William Clark used this hand-stitched elk-skin journal as a field diary in the fall of 1805. In this journal, Clark noted daily occurrences and sketched maps as the Corps of Discovery traversed the Bitterroot Mountains on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The maps detailed the natural landscape and Indigenous settlements along their route. These renderings were later copied into the three journals that served as the official account of the journey west. In recounting a stretch of the trip, the journal represents the expedition that started in Missouri and laid the foundation for the United States’ claims to the West.
The Corps’ time in Missouri was critical to their goal of reaching the Pacific Northwest. In the winter of 1803, Lewis and Clark prepared for the expedition in the St. Louis area. Meriwether Lewis gathered information, maps, and supplies from traders and merchants in the city. Meanwhile, Clark recruited and trained men a few miles north at Camp DuBois which was on the east side of the Missouri River. On May 14, 1804, the men convened in St. Charles to begin their arduous voyage upstream. Lewis and Clark’s authoritative leadership and the Corps’ cooperation helped them survive this slow and trying leg of the trip. By the time they reached the part of the journey described in the elkskin journal, the group had become a cohesive team. Without this start in Missouri, the Corps’ may never have reached the Pacific Ocean, preventing the United States from gaining the critical information necessary for westward expansion.
Subject: Clark, William
Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society
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Region: St. Louis Metro