The year is 1803. You are a young man living in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, possibly along the tidewater country of the East Coast and you ask this question: What will I do next with my life? So, you pick up the local newspaper and take a look at the help-wanted ads and one catches your eye.
It reads, "Men wanted. Join the Army. Adventure. Excitement. New experiences. On-the-job-training. Forty-five young men to go on a trip to the unknown areas west of the Mississippi River. Duration two to three years. Initial clothing allowance and weapon will be provided. Unknown dangers. Pay $5.00 a month and a land allotment upon return. Travel by canoe, keelboat, walking and horseback. If you are tough enough, strong enough, rugged enough, join us. Soft-handed gentlemen and slackers need not apply."
What motivates the young men who answered this type of advertisement to join up for the famous Lewis & Clark Expedition of two hundred years ago?
How many of us would apply for such a position? The leaders are looking for were men with strong values, especially when times got tough. Values not unlike the values of our Army today: Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
We are now commemorating what many consider the great land expedition of American history. This amazing journey is really the equivalent of our nation’s space explorations of the late 20th century and the 21st century.
Let's take a look at this expedition. Because that's what history is. History is a look back in time for lessons that others have experienced. The facts are well documented. This was a trip of two years, four months, 10 days. The distance would cover 7,689 miles and would start at St. Louis and go all the way to the Pacific Coast, via the Missouri River, the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia River watershed. We know a lot about it, because the members wrote 1,200,000 words describing their great adventure.
We know that there were two excellent leaders who shared the command. Captain Meriwether Lewis a Second Lieutenant, and former Army Captain, William Clark. We know there were Sergeants John Ordway, Nathaniel Pryor, Charles Floyd and Patrick Gass. We know that there was one corporal, Richard Warfington. We know that there were 29 privates. There were two brothers, Joseph and Reuben Field, John Collins, George Shannon, Pierre Cruzatte, John Shields, Alexander Willard and a host of others. We know there was a very fine hunter and interpreter, George Drouillard. We know there were 12 French boatmen and William Clark brought his slave, York. We know their home states were Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Several of them had strong European roots and were recent arrivals to this country. Three of them had Indian mothers and white fathers. Captain Lewis also brings his Newfoundland dog, Seaman.
They were a hodge-podge of individuals. They were the diversity of America at the turn of the 19th century. A nation of about five million people, about 750,000 of these was African-Americans and about 600,000 were Native Americans. We know that there were 45 or 46 who started out on the trip. We know that some of them were in the Army and some were selected from forts along the Ohio River. Some volunteered for the military as the expedition approached their areas. Some brought very specific skills. They were hunters, interpreters, tailors, cooks, and carpenters. There was a blacksmith and a man who could work with weapons. The youngest man was 17, the oldest was 35. The average age of about 26. The common denominator among them all was personal courage.
Some of the expedition members had a bit of schooling, some had life experience. Some of them were outstanding young men by anyone’s estimation; some were only fair. Several would ultimately be poor choices for the trip.
One of the men would be tried for mutiny. One of them would run away. One of them would fall asleep on guard duty. Several of them w ould ill get "drunked up." This is a military expedition. Any man who disobeyed or didn’t live up to the high standards is court-martialed. The punishment: You run a gauntlet, you're whipped, there's extra duty.
Let's take a closer look at the trip. Captain Meriwether Lewis has been working for the commander-in-chief, the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Lewis is a career Army officer. He joined the militia when he was 18 years old. He had served at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 - , farmers unhappy about paying a tax that they felt was unjustified. For a time, he had been under the command of an Army captain by the name of William Clark before . Clark had left the service . Captain Lewis had stayed in the Army . He was working as a recruiter and then a paymaster. He was very familiar with the military of the time before h . He was plucked from the ranks to become the military aide to the president.
