Portrait of Meriwether Lewis by Charles Wilson Peale C. 1807-1808 Oil on paper on canvas
Credit: Courtesy of Independence National Historic Park
As evidenced by a popular PBS documentary and a best-selling book, the adventures of Lewis and Clark have captured the American imagination once again in the last few years. Why such a strong interest?
During much of their journey, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had no idea what they would encounter next. And, in a sense, that is how everyone lives every day. Even when we think we know what's around the corner, life can throw surprises at us. The story of Lewis and Clark is the universal story of human beings dealing with the unexpected. It's also great entertainment with a compelling cast of characters—an adventure, a road trip, a buddy story. It's about teamwork and failure and success. It brims with history and science.
Looking at historic maps of the West, students can begin to appreciate the immensity and mystery of the mission Lewis and Clark accepted. As "experts" investigating specific subjects assigned to Lewis by President Jefferson, students will conduct careful research. Reading brief diary entries of the men of the Corps will spark the interest of students as they relive the discoveries of the original participants.
To help students understand the degree to which the American West was unknown before the Lewis and Clark Expedition, give them the following quiz. Before you begin, ask the students if they think they know a lot about the West. Do they think they know more than Thomas Jefferson did?
Have students number their papers from 1 to 10. For each item you name, they should write "T" if they believe the statement to be true, or "F" if they believe it to be false.
Give students a moment to write their response to each of the following statements, all beginning with:
At the time Thomas Jefferson was living …
When the quiz is over, tell the students that though all of these statements are false, it is likely that Thomas Jefferson believed many of them to be true because such "facts" were included in books in his library. (Note: The students can put the quiz away. No one will ever have to share answers.)
According to Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, maps of the West proved as fictitious as the books in Jefferson's library. European geographers, for example, drew maps depicting California as an island. Other maps showed the Rocky Mountains to be narrow and undaunting.
Share with the class a copy of The Aaron Arrowsmith Map of 1802, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Exploring the West from Monticello, which depicts the West prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. (Note: The map is the lower half of "A Map Exhibiting all the New Discoveries" from an edition labeled "1795, with additions to 1811." The lower half of the map is identical to the 1802 edition.)
What do the students notice? The map is largely blank!
According to Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery:
The lack of detail in maps circa 1803 hinted at the enormous task to be faced by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Before the journey, Meriwether Lewis had map collector Albert Gallatin make a special map that showed North America from the Pacific coast to the Mississippi."
The map depicted only three points of certainty: the latitude and longitude of the mouth of the Columbia and of St. Louis, and details of what was known of the Missouri River up to the Mandan villages in the Great Bend of the river (today's Bismarck, North Dakota). The map also estimated how the Rockies might look and the course of the Columbia River, which no one had charted beyond its mouth.
But the area that lay west of the Mandan villages was blank, and the best minds in the world could not fill in that blank until someone had walked the land, taken measurements and described the flora, fauna, rivers, mountains and people. Observations of the commercial and agricultural possibilities of the regions were equally crucial.
After reviewing the map, students will vicariously experience the discoveries made by the men on the journey by reading excerpts from their diaries. But first, students will become oriented to the journey by tracking some key dates on a contemporary map.
The students begin by looking at a map of the U.S. showing the Louisiana Purchase, accessible through the EDSITEment resource American Memory from the Library of Congress. In the days when travel was limited to the capabilities of boat, horse and foot travel, what route would students have chosen to take through the territory to reach the Pacific Ocean?
Have students look at an 1802 map of the West that includes more detail: Soulard Map of the Missouri and Upper Mississippi, 1802 by William Clark, available in the map section of the EDSITEment resource Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. Compare it to a contemporary map of this region. In what ways is Clark's map close to being correct? In what ways is it incorrect?
If desired, students can research the average mileage covered by car, foot, horseback, raft or boat. Lewis and Clark traveled a total of 8,000 miles. How long would it take to travel that distance using these modes of transportation?
The purpose of the next activity is to develop students' sense of the progress of the outbound journey of Lewis and Clark. They will affix dates relevant to the expedition onto the large contemporary political map as guides for eventually placing their "specialist" information (see Activity 4) on the large outline map. (Note: The locations are those specified in the Timeline of the Trip, from the EDSITEment resource Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.)
