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Lewis and Clark
Historical Background

May 14 - June 12 1804

The great adventure begins

The morning of Monday, May 14, 1804, broke cloudy, and rain later delayed departure until 4 o'clock. Elatedly taking leave of their home for 5 months and 2 days, Clark and about 42 men bade goodby to the group of settlers who came to wish them bon voyage. [64] A round fired from the cannon saluted the well-wishers. The two pirogues and the keelboat, pushed by a light breeze, crossed the Mississippi and headed up the Missouri. A stop for the night was made at the first island, a small one only about 4 miles from Camp Wood. The westward trek—which had been the object of everyone's thoughts and labors for so many months—was finally underway.

At noon 2 days later, May 16, the boats docked at St. Charles, frontier outpost for traders who dealt with the Indians along the Missouri. Dating from about 1769, the town was the first permanent white settlement on the Missouri River and one of the first in the present State of Missouri. It consisted of about 100 houses that stretched along the north bank of the river for a mile at the foot of a hill. On hand to furnish greetings were many of the 450 inhabitants, mostly of French descent; some Indians; and a few new members of the expedition.

The latter consisted of two permanent personnel, Pvts. Pierre Cruzatte and Francois Labiche, and one or more additional temporary boat-men. [65] Cruzatte, skilled in sign language, was the son of a French father and an Omaha Indian mother. Labiche spoke several native tongues and was fluent in French and English. Both had traded and wintered among tribes several hundred miles up the Missouri. Although primarily recruited as boatmen, they were also to serve as interpreters.

The next day, Clark counciled with a group of Kickapoos, who paid him a visit, and welcomed Drouillard, who had been absent from Camp Wood at the time of the departure from there. The following day, however, Clark sent him with a message to Lewis in St. Louis; he returned the next day. Pending the arrival of Lewis, Clark took advantage of the opportunity to rearrange the loading of the boats for better balance, procure last-minute supplies, send out hunting parties, and make other final preparations.

But social activities broke up the routine. Friendly villagers, entertained aboard the boats, reciprocated by furnishing vegetables and holding festive balls, at which the men enjoyed dancing with the ladies. Some individuals celebrated their last fling too much for their own good, and made Clark realize that discipline was still a problem. John Collins, a chronic troublemaker, was court-martialed under the Articles of War and received 50 lashes for being absent without leave (AWOL), misbehaving at a ball, and using disrespectful language to Clark. William Werner and Hugh Hall were also found guilty of being AWOL, but Clark remitted their sentences of 25 lashes. Other personnel, of a religious bent, were more inclined to say last-minute prayers than to misbehave. About 20 attended a Mass offered by a local priest on Sunday, May 20, the day before the upriver voyage resumed.

About 6:30 p.m. that same evening Lewis arrived, rounding out the manpower complement. He had started out by carriage or horse back at 10:00 a.m. from St. Louis on the 24-mile road and ferry journey, but had been delayed en route by a severe thunderstorm. Accompanying him to see him off was a group of prominent St. Louis citizens: Capt. Amos Stoddard, Lts. Stephen Worrell and Clarence Milford, Dr. Antoine F. Saugrain, and Messrs. Auguste Chouteau, David Delaunay, Charles Gratiot, Sylvestre Labbadie, and James Rankin.

The night of the 20th and part of the next day, Lewis and Clark made final arrangements. At 3:30 o'clock in the afternoon, May 21, to the sound of "three cheers" from the audience lining the riverbank, the Corps of Discovery—about 48 strong—set out in earnest up the Missouri. [66]

The second night out of St. Charles, the party bivouacked near a group of Kickapoo Indians, whose gift of four deer was reciprocated with two quarts of whisky. The next day, the 23d, a stop was made at Femme Osage to pick up two men who had been sent ahead to purchase corn and butter. Near this village of 30-40 families, on the north bank, lived the aged Daniel Boone, noted frontiersman of another day. If he were present, he may have watched with moist eyes and a yearning heart as the band of his countrymen passed out of sight upstream. Two nights later, camp was again established on the north bank just above La Charette, a tiny cluster of seven cottages that had probably been founded about 1766. [67]

journal entry
Clark's journal entry for Sunday, May 13,1804, at Camp Wood, the day before heading up the Missouri. Part of the entry reads as follows: . . . River a Dubois opposit the mouth of the Missourie River Sunday May the 13th 1804—I despatched an express this morning to Capt Lewis at S. Louis, all our provisions goods and equipage on Board of a Boat of 22 oars, a large Perogue of 7 oars a second Perogue of 6 oars, complete with Sails (American Philosophical Society.)

Encounters with St. Louis-bound traders

La Charette was the last outpost of white civilization on the Missouri, but there were soon reminders that lines of communication had extended westward. Before June 15, the expedition was to meet eight parties of traders, sometimes accompanied by Indians, coming downriver with rafts and canoes loaded with pelts that represented the fruit of a winter's trading with the Sioux, Oto, Pawnee, Osage, Omaha, and other tribes.

The first trader encountered, at the camp near La Charette, was Régis Loisel, returning from his post at Cedar Island in present central South Dakota. He gave Lewis and Clark valuable information about the land and tribes that lay ahead. He said he had met no Indians below the Poncas.

Another meeting, on June 12, was with a party of Loisel's employees, guiding two rafts laden with peltry and buffalo tallow. With them was an old French trader named Pierre Dorion, who had lived for about two decades among the Sioux Indians. Lewis and Clark purchased some tallow from the traders, and managed to persuade Old Dorion to turn back with them to serve as an interpreter. More importantly, they hoped he might be able to influence some of the Sioux chiefs to journey to Washington, D.C., for the purpose of visiting President Jefferson. Apparently one nameless member of the expedition, probably from Warfington's detachment and possibly John G. Robertson, went back to St. Louis with the Loisel party. [68]

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004