Thomas Jefferson was 31 years older than Lewis. He was a widower. His family stayed at Monticello, 120-plus miles away from the White House in Washington, D.C. Jefferson was a guide, a mentor, and a teacher. He certainly liked what he saw in this young Army officer. He would often assign Lewis books to read, followed by lengthy discussion. They would look at maps together and examine what was out there, out in the great beyond. The conversation eventually got around to the president saying, "I want you to go to the west. Out into that Louisiana country." At that time, Louisiana was everything west of the Mississippi to the Rockies.
The president gave him a crash course in the subjects Lewis would need for such a trip. Jefferson had a great mind. He was creative and enthusiastic and . He was knowledgeable about so many different things. The president will send Meriwether Captain Lewis to Philadelphia, the cultural and scientific hub of America , to Here he will learn something about botany , and about celestial navigation and about medicine. He will travel up to Harper's Ferry , West Virginia to take a look at the weapon s systems that were available and to make his choices. He At Pittsburgh he getting overseas the construction of a flat bottom keelboat and builttwo smaller craft called pirogues.
A small military contingent starts out on the Ohio River. T . The water is shallow. More men are recruited along the way to assist with moving the boats and equipment.
Meanwhile, Meriwether Captain Lewis and the president had been in written correspondence and i . It was jointly determined it they would take need a second officer. Lewis wrote a letter to his old friend and one time superior, William Clark. "Would you make the trip?" Clark agrees. They would end up meeting early in the fall autumn of 1803 at the Falls of the Ohio, at present-day Clarksville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. William Clark brings nine Kentucky and Virginia riflemen. They continue to Fort Massac and Fort Caskaskia. The winter quarters and will be Fort Dubois, at Wood River, Illinois. Here, this rough-and-ready assortment of 45 men from a variety of backgrounds will backgrounds will learn the rudiments of soldiering.
T Think of what goes into basic training and advanced individual training and on-the-job training. You learn d to soldier, to wear the uniform properly. You learn ed marksmanship, drill and command and discipline and small-unit tactics. The Army values are emphasized: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor and integrity, personal courage. Here is where you see communication, competence, confidence, and creativity harbored taking shape. Innovation and decision-making. Working together as a cohesive force. Learning new habits like team spirit and good judgment. Soldiering is pounded into these guys over and over and over.
The noncommissioned officers, strong military men in their own right, were problem-solvers. They were role models, making sure that everybody learns from their mistakes. They were the managers, the mentors. They had to maintain high standards to make sure that things were done right. The ncos NCO’s constantly emphasis emphasized train ing and the Army values.
These recruits weren't perfect. Several of them broke into their little armory, because they didn't think they got to fire weapons enough. They find out about an illegal whiskey still a couple of miles away and they would “party hardy.” They would cuss and fight and argue, and then they would argue and cuss and fight. Several go AWOL. Several would be discharged when t They didn't meet up to the high standards of the Army.
The leaders, Captains Lewis and Clark, focused on the vision of President Jefferson; they had a duty. The president had been very specific in his mission; discover, locate, explore, meet all the tribes you possibly can, find a Northwest Passage, a water route that would go all the way to the Pacific. Take a look at the trade possibilities. Map everything you possibly can. Return with information about the flora and the fauna, the plants and animals. The two commanders were very dedicated and deliberate in their planning process. These were two knowledgeable men , exceptional soldiers, with great outdoor skills. They were the dealers of hope, the energizers, and the educators. They would get lead their soldiers to the people to believe and buy into the feeling that they could make anything happen.
By the time unit take departs off in the spring of 1804, Louisiana has changed hands. The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million dollars. It is now a journey of both exploration and of diplomacy.
In May 1804 when they depart with their keelboat and their two pirogues and several horses for their hunters, the Missouri River will be both friend and foe. They have to carry all their gear. This is a come-as-you-are expedition. There is no logistical tail to resupply and take care of your needs.
The Corp will have an early introduction to a wild river; hard physical labor characterized everyday. The men endured boils, blisters, sunstroke, dysentery, insects and snakebites. They must put the welfare of the expedition before their own physical comforts giving real meaning to the term selfless service.
