Corps of Discovery for the winter of 1803 - 1804, and, then, the joyous arrival in St. Louis at noon on September 23, 1806.

The first days on home territory were filled with reunions with friends and business associates, searches for lodging and storage for the treasures of the expedition, and shopping for much-needed personal items, all followed by festive dinners and dancing.

Still, the captains lost no time in reporting to their President and relatives. Letters  from both dated September 23 were published in the eastern newspapers within a few weeks. On October 27, 1806, the capital's National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser summarized Lewis's letter to Jefferson.

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Clark's letter to his brother, Jonathan Clark, which earlier appeared in the Kentucky Palladium was reprinted by the Norfolk (VA) Gazette and Publick Ledger on November 7, 1806.

The historic adventure that began with Thomas Jefferson's confidential message to Congress on January 18,  1803 concluded more than three and a half years later after a-twenty-eight-month trek through largely uncharted wilderness. No all-water route to the Pacific was found and efforts to establish alliances and trading relationships with the Western Indians were, for the most part, unfulfilled. But the geographical, scientific, and sociocultural discoveries and experiences reported in the letters, journals, and maps of the Corps of Discovery set standards for acquiring knowledge and understanding of the United States that still inspire present-day scientists and scholars.



*The unusual rock formation near present-day Billings, Montana, which Clark named "Pompey's Tower" in honor of Sacagawea's son, bears the captain's signature, the only evidence of the explorers' passage which remains today.

**Pomp did move to St. Louis several years later when he was adopted by Clark, who, as promised, arranged for his education.

 

Credits: researched and written by Alice Haggerty for the Virginia Newspaper Project

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