Hand out an appropriate number of small cards with any, or all, of the following dates and locations:
|March 14, 1804||St. Louis, Missouri|
|August 3, 1804||Omaha, Nebraska|
|August 20, 1804||Sioux City, Iowa|
|September 25, 1804||Pierre, South Dakota|
|Oct. 24, 1804 - April 7, 1805||Bismarck, North Dakota|
|April 29, 1805||where the Yellowstone River flows into the Missouri|
|June 2, 1805||fork in the Missouri|
|June 13, 1805||Great Falls, Montana|
|July 5, 1805||Three Forks, Montana; Gallatin, Jefferson, Madison Rivers|
|August 8, 1805||Dillon, Montana|
|August 12, 1805||border between Idaho and Montana|
|September 9, 1805||Missoula, Montana|
|September 22, 1805||Weippe, Idaho|
|October 7, 1805||Orofino, Idaho|
|October 16, 1805||conjunction of the Snake and Columbia Rivers|
|November 24, 1805||Astoria, Oregon|
Each card represents a date when the expedition reached or departed from a specific location. Using the names of towns and rivers shown on contemporary maps, students should work alone or in pairs to determine the location of the expedition on the date(s) on their card(s). Once the students have confirmed each location, they should put the dates on the map chronologically showing the progress of the expedition.
Note: An excellent array of maps is available on the EDSITEment-reviewed National Geographic Xpeditions. Students can obtain state maps with most of the locations using the site's Atlas feature. Many locations can be found by searching within the Mapmaker 1-Page Maps.
When all of the dates and locations have been plotted on the map, students should work alone or in their groups to determine how many miles were traveled (approximately) in each segment of the journey and how many days it took to travel that far. Within each segment, about how many miles were covered each day, on average?
Discuss issues that arise from tracking the expedition over time. For example, why did the expedition stop from October 1804 to April 1805? Where did the expedition make swift progress? Slow progress? At this point, interested classes might enjoy seeing The Route of the Corps of Discovery to the Pacific, copied from William Clark's original, available on the EDSITEment resource Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. On this map, the outbound route is shown in red, and the return route is in blue.
As a class, review President Jefferson's charge to Meriwether Lewis as to the goals of the expedition. Jefferson's orders may be accessed on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory by searching for the exact phrase "Thomas Jefferson to Congress, January 18, 1803" (the text is found on page 841 of the transcription, starting with the words "The commerce which may be carried on…" and ending with "…insects.")
In what kinds of discoveries was Jefferson interested? After the students have read from the diaries, they should be able to determine if the expedition members did a good job of "acquainting" themselves with the items Jefferson listed.
Historians rely on primary source material to learn about the past. In this activity, students will act as scientists gleaning information from primary sources—the journals of members of the expedition. Journal entries are available through the EDSITEment resource Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. What did the expedition members discover? Students will gain an appreciation of not only the knowledge acquired during the famous journey but also the difficulties endured.
Assign small groups specific aspects of the expedition and related diary entries to explore. Groups could include "specialists" in zoology (animals), botany (plants), meteorology (weather), Native American cultures, and geology/geography. Each group is given or searches online for the diary entries related to the assigned "specialty." Pertinent information from the entries will be noted on the large outline map, or on the chart provided in PDF format for each group's specialty.
(Note: The original spelling of the diarists has been maintained, and the diaries were written before spelling had been standardized. However, most of the selected entries are very short, and should not cause too many comprehension problems. You may wish to form student groups with a range of reading levels within each group, so that students can help each other understand the diary entries.)
Click here to download a list of the diary entries by category (In PDF format. Download Adobe Acrobat Reader®).
If possible, keep wildflower, insect, trees, animal and other identification handbooks on hand for students to use as they discover what the expedition members saw along the route.
As a culminating activity, have the student groups work together to complete the large outline map. Each group should place on the map, in approximate respective locations, markers representing discoveries made by the expedition or any events the students deem important. Postings should include the date. Proceed chronologically. The dates previously attached to the classroom map will serve as guideposts for determining the location of the Corps on a particular date.
Once all the discoveries are posted, discuss the journey as a whole. Judging from the diary entries the class studied, did the expedition members take seriously President Jefferson's charge? How difficult was the journey?
If desired, for assessment purposes, ask students to trace on a blank outline map of the continental U.S. the approximate journey of the Corps. On the back, they should list some of the hazards faced by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and some of the discoveries made on the journey.
Recommended readings from American Memory
Recommended readings from Native Web
Recommended readings from Women of the West Museum
Additional readings (originally written for adults) available as e-texts
4-6 class periods