They celebrate the Fourth of July near present-day Atchison, Kansas. The words military people know well, "duty, honor and country" have a very special meaning. It's America's 28th birthday. The men take off their military fatigues and put on their dress uniforms. They raise the flag and fire weapons. Each man is given an extra gill of whiskey. They name the local stream Independence Day Creek. They are proud and stand tall.
As they proceed on into Iowa and Nebraska country they move from the high grass prairies to short grass plains. There are strange new New animals and plants. They meet the Oto and Missouria Indians near Omaha, Nebraska. Later on, they will meet the Omaha, the Yanktoni, the Lakota and Arikara, the Hidatsa, the Mandan.
These explorer-diplomats -soldiers will exchange gifts and point out the fact that this land now belongs to the "Great White Father," the great chief in Washington. The Indians are rather surprised at this idea . H of how can the land belong to somebody? Doesn't the land really belong to God? Sometimes, it's a mixed or misunderstood message at best.
The Expedition proceeds on. Eventually, they will arrive at the Mandan villages in Central North Dakota. At the Indian villages, the unit will build Fort Mandan and live among these earthen lodge people in a community setting of about 4500 people, larger than either St. Louis or Washington, D.C. at the time. It's a long winter, with temperatures getting down to -30 and -40 degrees below zero. But it's a wonderful point time to gather intelligence from the Indians and French and English trappers.
Here, they will meet up with a guide-interpreter Charbonneau and his Indian wife Sacagawea. In February, Sacajawea delivers a baby boy, Jean Baptiste.
The two commanders will work on their journals and their maps. In April, they will send a force down river under command of Corporal Richard Corporal Richard Warfington. Maps, 60,000 words of journal entries, a live prairie dog, a live magpie, hides, antlers and horns, are sent to President Jefferson.
In April, a permanent party of 33 go proceeds west to a totally unknown world with potential dangers everywhere. The two commanders, the sergeants, the enlisted men, the hunters and the Charbonneau family make up the party. Little Jean Baptiste is , only six weeks of age as they start out. It is a totally unknown world for them . w With potential danger everywhere.
This is a military operation. The men are hard chargers and go-getters. They are the cream of the crop. The best. They have withstood a year of grueling of grueling training and travel and travail. They have met the test. They are ready for whatever action is out there and they will get all they want. Hailstorms and wind and cold. Oppressive heat. Grizzly bears. T There will always be the fear of Indian encounters.
Suddenly, the river forks. It turns out to be the junction of the Marias and the Missouri river. The men vote for the northern river. The two commanders favor the southwest fork. The men show unwavering loyalty, agreeing to go along with the decision of the captains.
They arrive at the Great Falls. There will be five falls and t . They will spend nearly a month in backbreaking labor portaging (note: overland travel by watercraft) their heavy, cottonwood canoes with wooden wheels. They battle storms, mosquitoes and rugged country. Finally, they will make it around the falls and Timmediately enter the mountains. They will also say good-bye to the bison herds, the food that had been their mainstay for so long. They were used to their steady diet of six to eight pounds of bison meat per day. They will also happily say good-bye to the grizzly bears.
As they enter the mountainous country, it will be rocky, narrow canyons, every bend different and forbidding. Again, the dangers are ever ywhere out there. William Clark has gone on ahead with three men looking for Indians. They will need them to get horses to get over the mountains in the fall. But they find There are no Indians.
Moving on to the Three Forks, the y reach the juncture of three great rivers, the Madison, the Gallatin and the Jefferson. Sacajawea informs the team, "I was taken here five years ago." They will select the Jefferson River. It is narrow and cold and slippery. There are willows along the banks. It's very rocky.
Meriwether Lewis takes the lead now and comes across a lone mounted rider. He . He rides off alarmed. They reach the headwaters of the Missouri River and the Continental Divide, where the waters flow on the east side toward the Atlantic and the west side toward the Pacific. It's also the end of the Louisiana Purchase. They are getting ready to move into contested territory.
When Lewis is at the top of the Lemhi Pass, the present border between Montana and Idaho, he expects to stand on the ridge and see a gentle plain leading to the Columbia River headwaters. Instead, it's he only sees just mountains and mountains and mountains. In the journals Lewis writes, "We proceed on." There is no giving up.
Captain Lewis will meet the Lemhi-Shoshone Indians, convincing them to meet William Clark and the rest of the party. Sacajawea is brought forward to interpret where, remarkably, s . She recognizes her own brother, the chief of the tribe.
They will barter and bargain to get the necessary horses to get over the mountains. They are forced to go up over the Lost Trail, a difficult mountain range. Coming down on the other side, they will meet up with the Salish Indians and get more horses. Six languages will be needed in order to communicate: Salish to Shoshone to Hidatsa to French to Sign language and then to English. They go on to the Travelers Rest and then 11 miserable, tough days over the Rocky Mountains, 150 miles worth of difficult, difficult travel.
When they came out on the Weippe Prairie and meet the Nez Perce Indians, they are welcomed. The starving men will gorge themselves on salmon. Here, they will leave their horses after branding and make new canoes and then go on the Clearwater, the Snake and the Columbia Rivers. Tribes live along the banks and meet the expedition. The Indians are friendly and often gamble that the party wouldn't be able to manipulate the wild rapids. Everyone is a stranger to everyone else and yet the negotiations go on peaceably.
The expedition will pick a winter fort site on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. They will spend 112 days at Fort Clatsop, named for a tribe that they meet out on the coast. There will only be 12 days of partly cloudy and six days of sunshine. The men will make 332 pairs of moccasins. They will produce 30 lbs. worth of salt , distilled from the ocean waters. They will work on their journals and their maps. There will be a daily guard mount. They will hunt elk and fight fleas, dampness, monotony and more monotony.
Finally, in the spring, they head begin the trip home back. They get their horses from the Nez Perce. With guides, they get over the mountains, this time in only five days.
At the Travelers Rest, they split the unit. Captain Lewis will go to the north to see if the Marias River could have been the fabled Northwest Passage. Captain Clark will go south, retrieve the canoes and take a look at explore the Yellowstone River Valley. The team of 33 will eventually be broken up into five squads, each with a specific mission.
Some modern-day observers , contend that the split command was a major tactical error. On the other hand, after two years these soldiers are experienced and focused. They have had great training and leadership. They know each other well. They play off the strengths of one another and maintain mutual respect.
There is one fatal encounter where two Indians will die. After this firefight, Lewis and his men ride their horses hard for 120 miles in 24 hours to meet the rest of the party.
Everyone reunites in western North Dakota. For a time, the five military groups have been spread out over a distance of 450 miles east to west and 200-plus miles north and south. Yet, they will reunite within a five day window of time. Only a well-trained military unit could accomplish this.
They say good-bye to their friends at the Mandan villages on the way home. The current is with them on the Missouri River this time. They make 50 to 80 miles a day, arriving in St. Louis on September 23, 1806. When the trip is over, t . They are honored as heroes.
But, let's consider this military force. Who are they? They're like everybody who ever thinks about joining the military. They are the soldiers, the noncommissioned officers, and the officers.
The two leaders are the best. They focus the unit. They have high standards and great integrity. They see the big picture and are mission-oriented.
The noncommissioned officers are close to the men. They lead, train and take care of the day-to-day operation and the attention to detail. Identifying how best to utilize the very strengths of their men, grooming and growing the force. Hard, tough training so the men understand the high price they might pay.
Who are the soldiers and why do they join? They are young men and in our day and age it would be young women, too. These are the risk-takers, people willing to serve, to give of self, to make a contribution, to make a difference. They are bright and energetic. Hard chargers, full of spirit and looking for mental and physical challenges.
These are the men of the Corps of Discovery. Two centuries after their historic mission, there are lessons to learn from their experiences. Their service to our Army and nation serve as an example to all of us, because these men truly lived and believed the line that "service is the rent we pay for our time on the Earth"...